I was recently asked at a social event about the history of the Westminster Riding Club. Lots of great folks turned out for the well-attended second annual Carroll County Veterans Independence Project Red, White & Blue Gala on Nov. 16 at the Riding Club in Westminster. Several folks in attendance were not familiar with the Riding Club.
And then when I posted pictures on Facebook, my Westminster High School class of 1971 classmate, Dr. Bud Leese, wrote, “I go back 66+ years and never saw or heard of a horse at the Westminster Riding Club, in spite of my family actually belonging to it for a while. I wonder. Did it ever have anything to do with riding? … [I] have no reason for the name. Please enlighten.”
I have written about the history of the club several times in the past, so portions of this discussion have been published before. Fortunately my wife, Caroline Babylon’s mom, Evelyn Babylon, has written a history of the club as has local historian Jay A. Graybeal, who documented the history of the club in an article a number of years ago for the Historical Society of Carroll County. Graybeal also noted that a brief history of the club is in the collection of the Historical Society. It was written in 1940 by one of the club’s founders, Ann S. Reifsnider.
On June 15, 1945 a local newspaper reported that the Westminster Riding Club presented the Carroll County War Memorial Fund Committee a check in the amount of $130.36. It was a fine gesture on the part of the Westminster Riding Club, according to the Democratic Advocate newspaper. The money was raised from the proceeds from the Carroll County Spring Horse Show, sponsored by the club in May.
Today when folks think of the Riding Club, the first thing that often comes to mind is the swimming pool or memories of a social occasion held at the “club house” banquet hall.
However this prominent Carroll County social organization located on North Colonial Avenue on the old William Reese, F. Yingling, and F.A. Sharrer properties in Westminster, actually has its roots in horses, just as the name implies. The grounds of the Riding Club were once the location of a nice equestrian riding arena — and the focal point of central-Maryland’s social and equestrian activities.
In 1946, the Democratic Advocate observed that a large crowd attended the 12th annual horse and pony show at the Westminster Riding Club. “There were 76 ponies and horses shown on the picturesque show grounds, claimed to be one of the most attractive in the state. The show got off to a start before 10 o’clock and under the supervision of the horse show secretary, William Robinette…”
Horse shows were a weekend event, with a big dance on Saturday night along with all of the horse show activities during the day. Folks who did not ride helped set up jumps and provided other needed hands during the show.
Show sponsors were solicited from all throughout the state and included dignitaries such as former Maryland Gov. J. Millard Tawes as well as many local businesses.
Immediately beside the Riding Club is the historic location of the storied Fair Grounds, which was the site of large horse sheds which lined North Colonial Avenue and East Main Street and the location of a large racetrack. Yes, that is the origin of what we now know as Fair Avenue. I have always believed that there was somehow a connection between the Riding Club and the Fair Grounds, but I have never found any proof.
The Riding Club’s history goes back over 85 years to the mid-1930s according Reifsnider. It was on that date that “a group of horse lovers under the guidance of Mrs. John L. Bennett and (Reifsnider,) organized the Westminster Riding Club… The Charter membership list (included) … F. Kale Mathias, Eleanor C. Babylon, John L. Reifsnider, Jr., Joseph L. Mathias, Sr., Dr. Charles H. Kable, George R. Mitchell, Ralph S. Reifsnider, Catherine Baumgartner, Mrs. Paul M. Wimert, Albin N. Duvall, Sidney Hausman, and Bruce T. Blair.”
I should note that Eleanor C. Babylon is my wife’s aunt and somewhere in my archives are a bunch of old Riding Club papers that I should go through and organize someday.
The clubhouse was dedicated May 13, 1939, by Westminster Mayor Frank Myers. And oh yes, as are so many of the amenities we now take for granted in our community, the building of the swimming pool around 1957 was extraordinarily controversial. Retired local physician Dean Griffin was the first lifeguard and taught many classes as well as started the first swim team.