In 1711, William Winchester was born in the city of Westminster, England; 53 years and an Atlantic Ocean later, he founded a city named after his birthplace. Now, 250 years later, city officials are planning a celebration for Westminster's long history with a Sestercentennial Block Party Saturday.
Missie Wilcox, marketing consultant with the city of Westminster, began developing the program back in the spring, along with aid from volunteers from the library, Historical Society and Arts Council.
"We wanted to find a way to showcase the heritage of the city while celebrating the success of the town," Wilcox said. "We decided the block party was really a way to share the celebration with anyone from the city."
The party will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday at City Hall. The event will feature walking tours from local historians as well as tours of City Hall — which has recently completed a historic renovation. Children will be able to celebrate the anniversary in the style of the founders, with historic bamboo pole fishing, hoop rolls and an apple toss, intended to recreate the colonial feel. The event ends with a performance from the Westminster Municipal Band, a city mainstay for more than 120 years.
Dean Camlin, a member of Westminster's Historic District Commission, will wander the ground as William Winchester, answering questions about the town's history. Wilcox said it is important to celebrate Winchester's contributions to the community.
"To so many people in town, William Winchester is just an elementary school," Wilcox said. "But he had a vision of what this town is now. He is our founder and is vital to who we are now."
Born in England, Winchester came to America in 1731 as an indentured servant. After completing his servitude, he moved from Annapolis to what would eventually become Westminster. Between 1754 and 1764, he purchased 167 acres of land and laid out 45 lots along King Street, the central road to Baltimore which would, many years later, be renamed to Main Street. After filing a claim with the colony's government, Winchester officially established Westminster.
To prepare for his role as the town founder, Camlin said he's been doing as much research as possible.
"I'm a founding member of the Westminster Historic District Commission, but to tell the truth, that's more a reflection of my interest in architecture than in my interest in history," Camlin said. "I've come into being a history fan through the backdoor."
In 1818, the Maryland General Assembly incorporated the city, officially establishing Westminster's government with a burgess and commissioner. According to photographs from the Historical Society of Carroll County, in the 1800s, following city elections, the residents of Westminster would gather and watch as the political loser pushed the victor along Main Street in a wheelbarrow. The city's first burgess was James M. Shellman, elected in 1839. Francis Shriver, burgess between 1853 and 1856, became the city's first mayor in 1856.
Some of the most notable businesses from Westminster's past include the M. Schneeberger dry goods store; Krichton's Cyclorama, which sold bicycle and photographic supplies; the Taylor Manufacturing Company, which produced stationary and portable steam engines; and the A.N. Stephan Store, selling a collection of iron, leather, paints and stoves. Many of these businesses' facades can still be seen along Main Street today.
Camlin said, since its inception, the Historic District Commission has worked to preserve the buildings and images of Westminster's past.
"People may not be all that aware of the preservation efforts that the historic district commission and the city have been going through to preserve the character of the town," Camlin said. "We don't want to let historic buildings be torn down simply for convenience or capriciousness. Most of the older buildings were built slightly before or right around the turn of the century. It gives the town its own unique character to maintain."
Some of the most prominent buildings still present in Westminster include the courthouse, built in 1837, immediately after the creation of Carroll County and the establishment of Westminster as the county seat. The original Westminster jail, today located next to the Carroll County Detention Center, was built in 1837. According to "Images of America: Westminster" by Catherine Baty and the Historical Society of Carroll County, it is thought the inmates of the jail set it on fire in 1882, damaging the roof and interior.
The current City Hall was originally built as the home of Col. John K. Longwell, former county commissioner, in 1842. In 1939, the mansion — known as the Emerald Hill Estate — was sold to the City of Westminster and designated as City Hall.
The other most distinctive buildings in the town include the clock tower on top of the former Westminster Fire Engine and Host Company building, built in 1896, and the National Guard Armory — which previously housed Company H of the Maryland National Guard, and today houses the Westminster Recreation and Parks Department.
"As you drive around the countryside and see new houses popping up, there is a certain uniformity to their appearance," Camlin said. "That sort of thing can happen in our environment where older buildings are replaced with newer ones, and soon every small town looks like every other small town, and they lose their own unique identity. When you visit Westminster or some other small town, you can tell where you are just by looking around, which you can't always do in a larger city."
Wilcox said it's this preservation of physical history that is so important to celebrate at events like the 250th anniversary block party.
"I think what's so wonderful about Westminster is the retention of architecture and cultural heritage that still exists," Wilcox said. "You can meander through the town and see architecture from the antebellum age."
Though the event commemorates all of the history the town has gone through over the past 250 years, Wilcox said it is the people currently living here today that will help chart the course for the future.
"I would love, 250 years from now, for individuals to say we were able to retain what life was like back then," Wilcox said. "Another thing I want to do is showcase how close-knit our family and how important our history is."
Reach staff writer Jacob deNobel at 410-857-7890 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: Sestercentennial Block Party
When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: City Hall, 56 W. Main St., Westminster
For more information: Visit http://www.westgov.com