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Picturing a town, circa 1900


The steeple of St. John's Roman Catholic Church stretches to the sky above East Main Street. The Main Court Inn awaits a wedding reception or a party of prominent Westminster citizens. The Western Maryland Railroad Station stands ready for passengers on the morning train to Baltimore.

The buildings, part of Westminster's face at the start of the 20th century, have been demolished. But they're preserved in old photographs and postcards, copied and mounted for display at City Hall.

Historian and genealogist George A. Billingslea was chairman of a committee of seven local collectors who spent two years sorting through about 250 postcards and photographs to select 60 for the permanent exhibit. The committee chose photographs and postcards of commercial or public buildings as more recognizable than houses.

The beginning of the 20th century "was the time of the people who influenced the development of Westminster," he said.

Entrepreneurs such as George W. Albaugh and his partner Thomas Babylon, co-owners of Albaugh and Babylon Grocery Co., a wholesale business, and Jesse Reifsnider, co-founder of the city's first lumberyard, were building their businesses and the local economy.

The city was lively. It had passenger rail service, six or seven hotels serving travelers to Baltimore and a Main Street that by 1910 boasted a tar-and-chip surface.

Fortunately, the period between 1880 and 1920 also was a time when people sent postcards as casually as they dash off e-mails today. Collectors pay an average of $6 apiece for scenes of the city such as "an aeroplane view of Western Maryland College" or telephone operators lined up at a switchboard.

Pub Date: 12/27/98

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