It was in September 1964 that the City of Westminster purchased what we know today as the Westminster water system.
Questions about municipal water systems in Maryland and the history of the Westminster system have percolated to the surface lately as a result of recent discussions in the Baltimore City Council about banning the sale or lease of the Baltimore water system.
On Aug. 6, my Baltimore Sun colleague Luke Broadwater reported, “Baltimore City Council members concerned about lobbying efforts to privatize the city’s water supply unanimously approved legislation Monday that, if approved by voters, would make Baltimore the first major city to ban the sale or lease of the water system …”
The escalation of water rates in recent years has raised eyebrows and stirred controversy across the country. However, much of the acrimony and finger-pointing has mistakenly been directed at local officials.
Much of the cause is the result of the costs of implementing various unfunded mandates passed down from national legislation — some of which goes as far back as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 — and more recently, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, 1977, and 1987.
Water systems in general, and the Westminster water supply, specifically, have been a frequent focus of attention for this historian since literally 1964. Previous versions of this discussion have appeared in a number of national and international publications including this newspaper.
In 1883, the first private water company in Westminster was created and named the "Westminster Water Company.”
In 1901, a second company was formed and named the "Citizens Water and Power Company.” These two companies consolidated in 1909.
In 1920, the Cranberry Water Pumping Station was constructed on the site of the Old Winter's Mill, hence the name of the new high school just outside of Westminster. The water system for Westminster remained in private hands until the city purchased the Maryland Water Company in 1964 for $961,792 and sold approximately $1.45 million worth of 2.5 percent bonds to pay for the water system and immediate improvements and expansions.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
In 1964 the City of Westminster consisted of 477 acres and had a population of 6,123 compared to approximately 4,000 acres and 18,000 folks today. Stamps cost 5 cents. A home in Westminster cost anywhere from $7,500 to $13,000. The new air-conditioned Westminster Apartments on Poole Road were renting for $89.50 a month. The Carroll County Times was published once a week, every Thursday, and cost 5 cents at the newsstand. The starting salary for a Carroll County teacher was $4,800 per year.
The Westminster mayor was Joseph H. Hahn, Jr. and the Common Council consisted of LeRoy Conaway, David Babylon, Emerson Palmer, Charles Foutz, and Russell Sellman. The Clerk-City Manager was Johnny Eckard. The Street Commissioner was Howard Slorp. The city council members served 2-year staggered terms. There was an election every year. The council met once a month. The tax rate was 59 cents per hundred and, up until the purchase of the water system, the city was debt free.
The Westminster Police Chief was Charles L. Seipp and the department consisted of six law enforcement officers who were referred to as “bailiffs” at the time. The title of Bailiff continued until 1979. There was no organizational structure and its officers had no rank.
The police department was located in two small rooms in City Hall. Beginning in 1946, calls for police services were taken at the Westminster Fire Engine and Hose Company No. 1 then located on Main Street. A dispatcher would then activate a yellow flashing light suspended over Main Street in front of the fire hall where a patrolling officer would see it and then stop in for the information concerning the need for police assistance. This system of dispatching calls continued until the 1950s when radio communication took over.
In 1964, the county adopted its first Master Plan and a year later adopted a County Zoning Ordinance. Westminster adopted its own zoning ordinance on Nov. 5, 1979. Building permits would not come to Carroll County for another four years. The population of Carroll County was approximately 60,000.
In 1964 George Grier was the county administrator. The main political discussion of the day was whether Carroll County should adopt Charter Government.
In 1964, Lyndon Johnson was the President of the United States, having succeeded President Kennedy after he was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963. We had 25,000 troops in Vietnam. In 1964 Elvis appeared in his 16th motion picture, “Roustabout.” The Beatles appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show” and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize.