Dayhoff: Westminster had electricity, and a yellow light, in 1964 but much has changed since

On July 2, 1963 a Pedestrian Safety Achievement Award Presentation was held at City Hall. From left, Westminster City Manager John Eckard, Mayor Joseph Mathias, state Del. Wilbur Magin, and Robert Leese, AAA representative.
On July 2, 1963 a Pedestrian Safety Achievement Award Presentation was held at City Hall. From left, Westminster City Manager John Eckard, Mayor Joseph Mathias, state Del. Wilbur Magin, and Robert Leese, AAA representative. (Courtesy Kevin Dayhoff collection)

Carroll County in the 1960s was a very different place from the community we know today. The topic of the 1960s arrived in a broad sweeping conversation on Aug. 19 after the ceremony in which Union Bridge native Russell Milberry was honored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Milberry died in January 1968 in Vietnam. After the ceremony, many of us shared some fellowship, food, and memories with friends.

To the person at the end of the table, who wondered whether Westminster had electricity, the answer is ... yes. Not only did we have electricity, but by 1964, we also had the latest in emergency response notification, having just replaced the yellow light in front of the Fire Hall on Main Street.


The question about electricity is interesting because in the hotly contested Westminster City election of 1895, the huge issue was whether or not to use electric “arc [street] lights, all night, every night of the year.” The “electric light ticket” headed by Milton Schaeffer (mayor from 1895 to 1896) won.

Fifty-five years ago, in 1964 Westminster celebrated its bicentennial. The city consisted of 477 acres and had a population of 6,123. Today the city is composed of approximately 6.38 square miles and has a population of approximately 18,500. The city is responsible for the maintenance of approximately 54 miles of city streets, 10 parks, and 161 miles of water distribution and sanitary sewer collection.


Westminster purchased the Maryland Water Company in 1964 for $961,792 and sold approximately $1.45 million worth of 2.5% bonds to pay for the water system and immediate improvements and expansions.

In 1964 stamps cost 5 cents. A home in Westminster cost anywhere from $7,500 to $13,000. The new, air-conditioned, Westminster Apartments on Poole Road were renting for $89.50 a month. The Carroll County Times was published once a week, every Thursday, and cost a nickel at the newsstand. The starting salary for a Carroll County teacher was $4,800 per year.

The Westminster mayor was Joseph H. Hahn, Jr. and the Common Council consisted of LeRoy Conaway, David Babylon, Emerson Palmer, Charles Foutz, and Russell Sellman. The Clerk-City Manager was Johnny Eckard. The Street Commissioner was Howard Slorp.

The City Council served 2-year staggered terms. There was an election every year. The Council met once a month. The tax rate was 59 cents per hundred and, up until the purchase of the water system, the city was debt free.

In 1964 the Police Chief was Charles L. Seipp and the department consisted of six officers who were referred to as “bailiffs” at the time. The title of bailiff, referring to Westminster law enforcement officials, continued until 1979. There was no organizational structure and the police officers had no rank.

The Police Department was located in two small rooms at City Hall. Beginning in 1946, calls for police services were taken at the Westminster Fire Department, then located on Main Street. A dispatcher would then activate a yellow flashing light suspended over Main Street in front of the fire hall where a patrolling officer would see it and then stop in the fire department for the information concerning the need for police assistance. This system of dispatching calls continued until the 1950s when radio communication took over.

In 1964, the county adopted its first Master Plan and a year later adopted a County Zoning Ordinance. Westminster adopted its own Zoning Ordinance on Nov. 5, 1979. Building permits would not come to Carroll County for another 4 years. The population of Carroll County was approximately 60,000. Carroll County General Hospital had just opened in the spring of 1961 and the Carroll County Farm Museum opened in 1965.

In 1964, George Grier, then county administrator, was traveling to New York to negotiate with Bennett Cerf to bring a Random House distribution center just outside of Westminster. The big issue for Random House was tapping into Westminster’s water supply.

One of the big topics of discussion at that time was the state proposed East-West Expressway, which would help move traffic from Hagerstown, around Westminster, to the Susquehanna River. The main political discussion of the day was whether Carroll County should adopt charter government.

In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was the president of the United States, having succeeded President Kennedy after he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. We had 25,000 troops in Vietnam. In 1964 Elvis appeared in his 16th motion picture, “Roustabout.” The Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, the 1960s were a long time ago and we have made many advances in our community since then. Now, when you can call the Westminster Police at 410-848-4646, or 911, the dispatcher will actually use a radio, which uses electricity, to send a police officer to respond to your call.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.

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