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Celebration of historic oak tree a recognition of Westminster's deep roots

Several weeks ago, just as spring was beginning to finally appear, several City of Westminster workers joined City Arborist Eric Schlitzer to dig up a 6-foot oak sapling growing under the huge historic white oak tree in front of the Babylon-Shriver House at the corner of North and Willis Street in the front yard of Evelyn Babylon, (my wife's mother). The sapling was then moved down the street to the historic grounds of Westminster City Hall.

On Monday, April 28, at 6:30 p.m., the city will recognize the sapling as the Westminster Sestercentennial Babylon Oak as part of the Westminster Tree Commission's annual Arbor Day celebration and the yearlong commemoration of Westminster's 250th anniversary.

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And with the event at Emerald Hill on Longwell Avenue, a portion of the city's "tree rings" of history comes full circle back to City Hall.

Historically, the Willis Street area of Westminster was once part of the same farm property as what is now known as the grounds of Westminster City Hall, which was originally built by Col. John Klinehoff Longwell in 1842.

The land referred to as "Emerald Hill," on which Longwell's home was built, was purchased from the estate of David Fisher, which included a larger tract of land that extended east from the railroad tracks past Center Street to the courthouse.

Even after the death of Longwell's wife, Sarah Longwell — and subsequently Col. Longwell in 1896 — the family continued to occupy the mansion until the death of Longwell's daughter, Sallie.

At this time, in 1907, a portion of the property was developed into what we now know as "Longwell's Addition to Westminster," which included Willis Street. Several homes on Willis, including the Babylon House, were built by the Shriver family a few years later — perhaps in the 1910 to 1915 time frame.

D. Snider Babylon purchased the Babylon House from the Shrivers in 1933. The house has now been in the Babylon family for two generations.

Babylon's father, Frank Thomas Babylon, was a co-owner of the Longwell Mansion, now City Hall, from 1909 to 1929 and served as the Westminster Common Council president in 1898 and 1899.

Frank Thomas Babylon's grandson, Evelyn Babylon's late husband, David S. Babylon Jr., served as a Westminster Common Councilman from 1964 to 1989. For 16 of those years, he also served as the Common Council president.

To add some additional historic symmetry, the parent tree of the sapling that was moved to City Hall is celebrated to be more than 250 years old. Oral tradition dates the tree back to 1630. On May 12, 1975, the Maryland Forest Service dated the White Oak to have been around since at least 1710; long enough to have witnessed Westminster's beginning steps and march through time.

The sapling now continues the Westminster tradition where, according to the city's website, "history meets tomorrow."

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