Ceremonies on Memorial Day have extra significance for Westminster

On Monday, May 26, Carroll County residents will gather to commemorate Memorial Day at the large urn on the knoll immediately in view as one enters the historic Westminster Cemetery from Church Street.

Carroll Post 31 of the American Legion is again organizing this hallowed tradition — which began when Mary Bostwick Shellman followed Gen. John A. Logan's May 5th, 1868, General Order No. 11 to adorn the graves of Union soldiers with flowers — for the 147th time. She gathered schoolchildren for the task and led a procession through town to the Westminster Cemetery.

The urn has become one of the many visual icons of our community. But most folks may not be aware of what the urn represents. Moreover, this year the urn takes on additional meaning because it is arguably located where Westminster began 250 years ago in 1764.

One of the first focal points of our town when the early settlers first came together as a community in 1764 was the Union Meeting House of Westminster. The urn marks the location where the Old Union Church Building once stood. It was described as being "50 feet long by 40 feet wide and 25 feet high. …" in a July 18, 1891, newspaper article that was published around the time when the building was demolished.

Until a formal organized municipal government was adopted on Feb. 5, 1819, the Union Meeting House, and its board of trustees, was, in effect, the "governing body" for the early settlers.

The March 26, 1819, edition of the Westminster Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser newspaper reported, "Isaac Shriver gave notice that the annual election of Trustees for the Westminster general meeting house would be held on Easter Monday. …"

The brick structure was predated by what is referred to in several historic accounts as a "log structure." Some historians think the log structure was constructed around 1790. But there are numerous references to a structure as early as 1760, four years before the town's founder, William Winchester, drew a plat plan for what is now known as the city of Westminster.

"The Westminster General Meeting House" was referred to in an act to formally incorporate a board of trustees by the Maryland General Assembly on May 24, 1813. It was originally built as a place for community meetings and served as a house of worship according to "Carroll County Cemeteries, Volume Five; Part Three Westminster Cemetery" published in 2004 by the Carroll County Genealogical Society and written, in part, by noted genealogical historians Ann P. Horvath, Harold Robertson, and Mary Ann Ashcroft.

For Memorial Day next week, the urn will be at the center of solemn ceremonies.

For the 250th anniversary of Westminster, the urn represents the center of our history — the beginnings of the structure of government in which a series of hamlets consolidated to become what we now know as Westminster.

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