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Dayhoff: Library benefactors Elizabeth and Walter Davis remembered for their contributions to the community

On Sept. 17, the Carroll County Public Library announced that the Davis Library, Inc. has donated $200,000 to the public library’s new project — “Exploration Commons at 50 East.”

According to information provided by Lisa Picker for the library, the new project is “a 14,000 [square foot] interactive community space coming to the lower level of the Westminster branch library in the fall of 2020. The space will fill many existing community needs with the addition of a makerspace, professional teaching kitchen, and multiple collaborative meeting spaces in downtown Westminster …”

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“Construction of the Westminster branch began in March 1978, on the former site of St. John Roman Catholic Church,” according to an article by Greg Guenthner, in the Carroll County Times on Thursday, September 15, 2005.

“The Westminster branch of the Carroll County Public Library opened to the public in March 1980. The 40,000-square-foot library was formally dedicated on September 6, 1980.” According to Ann Wisner, the library spokesperson at the time, “the new branch replaced the Davis Library, which was located in a former Methodist church on East Main Street.”

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The last renovation at the historic Westminster downtown library took place 27 years later in the summer of 2007. According to a Westminster Eagle article by Katie V. Jones on June 13, 2007, at that time the shelves were lowered from 7.5-feet to 5-feet tall, the roof repaired, the carpet replaced and changes were made to the front entrance area.

Interestingly, in the 2007 renovations, the basement was discussed — in a future tense. In 2007, according to Wisner and Christina Kuntz, the library branch manager, "Another step in the renovation process will be enclosing the basement stairs, which currently remain open for the public to see — even though the basement is unfinished and used for storage. … But the basement itself won’t change ... for now.

“Over the years, that subject has come up in lots of different ways and in different conversations,” Wisner said of the possibility of one day renovating the basement. “There are some hurdles to it. It needs a whole lot of work and study and it is not part of this specific current project.”

Last month’s information release by Picker reported, “This year marks the 71st anniversary of the gift from Walter H. and Elizabeth R. Davis that established free public library service in Carroll County … Davis Library, Inc. has a history of longstanding support of CCPL programs. ... This recognition … of their transformative gift to the community will honor both the legacy of Mr. and Mrs. Davis and the Davis Library, Inc…”

At the rededication ceremonies at the library on Sept. 18, library officials, Westminster councilmembers Ann Gilbert and myself, and Carroll County commissioners Dennis Frazier and Stephen Wantz paid particular attention to the legacy of Elizabeth and Walter Davis.

In response to the gift, Sharon Hafner Yingling, Fundraising Chair for Exploration Commons at 50 East said, “This major gift continues the legacy of Walter H. Davis…” More information about the project and a link to contribute toward the fundraising goal is available at explorationcommons.carr.org.

“What a beautiful day to honor the Walter H Davis family by renaming this beautiful facility…,” said Wantz. “I am honored to watch as you today bring an important part of history to life by revitalizing the Davis name...”

The Davis Library was dedicated on May 27, 1951 in the former Westminster Methodist Protestant Church building. Picture date: approximately 1955.
The Davis Library was dedicated on May 27, 1951 in the former Westminster Methodist Protestant Church building. Picture date: approximately 1955. (Dayhoff/Babylon family papers)

Carroll County Public Library executive director Andrea Berstler reported, "In 1949, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Davis announced they would give a public library building to Westminster, and provide an endowment for its support. There was a small public library in Westminster at the time, which began in 1863…

“In May 1951 The Davis Library was formally dedicated. Its location was the former Methodist church building. Seven years later, in 1958, a county-wide library system was established, with Davis Library being the central branch…”

Joyce Muller, the president of the library’s board of trustees said, "Today we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the gift from Walter H. Davis and his wife, Elizabeth. … At the time, Mr. Davis was on the Board of the Westminster Methodist Church. The two Methodist churches in town had merged, leaving an empty building on Main Street. Mr. Davis bought the vacant church to expressly house a free public library.

In this picture from May 23, 1941, the two boards of the Centenary Methodist Church and the Immanual Methodist Protestant Church on East Main Street in Westminster, are pictured. At that time in 1941, the two Methodist churches, which had been located within sight of each for many years, merged to become the Westminster Methodist Church at the corner of Center and Main Street; leaving an empty building on Main Street. The Davis Library was dedicated on May 27, 1951 in the former Westminster Methodist Protestant Church building. At the time, Davis was on the Board of the Westminster Methodist Church. Davis bought the vacant church to expressly house a free public library.
In this picture from May 23, 1941, the two boards of the Centenary Methodist Church and the Immanual Methodist Protestant Church on East Main Street in Westminster, are pictured. At that time in 1941, the two Methodist churches, which had been located within sight of each for many years, merged to become the Westminster Methodist Church at the corner of Center and Main Street; leaving an empty building on Main Street. The Davis Library was dedicated on May 27, 1951 in the former Westminster Methodist Protestant Church building. At the time, Davis was on the Board of the Westminster Methodist Church. Davis bought the vacant church to expressly house a free public library. (Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun and the Dayhoff and Babylon family papers.)

“He further named a self-perpetuating Davis Library Board to supervise the extensive renovations of the former church, provided a cash donation of $40,000 for the renovations, and gave the Davis Board the building he owned at the comer of John and Main Streets where rental income provided $12,000 annually for library operating funds…”

Splinter Yingling, speaking for the Davis Library, Inc. board recognized the visionary trustees of the Davis trust that were instrumental in making such a visionary contribution to the community. They included, Lynette Brewer, Caroline Babylon, Stan Hollinger, Marjorie Lohnes, Tom Welliver, Pam Zappardino, and Neal Hoffman.

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At a time in which there are so many changes in our community, it is important to remember those who have gone before us and contributed to the high quality of life that we enjoy today — and are too often forgotten or taken for granted. We are indebted to the Carroll County Public Library, the Davis trust, and the Carroll County commissioners for their work and their vision.

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

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