It's a well-rounded city with a small-town feeling

Neighborhood profile: Westminster

Quaint architecture, college create a `gem'

January 20, 2002|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If anything, don't refer to Westminster as just a "small town" in Carroll County.

But if you want to accuse the people there of having that small-town feeling, go right ahead.

For those who have been there, the term small town may seem odd. After all, it has 17,000 residents. And on the outskirts are boundless reasons to shop.

But for the people who live in Westminster, it is a wonderful example of the simple life.

"It's one of those hidden gems on the East Coast," said Joyce Muller, who has lived in Westminster since childhood. "It's always been a charming place to live. It was an idyllic childhood to live in this community, and I'm very happy here as an adult."

She remembers riding her bike down Main Street, sifting through books at the public library and attending events at Western Maryland College.

"The college offers great cultural opportunities," said Muller, who heads the school's public relations department.

"As a child, I can remember coming up on campus and coming to a play or lecture. I can remember coming to see the Colts practice, and now we have the Ravens summer camp. When you have a college in a community it makes a big difference."

Jackie Finch also has fond memories of growing up in Westminster -so much so that she and her husband, Bill, moved back to the area to raise their children.

"It seemed like a very friendly town, and I knew it to be that way," Jackie Finch said. "It's that little bit of Americana that we still have. In recent years, people have begun to value the quaint charm of the architecture and buildings. If you have the opportunity to walk down Main Street, keep your head up, and there is a wonderful streetscape with very interesting architecture."

The Finches' home is part of that architecture. Dating to 1840, the couple's West Main Street house still has the original smokehouse, stable and mounting stone. The Finches restored the house room by room while raising five children.

"We used to stroll down Main Street and admire this structure," she said. "There was quite a lot to do to make it habitable again. But with each room we did, we came to love it more and more."

Historic homes are not the only type of housing found in Westminster. Within the city limits, there is just about every type of architecture one can imagine, in just about any price range.

"Anything you want, you can find in Westminster," said Judy Tyree, manager of the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA office in Westminster. "In town you can find townhouses, duplexes, individual homes and fairly new construction."

Although the average price of a house in Westminster is around $160,000, it's hard to describe what that average house is. Currently on the market are a two-bedroom townhouse for $121,900, a 1955 Cape Cod for $179,000, a five-bedroom historic Colonial for $299,900, a four-bedroom Colonial in a newer subdivision for $349,000 and a five-bedroom modern home for $419,000.

But the reasons for choosing a house in Westminster remain the same, Tyree said.

"People like the hometown atmosphere combined with the convenience of being in a town. It's still a place where Westminster High School has its homecoming parade down Main Street. We have wonderful restaurants, shopping and a beautiful library. We've kept updated on things, but at the same time there is still a little bit of what used to be," she said.

Tyree, who has sold homes in the area for 20 years, said there is a renewed interest in city living.

"There's always been a pocket of people who want city life. Not downtown Baltimore City life, but small-town city life. There was a time when everyone wanted acreage. Now people have gotten away from that."

Westminster was at one time known as Winchester, after William Winchester, an indentured servant from England who purchased much of the land in 1764. Then in 1768, to avoid confusion with Winchester, Va., the name was changed to Westminster. Originally it divided Baltimore and Frederick counties, and in the early 1800s Westminster became a trading center in the newly designated Carroll County.

For Gail D'Anthony, who moved with her family to Westminster 12 years ago from Baltimore, it was the small-town charm, good schools and recreational opportunities that caught her interest.

"I just liked the quaintness of what I saw here," she said.

D'Anthony, the president of the Greens of Westminster Homeowners Association, a subdivision in Westminster, believes the city offers some of the best recreational events and programs around.

During the winter, the city serves up a tree-lighting ceremony and holiday camp for children. In the spring, there are the flower and jazz festival and the Easter egg hunt. During the summer, there are free concerts in the park. Fallfest offers residents four days of entertainment in September.

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