Montgomery History Online Exhibit: Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed

Montgomery County, 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed

Montgomery History has launched a new online exhibition co-developed by Blog Author, Jeanne Gartner and Montgomery History Librarian & Archivist, Sarah Hedlund: “Montgomery County, 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed”. Explore Montgomery County and its environs in the early 20th century through the lens of Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. A pioneering automobile dealer and one of the most prolific photographers in Montgomery County at the turn of the 20th century, Reed took motorcycle excursions all over the state of Maryland with his camera, capturing landscapes, monuments, historical places, people, and anything else that caught his attention.

The presentation of the Lewis Reed collection features his photography in several themed exhibitions (Transportation, Photo-magic, Recreation, Daily Life, and Community). The first exhibition, “Transportation in Montgomery County”, features some of the earliest known photographs of various modes of transportation, from horses and canal boats to motorcycles and automobiles. It is an absolutely unique window into how Montgomery Countians lived over a century ago.

Click on the category you are interested in below to visit the various presentations and their photographic content. Through the lens of Lewis Reed, we see that Montgomery County’s history is America’s history.

  • Transportation: Lewis Reed loved moving vehicles and photographed the evolution of transportation happening around him at the turn of the century. Explore the pages on modes of transportation in Montgomery County from horse power to automobiles.
  • Photo-magic: Details how self-taught photographer and county native Lewis Reed edited photos before computers existed, using techniques like hand-tinting and double exposure.
  • Recreation: Enjoy a vicarious getaway by exploring the newest section of the Lewis Reed Photography online exhibit, “Recreation”. View these amazing photos to see how Montgomery Countians in the first half of the 20th century enjoyed fun in the sun — beach trips, camping, fishing, vacationing, attending fairs, and more. You’ll find many summer activities have stood the test of time!
  • Daily Life: What was domestic and social life like in Montgomery County at the turn of the century? Explore glimpses of early 19th century housing, education, social activities, entertainment, pets, and more in the  “Daily Life” section.
  • Community: Featured in the section are images of the businesses, industries, occupations, and services that provided income for Montgomery County’s residents, and shaped the growing towns in the first few decades of the 20th century.

New Blog Feature: Then & Now

Then & Now

Looking back at photography from the past is a fascinating experience for me, and with a newfound interest in history, it occurred to me that with the vast number of historical photographs in Lewis Reed’s Collection, that this blog would be a great place to feature a series of Then & Now photography. I started doing this about a year ago as a research tool, now I mostly do it because of my passion for history and fascination with the subject. With that in mind, I will occasionally be spotlighting some “Then & Now” images from his collection that will show photographs of buildings, street scenes, and other historical locales alongside photographs of how they appear today.

Some of the historic locations in this series includes the Smithsonian, Capitol, Union Station, Old Post Office, Library of Congress, Raleigh Hotel, Key Bridge and other important sites in and around the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area. There are also photographs of many non-Maryland locations including the historic landmark “Lucy the Elephant”, Gettysburg Battlefield, Mount Vernon, Pennsylvania Monument and United States Regulars Monuments under construction, and Quebec Bridge (the 8th Wonder of the World).

I have no formal history training, just a general interest in local history where I grew up. I will post one of Lewis Reed’s photographs matched with a corresponding contemporary shot of the same area, and supply a few sentences of context. All of them will in some way will offer a visual history of how things have changed over the years. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Reed Photo Collection (1898-1960)

Lewis Reed Photos

Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, was a well-known photographer in Montgomery County. Many of his photographs are now part of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Historical Society photo archives. He even developed his own photographs. He had a darkroom in his house —  in the kitchen, to be exact — and worked at night to develop the negatives.

About This Collection:

Since I started this blog, I have had the opportunity to look through my grandfather’s extensive collection of photographs from historical locations not only in Maryland, Washington, DC and Virginia, but all across the country. The Reed Photo Collection (1898-1960) spotlights the photographs that I have been able to research and identify. There are close to 200 blog posts within this section that gives a snapshot of what life was like more than 100 years ago. Highlights include the Black Rock Grist Mill, Rockville Water Tower, C&O Canal, 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, Rockville Fair dirt track races, Trolley Cars, Wright Brothers Airplane, and Quebec Bridge (8th Wonder of the World). Especially stunning are images of the aftermath of the 1936 Gainesville Georgia tornado, one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history. Many photographic images in this collection have never before been seen publicly in print.

Lewis Reed’s photography has appeared as a resource in highly regarded local history publications, and in historical television programming, including on the national television show American Pickers, Science Channel Impossible Engineering, Maryland Public Television, and the American Experience History Series on PBS.

