The Groft Family
Westminster, Carroll County, MD

Westminster, Maryland, 1864-1911
Charles R. Groft (1833-1911)

copright 2003 by Jeffrey L. Thomas

Right: Charles R. Groft

Although it is probable that Charles and Elizabeth Groff arrived in Westminster from Baltimore County in the mid-1860s, the first proof we have of the family in the area is the marriage record of their son Oliver in 1868, and a land purchase record in 1869. There is a possible earlier reference to Charles R. Groft I found in an 1864 edition of The American Sentinel, a Westminster newspaper. An article in the paper notes that a C.R. Groft was among a group of men from Westminster who were drafted into the Union Army. In 1864 the Civil War was still raging and in that year the northern states instituted a draft in order to fill the ranks of their depleted army. Although the reference to "C.R." is a bit obscure (all the men listed were listed by their initials), there can be little doubt that "C.R." was our ancestor Charles R. Groft. If so, the reference is important because it places the family in Westminster in 1864, and because it's the first time a record refers to the family name as "Groft."

Nevertheless, records from the National Archives in Washington D.C. show that neither a C.R. or a Charles Groff or Groft served in the Civil War. The possibilities are that our ancestor either paid for an exemption, a common practice by which a draftee could pay another individual to take his place, or that he was declared unfit for service. Again, although Charles R. Groft apparently did not serve in the war, the reference is still significant for the reasons mentioned above.

The census of 1870 is the first time we see the family of Charles and Elizabeth Groff living in Westminster. The family is living on a farm valued at $500.00, which was probably the piece of property purchased by Elizabeth the previous year. The returns include Charles Groff, (age 44), Elizabeth, (age 45), and children Samuel, (age 17), Esther, (Hester, age 15), Julia, (age 13), Charles, (age 10), John, (age 8), Joseph, (age 5), and Mary Ann, (age 3). Charles' occupation is listed as "Farmer". Interestingly, while all the children are listed as being born in Maryland, Hester is listed as being born in Pennsylvania in 1854/55. If correct, this is an indication that the Groff family was still visiting to Pennsylvania while living in Reisterstown. The returns for Westminster also show oldest son Oliver Groff and his wife Susan living nearby.

1870, Westminster District, Carroll County, MD

Name Age Occupation Value of Real Estate Place of Birth
Groff, Charles 44 Farmer 500 Pennsylvania
Elizabeth 45 Keeping House   Maryland
Samuel 17     Maryland
Esther 15     Pennsylvania
Julia 13     Maryland
Charles 10     Maryland
John 8     Maryland
Joseph 5     Maryland
Mary Ann 3     Maryland

In the census of 1880 we again see the family of Charles and Elizabeth Groff (Grofs) living in Westminster in Carroll County, Maryland. By the time of the census two additional children (son Samuel and daughter Julia) were married and had left their parent's family, and the family had added a son, James H. Groft, who had just missed being counted in the returns for 1870. The returns lists Charles, (age 48), as a "Fence Maker" the same line of work he followed while working for William Allen in 1860. The rest of the family included Elizabeth, (age 52), children Hester L., (age 24), Charles L., (age 20), John, (age 18), Joseph M., (age 15), Mary A., (age 12), and the aforementioned James H., (age 10). Sons Oliver and Samuel Groff, and daughter Julia Webster and their families are shown living nearby.

1880 Census, 7th District, City of Westminster, Carroll Co., MD

Name Age Relationship Occupation Born Father Born Mother Born
Groft, Charles R. 48   Fence Maker PA PA PA
Elizabeth A. 55 Wife Keeping House MD MD MD
Hester L. 24 Daughter at home MD PA MD
Charles L. 20 Son Brick Maker MD PA MD
John T. 18 Son Works in Brickyard MD PA MD
Joseph M. 15 Son Works in Brickyard MD PA MD
Mary A. 12 Daughter at home MD PA MD
James H. 10 Son at home MD PA MD

The two sets of returns demonstrate that although Charles Groff was a farmer, he also followed his trade of fence making in Westminster as well. In addition, the 1880 census tells us that three of his sons, Charles, John, and Joseph, were working at the local brickyard. This began a family relationship with the brick and lumberyards of Westminster that would last well into the next century. Later family members would go on to be home builders in Westminster as well. In fact, a book titled "The Building of Westminster," features a house on York Street that was built by the Groft family around the turn of the century. The book makes note of the strong German influence in the construction of the modest and typical Westminster home. The house is still standing today. Over the years family members were involved with building several houses in Westminster, so we can say that the Groft family not only grew with the city of Westminster, but actually helped build it!

Charles and Elizabeth Groft raised a total of nine children, eight of which reached maturity. Their youngest daughter Mary Ann died in 1884 at age 16, of "consumption". Sons Oliver, Samuel, Charles, Joseph, John, James, and daughters Hester and Julia all married and raised families in Westminster. Oliver Groff was a founding member of the Meadow Branch Lutheran church just outside the city. He was in his 90th year when he died in 1937 and was buried in the cemetery of the church he had helped establish. Hester Groft married John Stitcher of Westminster. She died suddenly in 1904 after contracting cholera and is buried in the Westminster cemetery close to her parents. Julia married Thomas Webster and she and her husband moved to Washington D.C. where she died following a long and painful illness. She was buried with her sister Mary Ann in the Westminster cemetery. John Groft eventually moved to Trenton, New Jersey, where he died leaving a family. The fate of brother James Groft is uncertain. Oliver, Samuel, Charles, and Joseph Groft all remained in Westminster.

