About a week ago, the city of Westminster was notified that in the not-too-distant future the intersection of Main Street and Route 27, known to many as Railroad Avenue, will be completely closed for 24 hours a day, for as long as 10 days, while contractors for the railroad replace its tracks. Much more information will be forthcoming about the project.
The news stirs many questions and thoughts about the long history of Westminster and the railroad. The first that comes to mind is, what is the traffic count per day for Route 27? Folks have been traveling through that intersection for many years. The route taken by both Main Street and Route 27 is hundreds and hundreds of years old. The origins of both roads date back to the beginnings of the Native American Algonquin and Piscataway nations, as far back as 1,000 B.C.
Of course, this is not the first time Main Street has been closed for large construction projects. Horse and buggy traffic was interrupted for major portions of Main Street in the late 1800s for the construction of water lines. As a matter of fact, sometime in the next year or so, those very same water lines will need to be dug up for capital maintenance in order to keep the water system in top shape.
Main Street was first paved in the mid-1920s. The construction of the sewer system in the 1930s greatly disrupted traffic on Main Street again. In the early 1990s, large portions of Main Street were closed so that it could be completely rebuilt.
Detours to accommodate traffic for the upcoming disruption are being mapped out by the Westminster Police and Public Works Departments. Route 27 in Westminster, known to many as North and South Liberty Street and Railroad Avenue, is a major thoroughfare and vehicular traffic is constant and heavy on Main Street, so it appears that patience and teamwork will be important. Fortunately our community always rises to the occasion.
Growing pains are nothing new for Westminster. In 1896, downtown Westminster was proactively addressing a number of challenges. December that year was a time of great excitement in downtown Westminster. A new Westminster train station was completed around the middle of the month and a new fire hall opened with great fanfare on Nov. 28.
The year 1 also was when a number of other large buildings in downtown Westminster were unveiled, including the Beaux Art-style Farmers and Mechanics Bank at 195 East Main Street, and the three-story Babylon Building at 12 West Main Street.
Historically, for 100 years, a great portion of the economic vitality of downtown Westminster was fueled by a thriving passenger rail service. This, in part, necessitated the building of a top-class freight and passenger station in downtown Westminster.
In the late 1800s and well into the 1900s, the passenger rail service brought folks from as far away as Washington, Hagerstown and Baltimore to shop and spend leisurely summer excursions in Westminster. The passenger train service was discontinued on Oct. 3, 1960, when it could no longer compete with largely overlapping bus service.
In the years approaching 1900, Westminster was rapidly outgrowing much of its infrastructure and the problems with street lighting, sidewalks, unpaved roads, and water were hotly debated.
This was all exacerbated by the anxiety of the downtown Westminster merchants to preserve all the hard work of the years since the Civil War. The “Panic of 1893″ and the resulting economic depression and rise of populism had been a wake-up call.
The previous 30 years had witnessed a great expansion of the industrial, commercial and employment base in Westminster which was partially fueled by the arrival of the railroad in 1861.
One of the first planning meetings to bring the railroad to the city occurred at the Court House on April 7, 1847. It would take another 14 years of studies, resolutions, commissions, and committees to actually get the tracks operating.
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Westminster was not always a mercantile powerhouse, as noted by Joseph D. Brooks, the mayor of Westminster from 1892 to 1895, when he gave an address on the county birthday, Jan. 19, 1923.
“During all these years [the decades before and after Carroll become a county in 1837] Westminster, the meeting place of the Germans and English, remained dormant. Their ideas of living were different and there was no real work to build a town of any consequence,” Brooks said.
He continued by observing that, “The town owes its growth to three things, all of which happened in spite of its residents. The building of the Baltimore pike, the central location in the county, which made it the county seat, and the construction of the Western Maryland Railroad. In strictly turnpike days it was a wagon hamlet filled with barrooms and all that accompanied them.”
It may also be of interest to note that it was during this period that Westminster city government was also aggressively dealing with sanitary issues, especially roaming hogs, dogs, chickens, and cows in the city limits.
Over the years, in spite of all these growing pains, Westminster has not only persevered but thrived.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.