Taneytown is turning 250

Birthday: The county's oldest town will mark the anniversary with a time capsule, fireworks, a parade and parties.

April 25, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville will mark its centennial next month. New Windsor staged a double celebration a few years back of the bicentennial of its founding and the 100th anniversary of its incorporation. Now, the granddaddy of Carroll County's eight towns is turning 250 and will toss a weeklong party this summer.

Taneytown, whose founding predates that of its home county by nearly 90 years, is taking a week in August to look back on its past, promote its present and focus on its future.

Residents will set off fireworks, bury a time capsule, parade through downtown, party in their neighborhoods, new and old, and say a few prayers for the future.

"The world might just revolve around Taneytown for a week this summer," said Mindy Bianca, public relations coordinator for the Maryland Office of Tourism. "More and more people are looking for small-town charm. They want to recapture that Mayberry feeling."

The town that promises visitors "historic charm and down-home friendliness" in its tourism brochure has festooned Baltimore Street with flags announcing its birthday. The maroon-and-navy pennants are printed with a picture of City Hall's century-old dome and "Welcome to Taneytown Founded 1754." That's nearly a half-century before Baltimore became an official city. Annapolis, incorporated in 1708, is the state's oldest municipality.

"We are the small town with a big heart, and we are doing this event up big," said Nancy B. McCormick, town economic development director. "We celebrate our history because it is what makes us what we are today. History gives us our character."

The Maryland Municipal League maintains records of incorporation, the dates when towns become official governments with mayor and councils. Founding dates are a bit more nebulous, said James P. Peck, the league's associate director for research.

"Towns celebrate various milestones," Peck said. "We have seen the terms `founding' and `laid out' for when a grid pattern was approved. But we only keep track of incorporation, when there is an official government. Towns have their own historical documents to determine their founding dates."

The Historical Society of Carroll County attests to Taneytown's claim. It was followed 10 years later by Westminster, also a city, and in 1797, New Windsor, which along with the other five Carroll municipalities calls itself a town.

Plans call for partying in Taneytown from Aug. 21 to 28, starting with a Lions Club breakfast and a parade of bands, floats and dignitaries. The governor can't make it, but he has promised to send a representative. The party will end with the Brothers of the Brush award for the best recently grown beard and a fireworks finale.

"You should see the men around here with their scruffy beards," McCormick said of the contest, which began March 1.

Between the hearty breakfast and the booming fireworks, the town will hold an old-fashioned community picnic, a cakewalk and an ice cream social.

Officials and volunteers are organizing a talent show, heritage home tours and a neighborhood block party. The Taneytown Community Chorus will perform, as will the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.

Several festivities are taking their cues from municipal history. Residents are combing their attics for ensembles befitting a Fashion Show of the Decades, which will hark back to the 1700s.

The Carroll County Farm Museum is putting together 19th-century children's activities, and youngsters will have their parade.

Volunteer firefighters are lining up vintage automobiles for a car show. Re-enactors will stage battles from the Revolution and the Civil War. The mayor will ceremoniously place town artifacts in a time capsule to the strains of a barbershop quartet.

"These town celebrations attract history buffs, extended families and friends," said Barbara Beverungen, Carroll's director of tourism. "Taneytown is planning a lot of unusual activities."

City taxpayers will not have to foot the bill.

"The community is coming up to the plate and raising its own money for this celebration," said McCormick. "It is amazing to see the spirit and pride. We have always had that, but now there's more oomph to it as Taneytown showcases itself."

The celebration week will highlight the town's past with photo exhibits, archives from previous celebrations and folklore. The town's birthdate is May 24, 1754, but officials checked county and state tourism schedules and found them crowded with spring events. To trim the competition, Taneytown opted for a late summer celebration that might have tourists flocking to western Carroll County.

"Building on an anniversary and reflecting on your history are great ways to build publicity about yourself," said Bianca. "A weeklong celebration will give people flexibility and the time to come from farther afield."

Taneytown can take pride in its past as it prepares for its future, McCormick said. The town of 5,100 recently completed a $650,000 restoration of City Hall, built in 1897 as a fire station.

"Many of our original buildings are still here," she said.

Those include a 1755 home on Frederick Street, the Adam Goode Inn, where George and Martha Washington reportedly slept, and a railroad station that now houses the Police Department. A smaller depot, the town's first train stop, is an antique shop. St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church dates to 1796, and a musician will play its 170-year-old organ during an anniversary concert.

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