If there’s an historical marker on the side of the road in Montgomery County, chances are, one of Lewis Reed’s images is on it. Some of the markers that display his photographs include the Andrew Small Academy Marker in Darnestown, The Origins of Darnestown Marker, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station Marker in Gaithersburg, From Trolley to Trail Marker in Bethesda, the African American Heritage Walking Tour Marker in Rockville, and the 19th Century Crossroads Marker in Darnestown. A Lewis Reed photo is also featured on a historical/interpretive sign along a trail in the Watters Smith Memorial State Park in West Virginia.

Of particular interest is Lewis Reed’s collection of manipulated photographs. He was 100 years ahead of his time by creating special effects to images long before the convenience and efficiency of digital photography and Photoshop were ever imaginable. Lewis Reed used a wide variety of effects, including hand-tinting, double exposure, applied handwork, and creating images that made it look as if there were ghosts in the picture. It’s pretty amazing how his early photography shows such versatility and creativity considering the limited tools that were available at the time.

Click here to take a look back in time and explore the lives of those who have gone before us.

Note: All images are scanned from prints made from Lewis Reed’s original glass plate negatives. Glass plate negatives were in common use between the 1880s and the late 1920s. No touch-up or alteration has been done, in order to retain their historical essence.

Veirs Mill Road Prior to Paving, 1911

Do you recognize the road pictured below? Few modern residents of Montgomery County would guess, but it is a shot of Veirs Mill Road before it was paved.

Veirs Mill Road looking east at Cedar Lane prior to paving 1911

Veirs Mill Road looking east at Cedar Lane prior to paving, 1911. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Veirs Mill Road began in the 1700s as a prominent trading route leading from the mouth of the Monocacy River through Rockville to the tobacco port of Bladensburg. The road intersected with the Brookeville-Washington Turnpike (present-day Georgia Avenue), established in 1828. Veirs Mill Road was named for the saw and grist mill built in 1838 by Samuel Clark Veirs on Rock Creek, an important early waterway in the Washington, DC region.

In the early 19th century, most roads were dreadful. Rural roads were often little more than muddy trails. The popularity of the car coincided with the improvement of public roads around Rockville. By 1929, when Montgomery County residents owned 13,000 cars, the Rockville Pike and Montgomery Avenue had both been paved, but the less-traveled Veirs Mill Road remained a narrow dirt road for decades after that.

Veirs Mill Road, 1911

Veirs Mill Road at Cedar Lane showing deep ruts in the surface, 1911. The wagon wheels and tires of the time were very thin, and would sink straight into ruts, sometimes getting stuck. Photo by Lewis Reed.

From the “Times” (Washington):

Stalled in the mud… “Although he put on the entire 20-horsepower of his machine and called in assistance of several neighbors, it was not until shovels and crowbars had been procured to move his car… he was able to resume his journey. This experience not only caused more than an hour’s delay in reaching the city but the wear and tear on himself, those who rendered assistance, and incidentally, the machine. Thus, at least two months of the life of a $3,000 auto was spent in simply traversing a short stretch of roadway.”

View down Cedar Lane in Bethesda, 1911

A view down Cedar Lane in Bethesda, 1911. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Rockville Pike’s reputation as “one of the worst pieces of main highway in the state” eventually helped initiate Maryland’s Good Roads Movement, alongside a nationwide initiative to improve America’s roads. Responding to citizen demands, the newly created State Roads Commission incorporated the Rockville Pike into the state highway system.

In 1956, President Eisenhower passed legislation to implement (arguably) the greatest public-works project in U.S. history: the Interstate Highway System.

With this, every major city in America would be connected via highway construction, and mobility within the U.S. would ideally become limitless: a giant leap from the dirt roads and muddy paths that existed at the beginning of the century.

Find photos like these and much more on Montgomery History’s online exhibit, “Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed“.

Short History: Formation of Rockville Chamber of Commerce

Edgar Reed was one of the first members of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce when it was formed in August 1925. Sixty business and professional men of Rockville and vicinity gathered at the Montgomery County Country Club and elected officers for the Rockville Chamber of Commerce. Edgar was elected to the Executive Board and as Chairman of the Better Business Bureau committee.

Rockville Chamber of Commerce Formation

The Montgomery County Sentinel. Sept 25, 1925

From The Montgomery County Sentinel, September 25, 1925:

The purpose of the organization is set forth as “advancing the commercial, industrial and civic interests of Rockville and vicinity and to promote integrity and good faith in matters of business.”

