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Dayhoff: A brief history of Carroll County government reveals challenges, changes | COMMENTARY

Carroll County celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 11, 1887. In this photo of the celebration parade, a float travels west on Main Street – just west of the intersection with the railroad crossing.
Carroll County celebrated its 50th anniversary on April 11, 1887. In this photo of the celebration parade, a float travels west on Main Street – just west of the intersection with the railroad crossing. (Courtesy of the Historical Society of Carroll County)

On Jan. 19, 1837, our county was formed to facilitate local citizens having local control over our destiny and quality of life.

Throughout Carroll County’s history we have faced numerous challenges over our roads, schools, agriculture, and financial resources. We have had many different forms of government and through it all we faced our challenges by coming together, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.

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Since the beginning of time, barrels of ink and antacid have been spilled on the discussions, hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over what form of government is best suited for Carroll County.

In the last several years the discussions over the idea of once again changing our form of government have returned. This is not the first time folks in Carroll County have discussed and or changed our form of government — and chances are it will not be the last.

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According to a research paper I wrote in 1967; fact-checked by “Carroll County Maryland – A History 1837-1976” by Nancy Warner et al, and “Legacy of the Land” by Carol Lee, from 1659 to 1837, the eastern half of Carroll County was governed by Baltimore County. From 1695, Prince George’s County governed the western portion of Carroll County until Dec. 10, 1748 when Frederick County was formed.

Maryland counties in 1750
Maryland counties in 1750 (Courtesy photo)

In fact, when the property, “Whites Level,” which later become part of Westminster, was first purchased in 1733, it was actually part of Prince George’s County.

After the great European Famine of 1789, most of the agro-economic structure of Europe had collapsed and France went through years of governmental instability, which resulted in the rise of Napoleon.

It is during this period that vast acreages of Carroll’s woodland were cleared for land speculation and farms. Later, according to Lee’s “Legacy” “American wheat and flour had an important role in the Napoleonic Wars.” It is here in history that America began its long journey to become the breadbasket of the world and Carroll was in the middle of it all.

As early as 1785, citizens petitioned Maryland Gov. William Paca to form “Paca County” from parts of Frederick and Baltimore counties. In the Nov. 25, 1813, issue of the “Engine of Freedom,” a newspaper in “The Forks,” later known as Uniontown, wrote that a petition was being forwarded to the Maryland General Assembly to form “Union County,” with the county seat in Uniontown. The effort failed.

On March 2, 1833, a bill passed the General Assembly authorizing a vote on forming Carroll County in October 1833. The vote failed, 593 to 554; although it was later speculated that it failed because of voter irregularities in the Baltimore County portion.

The dashed line marks the 1750 boundary between Baltimore and Frederick Counties. Carroll County was formed in 1837 after 50-years of failed attempts. All three counties are shown with their present-day boundaries.
The dashed line marks the 1750 boundary between Baltimore and Frederick Counties. Carroll County was formed in 1837 after 50-years of failed attempts. All three counties are shown with their present-day boundaries. (Courtesy Mary Ann Ashcraft 2006/Carroll County Times)

Finally, a bill was introduced in 1835 and passed the General Assembly on March 25, 1836 to form Carroll County. This act was confirmed on Jan. 19, 1837. It only took about 50 years, but Carroll countians had finally changed the county form of government.

The “Panic (recession) of 1837, crippled the nation just as everything was going so well in the new Carroll County,” according to Legacy. By “1843 The Democrat and Carroll County Republican county newspaper carried an average of twenty insolvency notices per weekly issue…” It wasn’t until the Mexican War began in May 1846 and the California gold rush, January 24, 1848-1855 that the nation and Carroll County climbed out of the depression.

From 1837–1851 the governing body of Carroll County was called the “Levy Court.” It consisted of nine individuals; one from each of the nine existing election districts in Carroll at the time and they were appointed by the governor of Maryland.

The Maryland Constitution of 1851 changed the “Levy Court” to the “Commissioners of Tax” and from 1853 to 1891, there were three at-large commissioners elected to two-year terms.

From 1893 to 1921, according to Charles W. Albert’s reference book, “Carroll County Election Results 1837-2000,” the county elected one commissioner every other year for a six-year term. After another transition, in 1926, “the county went to electing three commissioners for four-year terms.”

In 1968, the voters of Carroll County rejected both charter government and code home rule. In 1984, code home rule was again defeated. In 1992 charter government was defeated at the ballot box. In 1998 the voters rejected a referendum to increase the Board of Commissioners to five at-large members and rejected a charter form of government.

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On Dec. 8, 1999, Del. Don Elliott brought the five-commissioner idea back up at a joint meeting of the county’s state delegation and the commissioners. On Nov. 2, 2004, the voters of Carroll County approved the idea.

But wait, it took another four-years — until Monday, April 7, 2008, before the Maryland General Assembly approved Senate Bill 675 on Option 1 to draw the boundaries of the five commissioner districts among the eight municipalities, 36 election precincts and 14 election districts in the county.

If the past is prelude, changes in the form of Carroll County government come at glacial speed. I first wrote about the history of the form of Carroll County in 1967. Portions of this discussion have been published before — and will probably be published again — under one of my favorite working titles, “Compared to glacial change, changes in Carroll County government come quickly.”

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