Montgomery County Agricultural Society & Fair Beginnings (1846-1932)

Rockville FairIn 1846, James K. Polk was President of the United States, the U.S. flag had only 28 stars on it, and less than 1,500 people lived in Rockville. It also was the year that the Montgomery County Agricultural Society was organized, that began the tradition of the Montgomery County Fair in Rockville. A 12-member board of directors was chosen, headed by John P. C. Peter, President. The Montgomery County Fair opened two years later on the Pike in 1848, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today.

Discussions about farm improvements led to organized agricultural efforts. In 1846, Rockville farmers helped to establish the Montgomery County Agricultural Society. Two years later, Court House Square overflowed with displays of agricultural implements at the first county fair. The register of will opened his office for exhibits of household manufacturers. and the county clerk’s place teemed with fruits and vegetables. Women competed for cash prizes in the categories of homespun fabrics, fancy handwork, pickles, preserves, butter, cheese, and honey. Men exhibited livestock on the grounds of the Beall-Dawson House.

In a few years, the fair moved to Samuel T. Stonestreet’s woodlot adjacent to Saint Mary’s Church. The annual fair became a week-long gathering to showcase innovation, compete, and socialize. The property on the Rockville Pike was used until 1932, after which much of the land became Richard Montgomery High School.

From The Baltimore Sun Newspaper on September 20, 1848:

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair held at Rockville, Maryland on Thursday and Friday last, the Journal of that place says, fully met the most sanguine expectation of its friends. The concourse of people was very large, and the stock, implements, and other articles exhibited, were the most perfect and beautiful. The Journal designs to publish the various reports of the committee—and the very able and interesting address of R. J. Bowie, Esq., and the other appropriate remarks submitted on the occasion, and says:

The exhibition was highly credible to the officers and members of the club, and to our country. We must reserve, for a more lengthy notice, the beautiful stock and implements of agriculture sent by gentlemen residing out of our county. We are gratified, indeed, that every thing went off gloriously, and the occasion will be long remembered by all who were present.

1909 Montgomery County Fair

The Baltimore Sun, Sunday 31 August 1909

All the latest improved machinery in farm and garden implements were there, together with wagons, carriages, automobiles, trucks, and tractors. The display of cattle, sheep and hogs had long been one of the leading features at the Rockville Fair.  Many fine herds of cattle, including Jerseys, Guernseys and other varieties were on exhibition. Two hundred of the finest horses in Montgomery County, along with many from the District of Columbia, nearby Virginia, and elsewhere were on exhibition. In this respect, the Rockville Fair was equal to that of any state.

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Fair-goers in their finest stroll along the midway. Hats were a fashion requirement at the time, as were long flowing dresses and suits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Many other attractions were provided, including the midway, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, side shows, free exhibitions in front of the grandstand, horse racing, pony races, mule races, automobile contests, a parade of stock, horse show, dog show, poultry show, an automobile show, and clay pigeon shoots. The clay-pigeon shoot was one of the biggest events of its kind ever held in Maryland.

Vintage Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheel at the Rockville Fair. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Agricultural and various farm equipment exhibits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

The various departments were filled to overflowing with high-class exhibits. The main exhibition hall was devoted to farm products and garden products, household displays, flowers, fruits, etc. The household department had an endless array of preserves, jellies, canned fruits, bread, cakes, candles, pies, fancy articles, and works of art. Sanders & Stayman and E. F. Droop & Co. of Washington, had excellent displays of musical instruments in this hall. Examples of locally grown produce were abundant in the main hall. Peaches, apples, plums, damsons, cantaloupes and watermelons were piled up in tempting array. The poultry show was also a place of interest. Many fine chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and pigeons were being shown.

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Fair-goers meander through exhibits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Can you hear me now? Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Hundreds of cars parked in the fair parking lot. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910.

The Fair was always attended by large numbers of visitors from Frederick, Howard, and Carroll counties, the District of Columbia and Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington counties, Virginia. Vehicles were assigned places all around the fairgrounds, and the park was completely surrounded. What is fascinating to me is, with all of these early cars painted in black, how on earth would you find your car?

Montgomery County Fairgrounds 1910

Montgomery County Fairgrounds in the snow. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Montgomery County Fairgrounds 1910

Montgomery County Fairgrounds Chicken House. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Sign on the left side of the building reads, “The Beautiful Caverns of Luray Souvenirs”. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Aftermath of War

During the war the fencing, outbuildings, stables, etc. were very badly used by both the Union and Confederate soldiers, necessitating considerable expenditure to restore the grounds to their ante bellum appearance. The Montgomery County Agricultural Society estimated a cost of nearly $8,300 to rebuild fences, lay out a new race track, repair fields, and reverse four years of use by the troops. Improvements were made comprising within about 16 acres a one-third of a mile long track, separate stables for 50 horses, a two-story frame building for the exhibition of field, garden and orchard products, household industries, and cattle and stock pens.

