How did Carroll residents beat the heat over the years?

With late July and early August making up the hottest portion of the year, Carroll residents may be in search of some slight reprieve from the heat.

Some stay indoors, enjoying their central air, while others head out to the movies or malls or other mass air conditioned spaces. Others may jump into air conditioned cars and get out of town, heading to the beach to cool off or up north to escape the heat.


Since 2007, August has, on average, been the hottest month of the year in Carroll County, with temperatures averaging in the high 80s,according to Weather Underground archives. The all-time record high in Westminster was set in 1938 at 101 degrees, which has been reached twice more in 1983 and 1988.

This week, temperatures are expected to fluctuate between the low 80s and the mid-90s, while humidity is expected to range from the comfortable to the hot and sticky. Though families today have a variety of options to try and stay cool, that hasn't always been the case.

At the start of the 20th century, air conditioning was a luxury most homes could not afford. In the 1930s, one of the only places a Carroll County resident could go to cool down was the local movie theater.

When the State Theater on Main Street underwent a major restoration in 1938, one of the key facets in the upgrades was a comprehensive air conditioning system. The theater would remain a cheap, dark, cool place for those hot July and August days.

For the next 20 years, air conditioning would remain a special feature of businesses, worthy of being highlighted in print in both advertisements and news stories.

In 1953, when the A&P Tea Co. opened its new supermarket on Manchester Road, it was described as "the most modern supermarket in Carroll County with air conditioning and eight check-out counters." During that same period, when J.C. Penny was rebuilt following a destructive fire it proudly advertised "a brand new air-conditioning system has been installed to assure customers of a comfortable temperature at all times."

One of the reasons for highlighting the importance of air conditioning in public spaces is the slow adoption of A/C in individual homes. In the '70s, many of the older homes in the county couldn't afford to be retrofitted with central air, while window units were still prohibitively expensive. According to an ad in an 1972 edition of The Carroll County Times, a window air conditioning unit would set a family back $158. Though window units still come in around $150 apiece, inflation from the early '70s means an air conditioner cost a family just over $900 in 2015 dollars.

According to the 1970 Census, less than a quarter of houses in the county had air conditioning units, with only 555 homes of the county's 20,175 featuring central air. Today, more than two-thirds of homes are equipped with air conditioning, meaning many families looking to cool down today don't even have to leave their couch.

Having Carroll homes prepared for the hot weather mirrors Carroll's existence at the turn of the 20 th century, when cities and towns like Westminster and New Windsor were used as summer vacation spots for people looking to escape the oppressive heat of Baltimore. Cathy Baty, curator with the Westminster Historical Society, said a tavern was opened at the intersection of Monocacy and Buffalo roads in New Windsor in 1788. This tavern, as well as a subsequent bath house built around local sulphur springs became a tourism hot spot for the town, attracting most of its guests in the hot summer months, and providing a vital economic center for New Windsor.

In Westminster, Winchester Place, located on East Green Street was the most popular resort in a town known for it's summer vacation spots. This resort featured cottages, croquet, tennis, a stream and a dance hall which featured live music. These spots remained hugely popular, Baty said, for city-dwellers, until the mid-20th century as air conditioning and developed entertainment options lessened the need to trek to Carroll County to escape the heat.

Humans aren't the only ones looking for some shade and a cool drink on a hot August day. In an agricultural county such as Carroll, extremely hot weather can have adverse effects on farming as well.

Following an extreme heat wave in late July of 1980, corn, milk and egg production on Carroll farms was down from previous years. Farmers noted a rise in chicken fatalities and a 10 percent reduction in corn yield. Milk was affected as cows eat less when the weather is hot out, and stress from the weather also affects their ability to produce.

From snowball stands to pools to swimming holes and many of the same air conditioned businesses as back in the day, it's easier than ever for families to stay cool on a hot August day.