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From bread basket to bread lines, Carroll has ridden economic waves

We greet 2012 while enduring the beginning of the fifth year of an economic malaise.

Yes, I am well aware that the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that our current recession began December 2007 and was over in June 2009.

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Yeah right — tell it to Main Street.

The politics of roads, growth and development, recessions and the cyclical boom and bust of agriculture has always played a prominent role in the history of Carroll County.

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The reasons for forming our own county in 1837 were many, but among them was inadequate attention by Annapolis to our road infrastructure, and inadequate control over local land use and economics.

Although many may consider the politics of Annapolis to be truly foreign, it's true that just as today, many of the difficulties in our history have been a result of national and international economic dynamics from outside of Carroll County, and Maryland.

One of the first international economic dynamics affecting the Carroll area of Maryland came as a result of the French and Indian War, which ended in 1768 (and saw the founding of Westminster in 1764).

However, the 800-pound gorilla in Carroll's history took place just as the affects of the American Revolution were just registering. "Legacy of the Land" written by Carol Lee in 1982, notes the impact of Europe's great famine in 1789.

France and England were essentially bankrupt as a result of years of international conflict, of which the American Revolution was the final straw. England's national debt had doubled during the war with the rebellious colonials, and most of the agro-economic structure of Europe had collapsed with the great European Famine of 1789.

According to Carol Lee, "American wheat and flour had an important role in the (subsequent European) Napoleonic Wars." It is here in history that America began it's long journey to become the bread basket of the world and Carroll was in the middle of it all.

During this period, vast acres of Carroll's woodland were cleared for growing grain crops. Then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson wrote that he regretted "the likelihood of war," but "we must console ourselves with the good price of wheat which it will bring us."

"Legacy" notes that, "wheat nearly became a bonanza crop in Maryland … which offered prospects for quick fortune," and further fueled farmland speculation in Carroll County.

From boom to bust, a series of national economic events involving new agriculture diseases and pests, credit over-extension, and land and housing speculation led to the Panic (recession) of 1837, just as everything was going so well in the new Carroll County.

That Panic of 1837 was one of the nation's worse and, by 1843, the then-Westminster newspaper, the Democrat and Carroll County Republican, "carried an average of twenty insolvency notices per weekly issue," wrote Lee, "and its editor felt compelled to apologize to readers for … such depressing news."

When he is not singing, "Don't Worry, Be Happy," Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com

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