133-year-old Westminster business to sell land to firefighters Volunteer fire company to pay $1.8 million for Smith & Reifsnider site

February 19, 1996|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,SUN STAFF

Joshua Smith, Henry Dell and Jesse Reifsnider opened Carroll County's first retail lumberyard in Westminster in 1863, just two years after the railroad was extended to the Carroll County seat.

But Smith & Reifsnider President Bill Miller Jr. says 133 years is long enough, especially when the buyer of the 3.5-acre property at 28 John St. is Westminster Volunteer Fire Company.

The wife of John L. Reifsnider III, the great-grandson of one of the founders, said she hasn't told her 81-year-old husband, who now resides in a nursing home, about the store closing "because the company was so dear to him."

The fire company will pay $1.8 million for the property. Firefighters have been searching for several years for a site large enough to accommodate new equipment that won't fit in the historic fire station on East Main Street.

"It's basically a win-win situation, because [the fire company] gets something they need and they're going to set aside a museum for Smith & Reifsnider. If [the business] was sold later in pieces, there wouldn't be any trace of Smith & Reifsnider," Mr. Miller said.

The museum will include historic photos and may be housed in a building the fire company will use as a social hall.

In the meantime, Mr. Miller is expanding Smith & Reifsnider's Taneytown store. Six of the 15 Westminster store employees have been transferred to Taneytown. He said the store's niche is small contractors, remodelers and "individuals who might have a contractor, but they choose to order the materials themselves."

Smith & Reifsnider's closing will mean a real estate and personal property tax loss of about $4,300 a year to city government.

The coal and lumber business on West Main Street was established two years after railroad service reached Westminster. The site now is occupied by Mercer Floors Inc., 26 W. Main St.

Historical Society records indicate that ownership passed back and forth among members of the three families until John L. Reifsnider Jr. became sole owner when his partner died in 1922. Mr. Reifsnider incorporated the business in 1937 and gave or sold stock to several employees.

One of Westminster's major fires started in the Smith & Reifsnider lumberyard July 2, 1938. The fire, apparently set off by a firecracker, destroyed thousands of feet of lumber and building materials, and scorched nearby homes, according to newspaper accounts.

The store moved from Main Street to John Street in the late 1960s. Mr. Miller said his father started as a bookkeeper with Smith & Reifsnider in the 1930s and worked his way to president. Mr. Miller joined the staff in 1976 and became president after his father retired in the 1980s.

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