Elizabeth Groft died on 13 March 1898 of causes unknown, and was buried next to her daughters Mary Ann and Julia in the Westminster cemetery. She was 73 years old. Although her death was reported in the local paper she was not issued a death certificate, which deprives of the opportunity of learning the names of her mother and father. Her husband Charles Groft would survive his wife by about a dozen years. Unfortunately I have not been able to locate Charles in the census of 1900. He was not living with any of his children, all of whom are accounted for by the returns, nor does he appear to be living in Westminster. I have also searched his former residence in Baltimore County, as well as select areas of Pennsylvania, all to no avail. Therefore, at this point in time he remains unaccounted for tow years following the death of his wife.

Our next ancestor, Charles L. Groft, married Alice J. Miller, daughter of John Q. & Amanda Frock Miller, in Westminster in 1881, and their first child Harry L Groft was born on 23 July 1882. By the time the census of 1900 rolled around the family of Charles (Charlie) and Alice Groft was complete with the exception of their last child Treva, born in 1903. The census shows the family of Charles and Alice living in their house on Manchester Avenue near the intersection of Manchester and Webster Street. The large house was previously owned by Alice's family, and was involved in the protracted and bitter settlement of the estate of her father. The returns list Charles Groft, (age 40), as the head of the household; his occupation is given as "Brick Maker." Next is his wife Alice, (age 37), followed by children Harry L, (age 17), Viola M., (age 16), Nellie L., (age 13), Lottie B., (age 10), Myrtle M., (age 7), Carl C., (age 5), Arthur S., (age 3), and Bertha A., (age 8 months). Harry Groft is listed as "Laborer, Brick Yard" while Viola and Nellie were working as "Shirt Makers".

Below: Charles L. Groft, wife Alice Miller and daughter Treva

Also living in Westminster were the brothers of Charles L. Groft and their families, including Samuel, Joseph, Oliver, John, and James (who was living with John and family). Samuel is listed as a "Brick maker", Joseph as "Laborer in Tannery," John as "Brick maker." James as "Brick maker," and Oliver as a "Farmer." We will revisit Charles R. Groft one final time, but for now we move on to our next two ancestors, son Charles L. Groft and his son Harry L. Groft.

By 1910 some of the children of Charlie and Alice Groft had married and begun their own families, and the census returns for that year provide a wonderful window into the family. Living next door to Charlie and Alice Groft in a row of houses on the York/Manchester Road at the intersection of Webster Street, are daughter Viola and son-in-law Frank Tawney, daughter Lottie and her husband Charles Brown, and son Harry Groft and his family. Charlie and Alice are living in the same house they occupied in 1910 and their married children are living in the next three houses down. The house occupied by Viola and Frank Tawney had been built by the Groft family earlier in the century, and all of the Groft family houses along York St. were owned by the individual families.

Still living with Charlie and Alice were children Myrtle, (age 17), Carl, (age 14), Arthur, (age 12), and Treva, (age 4). Daughter Bertha died in 1906 at age 7 and was the only child not to reach maturity. Charles, (age 54), is listed as a "Brick Maker - Brick Yard," while the returns show that Carl, Arthur and Treva were in school. Next door Frank Tawney and Charles Brown are listed simply as a Day Laborers.

Living at the end of the row of houses was our next ancestor Harry L Groft, (age 27). He married Mary Etta Little, (age 25), in 1900, and by the 1910 census two of their three children had been born, Alice, (age 8), and Sterling Lawrence, (my grandfather), age 2. It's difficult to make out Harry's occupation in the returns although it appears that he was working at a local tannery, possibly as a "beam maker." We know that Harry was a carpenter so this occupation seems to fit.

Although the patriarch of the Groft family, Charles R. Groft, is missing from the 1900 census for Westminster, he resurfaces 10 years later in the census of 1910. His reappearance in the returns answers some questions, but raises others as well. By 1910 the children and grandchildren of Charles R. Groft had spread out across Westminster and had contributed to the growth of Carroll County's most important town in many positive ways. In his old age we would have expected the patriarch of the family to be living with one of his children or grandchildren, but this was not the case. Instead what we find is 77 year old "Charlie Groft" (line 98) living as an "Inmate" at the Carroll County Almshouse in Westminster. At first this seems odd until one understands the nature of this particular institution around the turn of the century.

Rather than being a poor house, the almshouse was a place primarily for elderly people who were suffering from various stages of senility or dementia. The almshouse residents, or "inmates" were required to work and perform various chores in order to help pay for their keep. As long as inmates worked or at least behaved, they could avoid the more drastic move to the state hospital in Springfield, which was essentially an insane asylum. The fact that we find Charles R. Groft here in 1910, is an indication that by then he was not capable of functioning in a normal home environment.

Unfortunately for Charles, he was unable to avoid taking that final step, and he died in Springfield hospital of "Senile Dementia" a little more than a year later on 2 September 1911. The fact that he died in Springfield, robs us of some potentially vital genealogical information. Because his death certificate was filled in by the hospital instead of a family member, answers to questions concerning his place of birth and parent's names, were all the same - "unknown." Although his descendants would continue to grow and prosper in Westminster, it was a sad ending for our ancestor. He was buried next to his wife Elizabeth and his daughters Mary Ann and Julia. Today there are over two dozen of their descendants buried with them in the Westminster cemetery.

Jeffrey L. Thomas
November 1988
Revised February 2003

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