Learn about Carroll County!

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.

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. Meade 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.

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.

_____.  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)

Carroll County Genealogical Society:  www.carr.org/ccgs

Historical Society of Carroll County:  www.hsccmd.org

Pipe Creek Civil War Roundtable:  www.pccwrt.org

Union Mills Homestead:  www.unionmills.org


Carroll County is a beautiful, rural area, convenient to Baltimore, Gettysburg, and Washington, D.C. In addition to its great location, Carroll County offers a peaceful day away from the hustle and bustle of more metropolitan areas. Carroll offers so much for our visitors to see. Here you will find history, antiquing, festivals, walking tours, driving tours, biking tours, and nature parks. And when your day is done, kick back and relax at one of our quaint bed and breakfasts or modern hotels.

Our visitors are encouraged to stop by the Visitor Center at 1838 Emerald Hill Lane, Westminster, MD 21157, where they will find friendly and knowledgeable staff to help them plan a day in Carroll County. We have many brochures about the various sites, along with our Calendar of Events.

History! History buffs can find plenty to satisfy their curiosity. Carroll’s North border shares billing as the Mason-Dixon Line. The Historical Society of Carroll County offers tours of the Sherman-Fisher-Shellman House and a gallery located in the Kimmey House full of Carroll County memorabilia; and don’t forget the gift shop which offers lots of museum-quality items for sale.

Take a stroll back over a hundred years to the Carroll County Farm Museum, which is open to the public year round. During the season many festivals are held: Fourth of July Celebration, Fiddler’s Convention, The Maryland Wine Festival© in September and Fall Harvest Celebration in October. Artisans demonstrating broom making, tinsmithing, blacksmithing may be observed or stop for a break in the Rose Garden, offering old-fashioned varieties of roses.

The Union Mills Homestead and Grist Mill (circa 1797) home of the Shriver family for six generations, has been carefully restored. Years ago the bustling mill attracted wagonloads of people bringing their grain to market. Today, watch whole grain ground into wheat, buckwheat and corn meal, which can be purchased in small sacks at the gift shop. The Homestead also played an important part in the days before the Gettysburg Civil War battle. Troops from both sides were fed from the huge kitchen–though on different days. Everything is much the same as when the Homestead was in daily use by an active family growing with America, and the visitor is assured a rewarding experience. The Homestead also hosts the Maryland MicroBrewery Festival the last Saturday in September.

Driving Tours! Take a leisurely ride through some of our most scenic back roads while tracing troop movement and observing Civil War points of interest. Our Civil War Driving Tour will provide you with the route that some 60,000 Union and Confederate soldiers marched through. The two-part brochure describes the history and the actual driving tour with map. Sites are clearly marked and the tour is arranged so that you can begin at most any of our towns.

Shopping! Carroll County offers the antique seeker a potpourri of shops. Most of our small towns have multiple antique shops with Westminster the site of an Antique Mall. Our small towns are full of quaint shops to explore providing you with just the right gift item or souvenir of your trip.

Walking Tours! Our four tours provide you with a historical lesson in architecture. Two of our tours are located in downtown Westminster. As you guide yourself through the “Courthouse Square” tour, you will discover 10 sites including the historic jail, courthouse and Ascension Church. The “Westward Expansion” tour provides the exteriors of 31 sites including many businesses with 19th Century architecture and private residences built by the affluent Carroll County businessmen of the 1800’s. Our third tour takes you through one of the few entire towns on the National Historic Register, Uniontown. Visit 18 sites in this historic, quaint village…a townscape virtually unchanged from the turn-of-the century. And finally, our fourth tour in Taneytown includes 38 exterior views…from an inn where George and Martha Washington slept, to churches and merchants homes.

Outdoor Activities! Whether you like to boat, fish, hike, picnic, play tennis, or just appreciate nature’s beauty, Piney Run Park is yours to enjoy. Completed in 1974, this 300-acre lake is rich in environmental and recreational resources. Its clear waters are surrounded by 500 acres of beautiful woods and open space. The natural rural surroundings, combined with creative, informative programming, make Piney Run Park an ideal place to discover and enjoy the out-of-doors.

Restaurants! When you need a rest and some sustenance there are plenty of wonderful places to eat. Carroll County offers an array of eating experiences ranging from church suppers, deli shops along our Main Streets, to award-winning restaurants. Our Visitor Center has sample menus for your use.

Lodging! Our bed and breakfasts will supply you with a special place to lay your head. Many are located in historic buildings and the owners are “oh so happy” to talk with you about the history while providing a country breakfast the next morning. In addition, we have several modern reasonably-priced hotels, which can accommodate families and (some) even pets!

Carroll County takes you back to a time when a slower pace was part of our heritage, when rural life allowed time to make ice cream on the back porch with family members around, when sitting by a stream catching fish was not time out, but a part of life. Come join us away from the hustle, bustle life…we look forward to your visit.

Call ahead for our FREE Visitor Information packet, 1-800-272-1933, or stop by our Visitor Center at 1838 Emerald Hill Lane, Westminster, MD 21157.