75 years ago, Westminster parking meters were the topic of great controversy

75 years ago, Westminster parking meters were the topic of great controversy
Looking east on the south side Main Street at St. John Catholic Church in the 1920s. The church was built in 1865. The image is from an old family collection and the photographer is unknown. (Submitted photo)

The history of the parking meters in downtown Westminster was recently the topic of discussion at a meeting of the Westminster mayor and Common Council.

My word - how times have changed. Today, hardly anyone remembers “The Great Westminster Parking Meter War — Sept. 19, 1941 to May 24, 1946.” While growing-up in Westminster in the 1950s and 60s, parking meters were only discussed in hushed tones with a quivering voice. In Westminster, one did not discuss sex, religion and politics — or the parking meters, in polite company.


When I first began studying the history of Westminster government, I simply could never quite get my arms wrapped around why parking meters were so controversial. It has been the topic a several articles in this space in the past. Much of the research dates back to the early 1960s.

The conspiracy theories are utterly fascinating. Think about it. When parking meters were first proposed in Westminster, there were more businesses located on Pennsylvania Avenue than downtown Westminster, yet no parking meters were installed in that section of town.

It was over 75 years ago that parking meters, the silent silver sentinels of downtown Westminster, began to be the source of enormous controversy in Westminster.

According to an old newspaper account, on Thursday, March 21, 1946, the “long awaited court action against the parking meters for our city will be heard in the Circuit Court for Carroll County with Associate Judge Clark, of Howard County, on the bench…” Yes, it was so bad that a visiting judge, from outside of Carroll County, had to be used.

Love them or hate them, parking meters have been a fixture of downtown America since the first ones were installed in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16, 1935.

Newspapers have frequently been accused of stirring-up controversies, so it is a bit of irony that the parking meter was invented by a newspaper editor. In Oklahoma, Carlton Cole Magee was serving on the local Chamber of Commerce traffic committee which had been assigned the task of solving the problem of shopkeepers and their employees parking all day on the street in front of their downtown stores, thereby not leaving any place for customers to park.

Over the years, parking meters have been misused and abused, vandalized and scandalized, and suffered great indignities. Who can forget the opening scene in the classic 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, when Paul Newman is arrested for cutting off the heads of parking meters?

When asked why he did it, Luke replied, “Small town, not much to do in the evenin’.” My favorite line in the movie is, “What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach…”

Apparently there was a failure to communicate in Westminster in 1941. That was when a “bill of complaint was filed Sept. 19, 1941 by T. William Mather, Jr., George K. Mather, Frank W. Mather, Harry Rosenstock, Fred J. Schmitt and Esra W. Harbaugh vs. the Mayor and Common Council of Westminster,” according to one newspaper article.

The wheels of justice were apparently no faster in yesteryear than they are today. It took five years before the case wound its way through the legal system. “On Feb. 1, 1946 a motion was filed for a hearing in the matter by Attorneys Francis Neal Parke and Ralph G. Hoffman, and the case has been re-opened… D. Eugene Walsh, counsel to the city, will represent the city.”

On May 24, 1946, the Democratic Advocate reported “The Mayor and Council, who had under consideration parking meters for Main Street, both sides, from Charles Carroll Hotel to Anchor Street… [They became a] reality Tuesday morning when a force of men started drilling holes for the erection of the meters. It will require about two weeks or more before the work will be completed...

“[An] injunction was denied by Judge Clarke, sometime last April, and an appeal was under way but later dropped by the opposers… Charles Armacost, popular contractor of Finksburg, has charge of the placing the meters in position. The work is being done very rapidly.”

Of course, parking in downtown Westminster ebbs and flows in controversy.

For many of us, one enigma remains and that is why parking was removed from the south side of Main Street in front of where the downtown branch of the Carroll County library is located.


Many of us who grew up in Westminster recall parking on that side of the street — in front of where St. John Catholic Church was then located. Then came along “progress” and a center turn lane — that is hardly ever used — was added for the entire block and the parking removed.