Dayhoff: Westminster band, fire company have close, longstanding ties

Dayhoff: Westminster band, fire company have close, longstanding ties
Past Maryland State Firemen’s Association Mark A. Bilger joins Westminster Municipal Band President Greg Wantz, and Color Guard Captain Emeritus Raymond Bankert to ac. cept a proclamation from Maryland GovLarry Hogan at the convention in June for the Westminster Municipal Band. (Courtesy photo from Jim Brown, MIEMSS)

A lengthy July 17, 1931 newspaper article describes the Westminster Municipal Band and the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Co. No. 1 arriving home from participating in the Maryland State Firemen’s Association (MSFA) annual convention earlier that July “in a jubilant mood, as the band brought home $100 for the best band in line of parade…”

The history page from the Frostburg fire company reports that the Westminster fire company was one of nine member fire companies that organized the first MSFA convention in Frederick in June 1893.


Recently the band and a number of delegates representing the Westminster Fire Company, including this writer, returned home from the 125th MSFA Convention in Ocean City.

This year, during the opening ceremonies on Monday, June 18, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan presented the band with a governor’s citation recognizing the band’s 125 years of service as a community band and recognizing the band’s participation in the first convention parade held in Frederick in 1893.

This year’s ceremonies also included the MSFA presenting the band’s award-winning color guard with a flag commemorating the band’s 125th anniversary. Later in the convention, color guard member Charles Simpson was inducted into the MSFA Hall of Fame.

Although I have not written about the band recently; over the years, the Westminster Municipal Band has been a favorite topic for this writer in this space and earlier versions of this article have appeared in print dating back to at least 2001. The origins of the research date back to the 1960s when I wrote about my experiences from playing in the Wm. F. Myers and Sons Band, and the Westminster High School Owl Band.

The roots of the present Westminster Municipal Band are found in 1920, but “there are records of a ‘Westminster Band’ dating back as far as 1860,” according to the band’s director, Sandy Miller, in a July 2004 interview.

However, it is widely accepted that it was 1893 when it was first incorporated as the Westminster City Band of Carroll County. The band has a long history and tradition of being closely associated with city of Westminster and the fire company.

Miller explained that in 1916, “many members of the band went into the Maryland National Guard under the heading ‘First Regimental Band of Maryland National Guard,’ and shortly after that they were deployed to the Mexican border to participate in an undeclared war between the United States and Mexico…

“In 1918, the band was deployed to France for World War I. After the members of the band returned home from France, they got together with the members who had remained stateside along with folks from a ‘Boy Scouts band’ and formed ‘The Westminster Band, Inc.’ in 1920. In 1950, the name was changed to ‘The Westminster Municipal Band’ when Westminster Mayor Joseph L. Mathias took a particular interest in the band and the band re-organized.”

In 1899 the Maryland State Firemen’s Convention was held in Westminster. A June 8, 1899 Baltimore Sun article observed:

“…From 10,000 to 12,000 people were in Westminster for the opening of the seventh annual convention of the Maryland State Firemen's Association. From midnight until noon today trainloads of people arrived. By everyone it is conceded to have been the greatest day in the history of Westminster...”

The 1931 newspaper article described the trip to Ocean City in the days long before the Chesapeake Bay Bridge was built.

“The firemen and band left Wednesday morning at 6:35 [a.m.] and arrived at Ocean City at 12:15 p.m. in a Blue Ridge line bus…

“Thursday passed off in sight-seeing with a pajama parade by the Westminster Band at 11 o'clock at night which was followed by several hundred people cheering as they passed down the board walk…” The band also gave concerts on the boardwalk and at the Del-Mar-Va Hotel and Hastings Hotel.

One of the biggest attractions at the end of the convention is the grand parade which is described in great detail by the 1931 newspaper account, “On Friday morning at 11 o'clock the firemen's parade was the feature. The parade was led by Gov. Ritchie, Comptroller William S. Gordy, and Mayor William W. McCabe. Twelve hundred firemen, representing 83 Maryland and Delaware fire units, paraded.”


The parade extended over 2 miles long that year.

According to the newspaper article, “Members of Westminster Fire Department taking part in the convention were Frank T. Shaeffer, Michael E. Walsh, Edw. O. Diffendal, Francis N. Keefer, J. Floyd Diffendal, Frank B. Dillard, James Pearre Wantz, Jr., Ralph Royer, Edward B. Orendorff, Wilbur Weller, J. H. Ryland, and Claude Buckingham.”

“The $100 purse was a princely sum in 1931,” says local historian Jay Graybeal. “In this early year of the Depression, a pound of coffee cost 20 cents; a pound of peanut butter, 21 cents; and two cans of tomatoes were 15 cents.”