The President was authorized to appoint committees on sanitation, public utilities, perks and playgrounds, schools, program and publicity, and the appointment of committees to cooperate with various organizations of the county for the celebration on October 2, 1926, of the 150th anniversary of the creation of Montgomery County; to investigate all stock selling schemes in the county, and to collect and invoice statistics concerning Rockville and possibilities for its future development.

The group attempted to resolve traffic and parking problems, advocate public improvements, and generally upgrade the town. Members served on the town council and generously supported the Rockville Volunteer Fore Department. Under the leadership of W. Valentine Wilson and others, the group espoused progressive ideas on behalf of improved education, economic development, and civic improvement. In 1926, Wilson commissioned a twelve-minute long movie featuring the best of Rockville—its business establishments, new firehouse, and dairy production, boasting “clean cows—clean udders—clean milk.” Organizing the Chamber marked a coming of age of Rockville’s business community. Common ground for the merchants further bonded the small town.

An integral part of the Rockville area’s past, present and future, the Rockville Chamber of Commerce is the voice of the thousands of businesses that proudly call Rockville their home.

Sources of Information:
Montgomery County Sentinel
Rockville Portrait of a City by Eileen S. McGuckian

Remembering My Mom on Mother’s Day

In honor of Mother’s Day, I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of my mother who passed away on September 10, 2019. Her father, Lewis Reed, was the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge of Rockville – a family business that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations.

It’s hard for me not to reflect on what an amazing person she was. As with most people, I have a few people in my life who really inspire me, and my mom is one of them. Her absence is part of my daily life now. At some point every day, I think I should call her and have to remind myself I can no longer do this. But I can keep her memory alive by sharing a few recent stories about her.

Apple Cider Time!

In the autumn months, a weekly visit with mom to Lewis Orchard Farm Market in Dickerson, Maryland for some apples and cider was a weekly ritual. Then over to Bassett’s in Poolesville for dinner. She was always happy to get out and enjoy the beautiful fall days and the sights outside.

Did Someone Say “Happy Hour?”

We celebrated mom’s 93rd birthday at Bassett’s Fine Food & Spirits in Poolesville, one of her favorite restaurants.

Mary Jane Gartner

Rosemary Pasek and mom enjoying a happy 93rd birthday toast

Celebrating mom’s 94th birthday at Arties in Fairfax. Baby back ribs and cheesecake dessert for the birthday girl!Mom's 94th birthday at Arties

The Saturday Lunch Bunch

Saturday lunches were something that my mom and her friends at Asbury Methodist Village always looked forward to. They had a lot of fun taking turns choosing which restaurant they would go to each Saturday. I always tried to have an annual summer cookout for them down at my place. Simple pleasures mean so much more these days, and grilling out was always a big hit.

Below, we are enjoying a cookout on my back porch with mom and three of her friends. Burgers, beer brats, baked beans, potato salad, marinated asparagus, and homemade key lime pie were on the menu. Three of them in their 90s, doing with gusto whatever it is that gives them joy. I miss these small, but very meaningful times. Hard to believe that this was only 8 years ago.

Mary Jane Reed Gartner

Left to Right: Jane Sween, Mary Jane Gartner, Polly Conners and Rosemary Pasek.

“What’s Your Excuse?”

The photo gallery below could be titled, “what’s your excuse?” This is my mom at 94 years of age going through her exercise routine at the Asbury Village Wellness Center. Great job mom!

My #1 Fan

My mom has always been my #1 fan. I was so very proud to have had her in the audience on November 18, 2016 when I was recognized with the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication by Peerless Rockville for my blog and book documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge. The ceremony was held at Glenview Mansion, one of Rockville’s most beautiful historic properties. It was a tremendous honor for me to receive this award, but more importantly, share this special occasion with my mother. I saw my mom in the audience. I saw her smile and I felt her joy.

Never Too Late to Learn Something New

My mom has always been an active person and had the heart and mind of someone 20 years younger. She was 90 years old when she joined Facebook! She was not only a Facebook friend, but a Skyper, a Texter and could navigate an iPhone and Windows 8! I could have not possibly been more proud of her.

Mom's Facebook Page

Recalling a Wonderful Life

I have been fortunate to have spent the last 10+ years experiencing the best friendship ever with my mother. One of my greatest joys was looking through all of my grandfather’s photographs along with my mother. On many afternoon visits with her, we went through hundreds of photographs and wrote down names, dates, and locations to the best of her recollection. We were able to relive the highlights of her life together; it was a very special time. This weekly activity, working together with her sharing memories and photos about previous generations, has been one of the greatest joys of my adult life.

