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Dayhoff: Westminster branch of Carroll County Public Library steeped in history

Carroll County Public Library executive director Andrea Berstler speaks during a rededication ceremony introducing the Exploration Commons at the Westminster branch Friday, Sept. 18, 2020.
Carroll County Public Library executive director Andrea Berstler speaks during a rededication ceremony introducing the Exploration Commons at the Westminster branch Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Plans were recently announced for major renovations of the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library. On Sept. 18, library officials hosted a rededication ceremony of the Westminster branch for the Exploration Commons project now under construction in the building.

On Sept. 21, an article in this newspaper explained that the project is planned to add a 14,000-square-foot makerspace, including a professional teaching kitchen and other collaboration-focused workspaces and meeting rooms, in the lower level of the library, at 50 E. Main St. This new space, called Exploration Commons is scheduled to open this fall, according to a library system news release.

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Also in that release, the library system announced a $200,000 donation, from the Davis Library Inc., to support the expansion. The donation was made in observation of the 71st anniversary this year of the gift from Walter H. and Elizabeth R. Davis that “established free public library service in Carroll County,” the release states.

This news prompted some discussions of the history and origins of the library in Westminster. The current site of the library on Main Street is the fulcrum point of old traditional Westminster and is steeped in history. It was preceded by several different church structures for the St. John Catholic Church community dating back to 1789 when four acres were donated to the Catholic community for a cemetery and a church.

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However, in those days, that church property was not in Westminster. It was in an outlying area which was laid out in 1812 as the town of “Bedford.” The town of Bedford comprised the area we know between Main and Green Streets, from where Longwell Avenue is now, to near where Bond Street currently exists.

On the other side of Main Street was the “Town of Winter’s Addition to Westminster,” which was recorded with the Frederick County clerk on Dec. 5, 1815 by John Winter and John Winter, Jr. It is the area between Main Street and Winter’s Alley.

At the time, Westminster, laid out in 1764, was composed of King’s Street (now Main Street) from Manchester Road to Court Street.

In between the town of Bedford and the original Westminster was the competing town of “New London,” which was laid out in 1765 by Captain John White.

New London included that area along King’s Street from Court Street to Longwell Avenue. On Feb. 5, 1819, “Westminster,” and the first annexation of the town, in 1788, a free African-American community in the area along Green Street from Washington Road to Church Street, plus “Winter’s Addition” and “New London” were incorporated as Westminster by the Maryland General Assembly.

“Bedford” was not a part of Westminster until a re-incorporation occurred in 1830 and the town expanded as far as “The Forks” where Pennsylvania Avenue begins at West Main Street. The area at “The Forks” and beyond was a rival thriving business area, parts of which were known as “Pigstown,” “Fanny’s Meadow” and “Logsdon Tavern.”

Construction began of the last of several church structures in 1865 (four years after the railroad arrived.) On Thursday, June 19, 1952 at 4:45 in the afternoon, the steeple of that church was destroyed by a tornado and the church damaged. In 1968 the building was deemed unusable. In 1972, a new church was built on Monroe Avenue and the Main Street property remained unused until March 1980 when the current 40,000-square-foot library facility opened with a chilly parade — of sorts.

Looking east on the south side Main Street of Westminster Maryland at St. John Catholic Church around 1900. The church was built in 1865. On June 19, 1952 the storm blew through town and toppled the steeple at 4:45 in the afternoon. As a result the structure was subsequently deemed unsafe in 1968. The last Mass was held on February 4, 1968. The structure was demolished in early March 1977 and replaced with the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library in March 1980.
Looking east on the south side Main Street of Westminster Maryland at St. John Catholic Church around 1900. The church was built in 1865. On June 19, 1952 the storm blew through town and toppled the steeple at 4:45 in the afternoon. As a result the structure was subsequently deemed unsafe in 1968. The last Mass was held on February 4, 1968. The structure was demolished in early March 1977 and replaced with the Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library in March 1980. (Courtesy Babylon-Dayhoff collection.)

It was a “book parade” which followed the tradition of how the books were moved by schoolchildren from the old Westminster High School at Green and Center Streets to the then-new Westminster High School on Longwell Avenue on an equally cold Monday afternoon on Nov. 23, 1936.

This time in 1980 it was a cold Saturday morning when, according to published accounts, about 500 citizens hand-carried 60,000 books and other library items from the Davis Library building at 129 East Main Street to the new building.

The Davis Library is where I wrote my first short stories and drew my first drawings to go along with my stories. From 1953 to 1961, I grew-up behind Samios Food market at 306 E. Green Street, not that far by bicycle from the Davis Library — along with such landmarks as the Westminster United Methodist Church, the Post Office, St. John Catholic Church, and Gehr’s Hardware Store.

Everything was in downtown Westminster. Shakespeare said in the “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the world is an oyster. But the Davis Library was our gateway to the mysterious outside big world beyond of the oyster, where there were endless possibilities only confined by your imagination and the time it took to check out the next book.

I recall vividly a series of books on each and every planet and a series of books about animals by Jim Kjelgaard, who wrote “Big Red,” among many books. But the one I recall to this day was, “Chip the Dam Builder,” because I got in trouble with Mom when I told her the title of the latest book I was reading. The books convinced me that animals could talk. They do, don’t they?

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For now, bookmark this introduction until we get the next chapter on the history of the library.

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

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