Chief election judge Wendy Raith shows voter Robert Jackle how to operate the new voting machines used in Westminster's municipal election at the Westminster fire company's John Street Quarters Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Westminster's first election was in 1819.
Chief election judge Wendy Raith shows voter Robert Jackle how to operate the new voting machines used in Westminster's municipal election at the Westminster fire company's John Street Quarters Tuesday, May 14, 2019. Westminster's first election was in 1819. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The Westminster city elections held Tuesday marked 200 years of elections for Westminster government. The first election for the municipality was held in Westminster on the first Monday in April 1819.

Of course, as with many historical accounts, nothing is quite that simple. The first two sentences must be modified with the fact that the first “governing body” for the community was the “Westminster general meeting house,” commonly known today in history as the “Union Meeting House,” which dated back to around the days when the community was first laid-out in 1764.

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The Union Meeting House governing body was an ecumenical collection of the several religious bodies found in the community and the elections were held annually. Much more research is needed to determine when the first election was held.

According to research by the Historical Society of Carroll County, a Friday, March 26, 1819 notice in the Westminster, Frederick County, Md. newspaper, The Westminster Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser, vol. I No. 17, reported: “A communication, signed by many voters, gave notice that on the 1st Monday of April the following gentlemen would be voted for:-For Burgess, John Fisher; for Commissioners, Ludwig Wampler, Jacob Sherman, Jacob Frenger, Isaac Shriver, John C. Cockey and Jacob Yingling.

Yes, Westminster was in Frederick County until a bill was introduced in 1835 and passed the General Assembly on March 25, 1836 to form Carroll County. This act was confirmed on Jan. 19, 1837.

The Historical Society reports The Westminster Chronicle “was published by William B. Burke at $2 per annum… Thomas W. Morgan and Upton Wagers, offered themselves as candidates for Sheriff.”

That same newspaper also reported, “Isaac Shriver gave notice that the annual election of Trustees for the Westminster general meeting house would be held on Easter Monday.”

Westminster was first incorporated under the name of the “Burgess and Commissioners of Westminster,” Feb. 5, 1819, in the Laws of Maryland 1818, in a merger of three adjoining towns: Westminster, New London, and Winter’s Addition to Westminster.

At that time it was designated that we have a burgess and six commissioners. Do not confuse the term “burgess” with “mayor.” Under old English law the term burgess was assigned to an individual to serve as the city’s “advocate,” in this case — Annapolis.

Each commissioner was charged with running a specific aspect of government, such as, the municipality’s finances, tax collection, law enforcement, or office administration. The commissioners were elected annually, in an “election to be held at the most central part of said town, and the polls to be kept open from nine o'clock in the morning until two in the afternoon… That a justice of the peace … residing in or near Westminster, shall appoint, by writing under his hand and seal, one judge to hold the first election for burgess and commissioners, and the said judge shall conduct the said election…”

Of curiosity is the preoccupation with the original Charter of 1818 requiring the elected officials to lay out the alleys in town. One of the first constitutional offices of the organized municipal government was that of a “street commissioner.” This position remained very powerful for over 100 years and oversaw many of the day-to-day operations of the city.

Of note is that Westminster was not legally a “city” until the 1838 charter — incorporation was amended by Chapter 335 of the Acts of the Maryland General Assembly of 1856, which re-characterized the municipality as a “city” and changed the titles of the elected officials to Mayor and Common Council of Westminster.

The first “Mayor” of the City of Westminster was Francis Shriver, who served from 1856 to 1858.

Today, Westminster is a conglomeration of as many as nine or so historic “towns” all strung together along a relatively long strait trail than ran through a large expansive swamp. However, on Oct. 15, 1964, an article in the Carroll County Times called them “hamlets” and reported that Westminster was the consolidation of five key hamlets. “The Westminster of 1764 ran along King’s Street (now Main Street) from Manchester Road to Court Street.

“In 1775, New London was added to the original Westminster. This hamlet included that area along King’s (Main) Street from Court Street to Longwell Avenue.

“Another addition to the town was made in 1788 along Green Street from Washington Road to Church Street. It was the free-African-American section of town. Bedford, along Main Street from Longwell Avenue to near John Street, was added in 1812.

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“In 1825, Logsdon’s Tavern land was included along Main Street from Carroll Street to the junction of the Taneytown, New Windsor, and Uniontown Roads and along Pennsylvania Avenue to Union Street.”

What would those folks think if they saw Westminster today?

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