xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

William Winchester founded Westminster 250 years ago, and the city celebrated by bringing him back to life.

Well, sort of.

Advertisement

Dean Camlin, architect, portrays Winchester in an ongoing series of public appearances during this observance, and the most recent sighting was at a tea hosted Sunday at the Westminster Library by the Historical Society, Genealogical Society, and others.

Camlin showed up in the clothing of 1764, and looked pretty good considering the length of his nap. Cool would be the operational word.

Advertisement

In an interview with a slightly less barnacle-covered reporter, he told the gathering that he was born in England in 1711, son of a locksmith, was orphaned and "without prospects in England," and signed papers of indenture at the age of 20 to travel to The Colonies, arriving in Annapolis.

When Baltimore was a village of about 25 houses, he served at the pleasure of a wealthy land-holder named George Buchanan, who laid out Baltimore and named his estate Auchentorlie after his land in Scotland, which became Druid Hill.

Winchester was also a contemporary of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Capt. Richard Owings of Soldier's Delight (and Owings Mills).

Because Winchester could read and write, Buchanan gave him responsibilities for managing the affairs of a part of a plantation along the old Gunpowder River and Jones Falls.

After he met his five years of obligation he moved west to a place called Dugg Hill, near what we now call Manchester. He met young Lydia, daughter of a man named Richards, who also owned a patent on Spring Garden, an early name for Hampstead.

Winchester wanted to acquire wealth of his own, so he traveled even farther west – near what was then the frontier – and bought some land called White's Level.

He used stones and trees to lay out a town of 45 lots along both sides of the main road leading from the northwest toward Baltimore. That initial plat started roughly at what is now Washington Road and went northwest to Center Street.

Winchester and Lydia had 10 children over the years. The family home was on Bishop Street, and is one of the few original houses still standing, occupied by Gypsy's Tea Room across from the Farm Museum.

He was mostly a land speculator and developer, making it possible for new arrivals to clear raw forest for farmland and village lots. Unlike others of his time, he had a vision of the future than allowed him to invest in properties that might have little apparent value in the short run, but grow in use and value over time.

Winchester's original town was surrounded by other plats, which he bought and eventually annexed to enlarge the town. According to the history on the official website for Westminster, these "hamlets" began coming together in 1775 when the village called New London extended King Street – they changed it to Main Street when the new country rebelled against the King of England – to Longwell Avenue. In 1788, Green Street was added from Washington Road to Church Street. Bedford became Westminster when it joined the town limits at Longwell and ran to near John Street around 1812. Main Street continued to the intersection at the top of Parr's Ridge – now McDaniel College -- in 1825 with the annexation of Logsdon's Tavern land.

Camlin does a good job of staying in character as he talks about the growth of the town in the years between 1764 and Winchester's death in 1790. He feigns confusion when asked about the arrival of the railroad in the 1860s, for example. But the history of the town he started was carefully recorded and preserved by generations of local residents and others who love history.

The website, with a lot of input by Kevin Dayhoff, and other writings by Catherine Baty, Anne and George Horvath, Mary Ann Ashcroft and others give us a glimpse of how Westminster's story – and William Winchester's – is one of a people separating themselves from one culture and recreating themselves and the world in which they would live.

Advertisement

The citizens of the new nation seized opportunity to build wealth and their own culture, based on liberty and initiative and vision, rather than by social status or birthright.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at dminnichwestm@aol.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement