More information on the 1897 Berwyn Heights election can be found in the 1898 Session Laws of the Maryland Assembly held at the Maryland State Archives. It seems that the validity of the election was questioned because the election judges were chosen by agreement of the voters rather than being appointed in accordance with the Town charter. The act considered the objections but set them aside to validate the first election. Whether the citizens of Berwyn Heights were heartened by this decision and held a second election remains to be found out.
Volume 482, p.147
AN ACT to declare valid the election of William DeMott, Edwin A. Alger, and James C. Brelsford, as Commissioners of the town of Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s County, on the first Monday in May, 1897, and to ratify and confirm the acts done by said Commissioners.
WHEREAS, the Commissioners of the town of Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s county, failed to appoint three judges to hold an election for commissioners for the town of Berwyn Heights, on the first Monday in May, 1897, as provided for by the Acts of 1896, chapter 267 ; and
WHEREAS, The majority of voters of said town, entitled to vote at said election, by agreement selected John C. Bonnet, John Dove and Mahlen C. Stotzenberg, to serve as judges of said election, and
WHEREAS, The said John C. Bonnet, John Dove and Mahlen C. Stotzenberg, as judges of election, in pursuance of said agreement, held an election for Commissioners of said town on the first Monday in May, 1897, in accordance with the provisions of the Acts of 1896, chapter 267, and at said election William DeMott, Edwin A. Alger and James C. Brelsford were elected Commissioners of said town of Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s county, for the ensuing year; and
WHEREAS, the validity of said election has been questioned on account of the manner in which said judges were appointed,
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Maryland, that the election of William De Mott, Edwin A. Alger and James C. Brelsford as Commissioners of the town of Berwyn Heights on the first Monday in May, 1897, at the election held by John C. Bonnet, John Dove and Mahlen C. Stotzenberg, as judges of election, be and the same is hereby declared valid as fully as if the said election had been held by judges appointed in conformity with the Acts of 1896, chapter 267, and the acts done by said Commissioners be and the same are hereby ratified and confirmed.
SEC. 2. And be it enacted. That this Act shall take effect from the date of its passage. Approved March 22, 1898.
In 1976 Don Skarda published the first comprehensive history of Berwyn Heights. Writing about the 1896 incorporation of Berwyn Heights, he said that “the Town charter called for the election of 3 commissioners to serve for one year without pay to administer the affairs of the Town…. Yet for reasons unknown, there is no record that an election of commissioners was ever held or that any other provisions of the charter were ever carried out.” (History of a Small Town, p.21)
If Skarda were writing his history today he probably would have come to a different conclusion. The Internet daily expands our access to all sorts of historic documents and opens new windows on the past. In this case, google books provided access to a source indicating that 3 commissioners were elected in May 1897 and were active for a time, putting into question the widely held belief that the first functioning government of the Town came into being with the election of 1924.
Quoted from Journal of the Proceedings of the Senate of the State of Maryland, p. 892.
“Office of the Secretary of the Senate
March 18th, 1898
The following acts of the General Assembly of Maryland, originating in the Senate, were sealed with the Great Seal, and presented on the 18th day of March, at 11.15 o’clock, A.M., to the Governor of Maryland for approval:
…An Act to declare valid the election of William DeMott, Edwin A. Alger and James C. Brelsford as commissioners of the town of Berwyn Heights, in Prince George’s county, on the first Monday in May, 1897, and to ratify and confirm the acts done by said Commissioners…”
The Act was introduced by William B. Clagett on February 8, 1898, and referred to a Special Committee of Messrs. Clagett, Gray and Bouie. (ibid, p. 220)
Sources: http://www.google.books, History of a Small Town by Don Skarda
Author: Kerstin Harper