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Carroll County Times
Carroll County Lifestyles

Kevin Dayhoff: Bid approved for a major renovation of the Westminster Clock Tower

Almost exactly to the day, 126 years after the Westminster Clock Tower was dedicated, the Westminster Mayor and Common Council voted unanimously to give the iconic symbol a complete renovation.

The Westminster Clock Tower was dedicated at 3:30 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1896. Since then it has stood as a symbol of our community in more ways than simply marking the hours of the day.

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The Westminster Clock Tower was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 26, 1896. It's been a symbol of our community in more ways than simply keeping us on time. April 24, 2003 photo by Kevin Dayhoff

Over the years, the clock tower has withstood many challenges, including the April 6, 1906, Palace Livery Stable fire that caused considerable damage to the fire station below the clock tower and burned the city offices.

Geographically, the tower is located on top of a ripple of Parr’s Ridge that directly exposes it to major weather patterns. Those weather events destroyed the steeple of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ at the corner of Green Street and Bond on Feb. 19, 1893; destroyed the neighboring St. John’s Roman Catholic Church steeple on Main Street on June 19, 1952; and caused considerable damage on May 23, 1979, when a tornado came through the same section of Westminster.

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Yet the clock tower still stands. A bit battered and shaken, but it remains a source of enormous pride for a city that has witnessed fires, tornadoes, floods, economic depressions and three invasions during the American Civil War.

Former Westminster Street Department clocksmith Alan Miller finds the date on the clockworks in the Westminster Clock Tower in August 2008. It was in this time period that the clock tower was saved by the efforts of former Westminster Street Department employees Larry Bloom, Alan Miller, and Wayne Reifsnider and Public Works Director Jeff Glass. Ken Koons/Staff Photo

Perhaps the unkindest assault on the tower occurred in August 2008, when vandals destroyed much of the inner workings of the clock.

It was only through the efforts of former Westminster Council President Suzanne Albert, local Westminster clocksmith David Booth, Westminster Street Department employees Larry Bloom, Alan Miller and Wayne Reifsnider and Director of Public Works Jeff Glass, that the clock was saved. Then in June 2018, vandals struck again and caused considerable damage to the structure of the tower.

In a Feb. 21, 2022, Carroll County Times article, Glass lamented, “The old structure has a complicated history, and was even considered for demolition by a previous city administration.”

Westminster Mayor Dr. Mona Becker said in the same article: the clock tower is “symbolic … it really represents a part of the historic downtown section of Main Street in the city, so I think it’s really important that we preserve the clock tower for the future … Despite its issues, the clock tower is an iconic figure to the City of Westminster and its residents.”

Over the years, the Westminster Clock Tower has withstood the test of time and the April 6, 1906, Palace Livery Stable Fire that caused considerable damage to the fire station and burned the city offices. The fire destroyed H.H. Harbaugh’s Palace Livery Stable and residence, 22 horses and 45 vehicles. The stable was a large frame structure between the Firemen’s Building and the Westminster Clock Tower and the residence of Mayor O. D. Gilbert. The rear of the stable bordered on St. John’s Catholic Cemetery. Submitted photo

“It’s an important project to move forward … a big investment … it’s a very iconic symbol for downtown Westminster,” said Westminster Council member Dan Hoff in the same February 2022 article.

The decision to finally move forward with the extensive renovation came at the Nov. 14, 2022, meeting of the Westminster mayor and Common Council. After nearly two decades of discussions, studies and meetings with consultants, it all came down to a relatively short discussion led by Assistant Public Works Director John Dick, Mayor Becker and Council member Tony Chiavacci. Council members Greg Pecoraro, Ann Gilbert. Dan Hoff, and I, made it a unanimous vote.

The clock tower sits on top of the old Westminster firehouse that served the community from 1896 to 1998. They were both built with money provided by private citizens.

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In the days when many of the same community leaders served in local government and as volunteer firefighters, the old firehall — with the clock tower serving as a beacon above, provided space for the Westminster city offices, council chambers, community meetings, festivals and fairs, and the Westminster Police Department until the current Westminster City Hall was purchased in September 1939.

The fire bell that sits in the 1896 Westminster Clock Tower has been a fixture of the city since it was first purchased in 1881 and installed in the 1879 fire house that was once located farther west on Main Street at approximately 37 E. Main St. It has faithfully served as a call to action and the city’s timekeeper since. In a Sept. 24, 2008, interview with former Westminster Council President Suzanne Albert, she recalled when the bell was also used to sound a 10 p.m. city-wide curfew for much of the childhood for many of us. May 8, 2004 photo by Kevin Dayhoff

The historic clock tower is widely recognized as not just a symbol of Westminster, but a regional icon. As such, it is only fitting and appropriate that all of the money used to restore the clock tower will come from the state and federal government.

The state portion is as a result of the efforts spearheaded by Hoff and the Carroll County Delegation to Annapolis — Sen. Justin Ready, and Dels. April Rose, Haven Q. Shoemaker and Susan Krebs. Under their leadership, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan included $85 million for various projects in Carroll County in the state’s fiscal 2023 capital budget.

In November 1896, the dedication of the clock “and the unveiling of the bronze memorial tablet” came in the midst of a grand “Firemen’s fair and festival featuring a large parade … and singing by the Western Maryland College Glee Club.”

A January 1896 newspaper article reports that the clock tower was the source of a great deal of excitement in the community: “Some public-spirited citizen, whose name is withheld, has contracted with the Seth Thomas Clock Company, of Stamford, Conn., for a … clock which the company lists at $1,010, and which will be a contribution to the department.” For contrast, in this time period, it cost around $5,000 to build major three-story buildings in Westminster.

The brass plaque at the base of the Westminster Clock Tower.  April 24, 2003, photo by Kevin Dayhoff

The brass plaque later placed at the base of the clock tower reads: “Henry Baile; Born January 9, 1809; Died October 26, 1891. The above clock erected to his memory by his wife Margaret Cassell Baile Sept. 1, 1896.”

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


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