The historic Ellsworth Cemetery, located on Leidy Road, at the eastern edge of the City of Westminster, was established December 21, 1876. At that time six Black Union Army veterans filed Maryland Articles of Incorporation to provide a place to bury African Americans — who were not allowed in the city’s cemeteries at the time, according to multiple media sources including information from the Community Foundation of Carroll County. They purchased the property from the estate of Elias Yingling for the sum of one dollar.
According to an article in the Carroll County Times, the Maryland State Board of Public Works recently approved a request from the Maryland Historical Trust, to approve a $65,000 grant to the Ellsworth Cemetery fund held at the Community Foundation. The grant, provided by way of the African American Heritage Preservation Program, will help map the cemetery as well as help provide for the conservation of grave markers, according to a news release from State Sen. Justin Ready’s office. In addition to Ready, the grant request was supported by District 5 delegates Susan Krebs, April Rose, and Haven Shoemaker.
In 1876, what we know today as Leidy Road was the route of the original Native American trail which ran from the Baltimore area to points west beyond Westminster. The route remained a dirt road into the 1970s.
Veterans Ruben Walker, David Ireland, William Massey, William Adams, Lewis Dorsey and Samuel Bowens created the cemetery. However, they “named it after a white man, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth, a friend of Abraham Lincoln and the first Union officer to die in the Civil War,” according to a May 26, 2018 Carroll County Times article written by writer Jennifer Turiano.
In the 1960s I grew up in the nearby “tree streets” Buckingham View development. The area where the cemetery is located was known as ‘Brown-ville’ or ‘Brown Town,’ because a prominent family, the Browns, farmed most of the area. When Route 140 was built in the early 1950s, the road went through Brown Town and destroyed much of the farm and the town. Today, essentially nothing remains of Brown Town except the cemetery. In the late 1970s and 1980s I volunteered to help maintain the cemetery that was, in those days, in bad shape.
For many years the Union Memorial Baptist Church looked after the cemetery. I grew up in the 1950s behind Samios Food Market, which once stood beside the present day Maggies, several doors up from the church – when it was still located on East Green Street in Westminster. It was then that I first heard of the cemetery. This area of Westminster was originally a Black community. It was one of the very early additions to Westminster in the late 1700s.
Turiano reported, “It is estimated there are about 200 people buried at Ellsworth Cemetery and about 60 of them are African-American veterans, from the Civil War to the present day, according to Audrey Cimino,” then the executive director of the Community Foundation of Carroll County in 2018.
“Only about 60 headstones remain and of those that are left, many have eroded over so many years that the engravings have washed away. Others are cement block markers over the graves of people whose names are unknown — like a section in the back of the burial grounds called ‘Strangers Row,’” according to Cimino and Turiano.
Key supporters of the cemetery in recent years include The Knights of Columbus Council #9127 St. Bartholomew Church, cemetery restorationist George Murphy, the Carroll County branch of the NAACP, the Maryland National Guard, Pritts Funeral Home and the Maryland State Police at the Westminster barracks.
According to Turiano’s 2018 article, “Other supporters of the ceremony and restoration work are Wawa Westminster, Morgan [State] University, the Pipe Creek Civil War Round Table, as well as the United Memorial Baptist Church and Crossroads Community Church.”
At the 2018 rededication ceremony, the Maryland National Guard presented the Knights of Columbus and Audrey Cimino of the Community Foundation with certificates of appreciation.
Col. Charles S. Kohler with the Maryland National Guard observed at the May 2018 rededication ceremonies, “The cemetery is home to the grave of a 110-year-old man who died in 1876…” At that time, he spoke for many when he said, “and there are other amazing stories to be discovered…” The keynote speaker in May 2018 was Carroll County’s own native daughter Major General Linda Singh – now retired.
According to the Community Foundation, “Thanks to a beautifully hand drawn map, in the archives of the Union Memorial Baptist Church, many graves have been identified and their markers restored.”
There is a great deal more work that needs to be accomplished at the cemetery. For more information about Ellsworth Cemetery or to donate to the ongoing work go to www.carrollcommunityfoundation.org/funds.asp?fund_id=365.
To quote a report made to the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development about this project, “A community that respects its history and those who lived it has the right to call itself civilized.”
In full disclosure, my wife, Caroline Babylon was the chair of the Board of Directors of the Community Foundation for many of the years around the time the fund was developed for the purpose of maintenance and capital improvements to the cemetery.
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.