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Last Wednesday’s column discussed the dedication of the new Westminster Cranberry Water Treatment Plant on Lucabaugh Mill Road just north of Westminster on April 24.

This week’s let’s take a look at the story of the early Westminster water systems.
One of the reasons settlers were attracted to what later became Carroll County (on January 19, 1837) was the availability and access to running streams and rivers — and access to plenty of drinking water.

Before Westminster was incorporated in 1819, the city had already suffered a devastating drought and water shortage which strained the relations of townsfolk and stirred great controversy. 

Water, or the lack thereof, was the impetus for the first recorded town meeting in Westminster history. It was an “emergency meeting” in the Union Meeting House in the late 1700s, several years after Westminster was founded in 1764.

At the time, the population of Westminster was 100 and already water was the source of concern. The only well (now known in history as “God’s Well) that continued to supply water throughout the water crisis is the well behind the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman property at 206 E. Main St.

Although the first agricultural crop in Carroll was tobacco, as more settlers arrived from Germany who excelled in millworks and milling, the cash crop quickly changed to grains to take advantage of streams to power the mills.

According to Nancy Warner’s “Carroll County Maryland, A History 1837-1776,” there were 31 mills in Carroll County in 1794. 

Joan Prall writes in her book, “Mills and Memories,” that, “The first record of a mill in Westminster is August 5, 1742, when a mill lot on Little Pipe Creek was patented to Thomas White.”
 
Ms. Prall also reports that in 1862, there were 100 water mills in Carroll County.

It is a tragedy that the old records of the Westminster water systems perished in the fire that destroyed the mill master’s house.

Research is needed to understand the early days of how drinking water was supplied to Westminster throughout history. One assumption is that much of the water was supplied by individual wells. However, few records of such private wells exist.

One of the better mysteries is how the water supply (and septic facilities) for a community of 1900 citizens withstood 30,000 mules, 7,000 Confederate prisoners and 10,000 Union troops in Westminster for a period of time in July, just after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

I recently came into some insight about one way water was supplied to the community in a brief history of Edward Lynch, a community leader and businessman in Westminster and Carroll County in the 1800s.

Lynch’s great grandson C. Robert (Bob) Lynch Jr., writes that “… Lynch furnished water to the Western Maryland railroad station, from a spring on his property for several years, beginning about 1863.”

That property was probably located at the intersection of Green and Liberty streets, where “Edward and my grandfather operated a business known as E. Lynch & Son. … They sold lumber, coal and farm machinery.”

There are references to “Goose Pond” as a water source in historical accounts, but this needs more research.  Dr. Joshua W. Hering wrote about the life and times of Westminster through his experiences in “Recollections of my Life.”

He first arrived in Westminster in 1851 and lived at the hotel and general store that inhabited the corner of Main and Carroll, where Jos. L. Mathias Monuments now exists. He mentions Liberty Street was called Goose Pond Lane in the later half of the 1800s. 

Another pond was in the area where Harry’s Main Street Grille is located. It was drained during the Civil War for building the large building to the east of the restaurant. Many remember the building as the “Montour Hotel” and later as “Benny’s Kitchen.”

An early reservoir was located at (or near) present-day Westminster Apartments on Poole Road on top of what many historical accounts refer to as Mitten’s Hill — or Reservoir Hill.

In 1883, the first private water company in Westminster was created and named “Westminster Water Company.”  The main impetus to start the water system had much more to do with fire fighting than to provide drinking water.

The worst fire in Westminster history occurred April 9, 1883, several months before the water company formed.

A public outcry resulted when much of Westminster burned to the ground from John Street to Carroll Street as a result of the lack of available water to fight the fire.

In one of the city’s first publications extolling the virtues of bringing economic development to Westminster and Carroll County, published Jan. 1, 1889; one of the positives it reported about Westminster was “The place has an abundant supply of pure water, so essential to health, so necessary in time of fire, and so useful for manufacturing purposes. … Nowhere is the scenery more beautiful, the climate more healthful, or the water more pure.”

The Jan. 1, 1889 city directory referred to one hotel, “Winchester Place,” which to this day still stands at the corner of Sycamore Street and Winchester Avenue and overlooks a large green space on Green Street. One of the promotions of Winchester Place was the existence of a “mineral spring” on the property.

The directory boosts, “Winchester Place comprises 10 acres, with fine shade trees, and slopes gently to Green Street, which is rapidly filling up with handsome residences. Upon this place is a fine spring … with the character of salts present, will fully entitle the water to the name of a mineral water.”

In 1901, a second company was formed named “Citizens Water and Power Company.”  These two companies consolidated in 1909.  As a result, to this day, there are some instances of dual water lines existing on certain streets within the city. The most profound example is the section of Main Street from Longwell Avenue to Bond Street.

In 1920, the Cranberry Water Pumping Station was constructed by Westminster Consolidated Utilities Company on the site of the Old Winter’s Mill, taking advantage of a millrace to bring the water into the plant from a pond upstream.

Until 1933, the private Westminster Consolidated Utilities Company, owned by Frank Thomas Babylon and George W. Albaugh, supplied electricity, water and gas for Westminster. That year, the predecessor to Baltimore Gas and Electric, the Consolidated Gas and Electric Company, purchased the company out of the estates of the two gentlemen who had been lifelong business partners and died in the same year — 1933.

Consolidated kept the electric and gas company portion of the business but sold the water company in 1935 to the Carroll County Water Company. That company was purchased in 1938 by the Maryland Water Company. 

The millpond on the old Morris Martin property is still part of the water supply for the city’s Cranberry Water Treatment Plant. It was expanded in 1957

The water system for Westminster remained in private hands until the city purchased it 40 years ago in September 1964.  The city improved the water plant in 1964 and 1977.

The work continues almost half a century after the purchase of the water system, and more than 200 years after our community banded together to maintain a steady and reliable water supply.

Feedback, questions, and comments are welcome in the readers’ comments section below.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. E-mail him at kevindayhoff@gmail.com.



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