Mary Jane Gartner

Watching my mom’s eyes light up when I gave her the first proof book of her father’s entire photograph collection — 350 pages and 2500+ photographs — was a beautiful thing to see. True magic happened when she opened that book and started looking through the pictures. The book was a monumental task, and almost 10 years in the making, but it had a monumental reward at the end. Bringing out all those cherished memories for my mother was truly a celebration of her life.

Near the end of her life, I came to understand what a strong person my mother was. My mother had grit, warmth, a positive outlook on life, and an independent streak that served her well during the last years of her life.

Grateful for Beautiful Memories

When it comes right down to it, all we have are memories. You don’t have to travel or go far away to make memories; it can be as simple as a trip to the orchard or a Saturday afternoon brunch. I miss my mother, but I am forever grateful for the beautiful memories she left me. I find it helps to take the perspective that I didn’t really lose her. I know exactly where she is and where she’ll always be. She is alive in my memories and the link to all the history I share on this blog.

Mom, this is for you… Happy Heavenly Mother’s Day!

Then & Now: 1st National Bank of Monrovia

This post is a continuation of a series of “Then & Now” images from Lewis Reed’s Photo Collection alongside photographs of how they appear today. Lewis Reed worked hard to preserve a visual history of Montgomery County, Maryland and surrounding area long before automobiles were even around. As early as 1905, he toured on his motorcycle across the states of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and took photographs of many historic locations. Taken approximately 113 years apart, you can see how the 1st National Bank of Monrovia Maryland looks almost the same from over a century ago.

1st National Bank of Monrovia (THEN): In 1908, the First National Bank of Monrovia was founded and the Renaissance Revival bank building was erected. The bank was merged with the Central Trust Company in 1916 and closed in the early 1930’s in the aftermath of the 1929 stock market crash and ensuing Great Depression of the 1930’s.

1st National Bank of Monrovia, 1910

1st National Bank of Monrovia. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910

1st National Bank of Monrovia (NOW): The bank is now the office of a construction company.


The 1st National Bank of Monrovia today is still very recognizable

Source: Monrovia, Maryland – Wikipedia


May 2, 1929: Montgomery County’s Deadliest Tornado (Aftermath Photos)

1929 Unity Tornado

Spectators view the destruction at the Benson farm, May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

Ninety-four years ago today, one of the worst tornado outbreaks in area history devastated a part of Montgomery County Maryland. At about 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 2, 1929, northeastern Montgomery County was struck by an F3 tornado, part of a large storm system that caused devastation from Florida to Ohio. The weekly Montgomery County Sentinel reported on May 10th that the “wind storm of cyclonic power . . . was of limited width and serpentine on its course. Everything in its path met with destruction.” These photographs were taken by Lewis Reed “after the tornado of May 2, 1929”.

1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

The damage in the county was limited to the rural Unity area, north of Brookeville. The Sentinel article detailed each affected farm, noting that “thousands of persons from far and near visited the scene for several days to look upon the indescribable wreckage.”

1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

From the Sentinel: “The storm showed its first violence upon the farm of Mr. J. William Benson. There it destroyed every building – the dwelling house, large barn, 117 feet long, including an attached shed, and all other outbuildings.” The farm was unoccupied, but furniture belonging to “a prospective tenant” was destroyed. Mr. Benson’s apple orchard was also significantly damaged, and the article claimed that “many [trees] were lifted into the air, carried over woods and landed several miles away.”

1929 Unity Tornado

Lewis Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane, May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

The fire departments of Rockville, Gaithersburg and Sandy Spring responded to the call made by farm worker James Leizear, who “extricated himself from the wreckage” and ran half a mile to a neighbor’s house to summon help.

The Post reported on May 4th that 28 people in Maryland and Virginia had been killed by tornadoes during the storm; most of the casualties were in Virginia, where an elementary school was struck full-force and at least 18 children died. In Montgomery County, the local Red Cross Chapter formed a citizen committee to raise funds “for relief of the sufferers.”

1929 Unity Tornado

May 1929. Photo by Lewis Reed

Note: These photographs were undated and unlabeled in my grandfather’s collection. My mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner, who is seen above when she was almost 7 years old, positively identified these photographs and just about pinpointed the location! It’s amazing the things you remember from your early childhood.

Sources of Information:
A Fine Collection
The Montgomery County Sentinel, May 10, 1929

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