Bicycle Races

Bicycle races became very popular throughout the country and were an event at the Fairgrounds as early as 1915. The race track was a half-mile dirt racing oval with wide, sweeping curves and a grandstand for spectators, and was easily adapted for bicycles, harness racing, and the sport of car racing.

Rockville Fairgrounds Bicycle Races 1910

This circa 1915 photo of an early bicycle race at the Rockville Fairgrounds gives a sense of just how popular the sport was at the time. Photo by Lewis Reed

Harness Races

1910 Harness Races

Rockville drew huge crowds for harness races. Photo by Lewis Reed, circa 1910

1920s Harness Races

Harness race at the Rockville Fair, circa 1910. All those throngs of people had plenty to see. Photo by Lewis Reed

1910 Harness Races

Harness racers rounding the bend on the racetrack, Rockville Fairground circa 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

1910 Harness Races

Bend on the harness racetrack, Rockville Fairground circa 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

1910 Harness Races

Race horse and two-wheeled sulkies (for trotting races) at the Rockville Fairground stables. Photo by Lewis Reed ca. 1910

Automobile Races

August 25, 1923 was the first year that the Rockville Fair continued through a Saturday. The extra day was added as an experiment, the management believing that by substituting new features, the additional day could be made a success. Automobile races, the first ever held at Rockville, were the day’s principal attraction and they attracted a huge crowd. The photos below taken by Lewis Reed reveal what auto racing looked like in the days before helmets, seat belts, air bags, and traction control.

Rockville Fair Auto Race Aug 1923

Rockville drew huge crowds for auto races. Rockville Fair, August 25, 1923. Photo by Lewis Reed

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

Dusty Action – 1923 photo of the exciting auto races at Rockville Fair. Five racers are just coming around the bend on this dirt track with their tires spinning up dust in their wake. Photo by Lewis Reed

August 1923 Auto race, Rockville Fair

Race car drivers deep in dust round a turn at the Rockville Fair auto races. Print made from a Lewis Reed glass negative.

August 1923 Auto race, Rockville Fair

High-powered race cars rounding a wide, sweeping curve at the Rockville Fair auto races, August 25, 1923. Print made from a Lewis Reed glass negative

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

Two-man race car. Some early race cars included both a driver and a ‘riding mechanic’. One of the key jobs of the second man in a race car was to look backward and alert the driver to what was going on behind him. Photo by Lewis Reed

Early race car drivers were required to have a riding mechanic, otherwise it was voluntary. Riding mechanics, who in addition to being lookouts, kept an eye on tire wear and would even hop out of the car and run back through the infield to get fuel.

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

More dirt track action. Skinny tires make for slippery turns. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage Displaying New Model Cars at Rockville Fair Grounds, 1918

The Fair also gave automobile dealers the opportunity to display their new models. Below is new car show time as fair-goers get their first glimpse at the latest models that Rockville Garage had to offer.

Rockville Garage at Fairgrounds 1918

Anybody for a demonstration drive? Identified by the triangle logo on the grill and the number of passengers seated in it, the car appears to be a 1918 Hudson Super Six Seven Passenger Touring. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

Hudson Super Six, Oldsmobile, and Dodge Brothers Motor Cars on display. Lewis Reed in drivers seat.

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

Rockville Garage displaying their new models at the Rockville Fair Grounds. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

At Your Service Rockville Garage. Lewis Reed on the left

Fair Now History

From The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) 23 Aug 1933:

The historic Rockville Fairgrounds, scene of many harness race programs, will be sold at a sheriff’s sale Friday afternoon at Rockville. The property consists of 26 acres, a dwelling and numerous stables, exhibition buildings and other structures. The sale is being made to satisfy a claim of a bank. It is rumored that the Montgomery County Board of Education will try to buy the grounds as a site for an elementary school and a future location for the entire Rockville educational plant.

Fair Ground Auctioned

From The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) 26 Aug 1933:

The Montgomery County National Bank submitted the only bid for the historic Rockville Fair Grounds at a public auction on August 25, 1933 to satisfy a bank’s claim. Its bid was $19,500.00 subject to a mortgage held by the Sandy Spring Savings Institution, and unpaid interest and taxes.

The Montgomery County Fair was reborn in 1949 and again started holding its annual Fair in Gaithersburg. On June 4th, 1949, hundreds of volunteers participated in an old-fashioned barn raising and 12 outbuildings were constructed in one day. The site of the new Montgomery County Agricultural Center was created.

Montgomery County Fair

June 4, 1949 – Construction of the cattle barns along the railroad tracks. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Fair photo archives

Sitting on 62 acres, the Fair has more than 50 buildings that are filled with more than 5,000 animals every year. The Fair has animals, entertainment, food, commercial, home arts, arts and crafts exhibits, and many others for the whole family to enjoy.

The Montgomery County Fair is now today, one of the largest county Fairs in the State of Maryland.

Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress the largest online newspaper archive
Rockville, Portrait Of A City, Eileen S. McGuckian
Ag Center History

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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