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Brief County History

Carroll County, Maryland
Authored by Cathy Baty, Curator
Historical Society of Carroll County, 2013

Carroll County, Maryland is in the central part of the state, located between Baltimore and Frederick counties. The county was one of the later ones to be formed in Maryland, created in 1837 out the western part of Baltimore County and the eastern part of Frederick County.  The County was named after Charles Carroll, one of Maryland’s signers of the Declaration of Independence and the longest-lived of all the signers, who died a few years before the County’s founding.  Westminster, near the geographic center, was chosen as the seat of government for the county.  William Winchester laid out the town of Westminster in 1764 on part of his tract called “White’s Level.”  Winchester’s home still stands, one the oldest surviving structures in the county.

The county has a diverse heritage.  The northern part of the county was settled by Germans moving south from Pennsylvania.  These settlers created small family farms centered around small towns.  The southern part of the county was settled by those of English background who were moving inland from the tidewater in search of farmland.  These families tended to own larger tracts of land.  These differences are reflected in the architecture and towns of the county.

Eight cities grew in Carroll County: Westminster (at the center) and Hampstead, Manchester, Mount Airy, New Windsor, Sykesville, Taneytown, and Union Bridge (along the borders).  The merchants, bankers and tradesmen who set up shop in the cities provided essential services for farmers in the surrounding area.  However, most residents lived on farms or in the small crossroad communities scattered around the county.  Originally, the county was divided into nine election districts in Carroll County.  These have been sub-divided over the years and currently there are fourteen districts.



From its earliest days the county was primarily agricultural.  Rich land attracted farming families.  Mills sprang up along the creeks and streams to process the produce.  The arrival of the railroad and construction of turnpikes boosted the county’s economy.  Improved roads led to Baltimore, Frederick, Hanover, Washington and other major markets.  The Baltimore & Ohio, Western Maryland, and Frederick and Pennsylvania Line railroads spurred an economic boom in the last half of the 19th century.  The B&O ran along the Patapsco River on the county’s southern boundary, passing through towns such as Sykesville, Winfield and Mount Airy as early as 1831.  The Western Maryland Railroad reached Westminster in 1861 and its terminus at Union Bridge the following year.

Industries grew that utilized local resources. Tanneries, paper mills, canneries, and quarries appeared and began to diversify the county’s economy.  In 1909, a group of businessmen established the Tidewater Portland Cement Company to take advantage of the limestone deposits near Union Bridge.  The factory included mills for crushing and grinding stone, kilns, dynamo to power the works, storage sheds, and railroad tracks for moving materials.  The plant has grown tremendously over the years and today is operated by Lehigh Cement Company.  In the early 20th century, the county was the world’s leading producer of wormseed oil, a key ingredient in a cure for hookworms and ringworms in humans and animals.  The Congoleum plant in Cedarhurst produced tons of the felt used in the manufacturing of the flooring.

Today, major corporations such as Random House, Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Northrop Grumman, EVAPCO, General Dynamics Robotic Systems, Shelter Systems Limited, and Knorr Brake Company call Carroll County home.


Civil War

As in many places, the Civil War divided Carroll County’s citizens.  Approximately 750 men joined the Union army while about 250 of their neighbors fought for the Confederacy.

The county saw Confederate troops on its soil three times during the war.  On the evening of September 11, 1862, the 5th Virginia Cavalry commanded by Col. Thomas Lafayette Rosser, part of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, arrived in Westminster.  The unit withdrew the next morning, having done little damage but caused much anxiety.  In June 1863, as Gen. George G. Mead pursued Lee’s army into Pennsylvania, much of the Union’s Army of the Potomac marched through Carroll County.  Meade spread five corps across the county on a defensive line – called the Pipe Creek Line – from Manchester to Middleburg.  On June 29, Gen. J.E.B. Stuart’s Confederate cavalry rode into Westminster from the south and encountered the 1st Delaware Cavalry assigned to protect the railroad in the city.  The Delaware troopers were defeated in a brief but bloody skirmish and Stuart continued on to his ultimate destination, Gettysburg.  In July 1864, Confederate Gen. Bradley T. Johnson, a Frederick native, arrived in Carroll County as part of Jubal Early’s campaign to capture Washington.  Johnson’s cavalry invaded New Windsor, emptying many of the town’s shops, and continued on to Westminster where they spent the night.


Notable names

Francis Scott Key was born on his father’s farm, Terra Rubra, on land that is now part of Carroll County, near Taneytown.  Key inherited the farm and owned the property his whole life.  A contemporary of Key’s was Betsy Patterson, daughter of a Baltimore merchant who owned a large estate near Sykesville.  Betsy married Jerome Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, in 1803.  Unfortunately, Napoleon soon annulled the marriage.

In 1872, Robert Wyndham Walden moved to Middleburg and established the Bowling Brook racing stables.  He built stables that could house 200 horses at a time and an enclosed circular track that allowed his horses to train year-round.  Walden trained seven Preakness winners, including five straight from 1878 to 1882.

Sculptor William Henry Rinehart was born September 13, 1825 on a farm near Union Bridge.  As a young man, he worked in the family marble quarry polishing and lettering blocks for tombstones, window sills, door sills and other items to be sold throughout the community.   After an apprenticeship in Baltimore, Rinehart left to study in Florence, Italy, in 1855.  He moved to Rome, Italy in 1858 and maintained his principal studio there for the rest of his life.    Rinehart died of tuberculosis in 1874 at only 49 years of age, but his works live on, including the bronze doors for the U.S. Capitol, a bronze statue of Justice Roger Brooke Taney in Annapolis, one hundred portrait busts and over thirty pieces of statuary.

Many families have lived in the county for generations and there is a strong interest in history leading to the growth of not only the Historical Society but also the Union Mills Homestead, the Carroll County Farm Museum, the Sykesville Gate House Museum and heritage committees across the county.


Further Reading:

_____.  An Illustrated Atlas of Carroll County, Maryland, Reprint of the 1977 Edition.  (Westminster, MD:  Historical Society of Carroll County, 1993)

Getty, Joe, ed.  The Carroll Record Histories of Northwestern Carroll County Communities (Westminster, MD:  Historical Society of Carroll County, 1994)

Getty, Joe.  Carroll’s Heritage (Westminster, MD:  Historical Society of Carroll County, 1987)

Klein, Frederick Shriver, ed. Just South of Gettysburg: Carroll County, Maryland in the Civil War.  (Westminster, MD: Historical Society of Carroll County, Fifth printing, 2000)

Warner, Nancy M., Ralph B. Levering and Margaret Taylor Woltz.  Carroll County, Maryland: A History, 1837-1976. (Westminster, MD: Carroll County Bicentennial Committee, 1976)


Additional Web Sites:

Carroll County Genealogical Society:

Historical Society of Carroll County:

Pipe Creek Civil War Roundtable:

Union Mills Homestead:


Submitted by:
Catherine Baty
Curator of Collections
Historical Society of Carroll County