Roots of a 97 Year Old Auto Business

Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, grew up on a farm in rural Darnestown and for much of his young life had no running water or electricity. He was the son of a Blacksmith, raised in a family that survived on knowledge and hard work. Philip (1845-1918), father of Lewis Reed was an early settler in Darnestown who came from the Medley’s District of Poolesville in 1880. The Reed family farmhouse was located west of the James Windsor Store and Post Office as indicated on the map. In 1880, Philip Reed bought this lot from Windsor on which he built his house. The house was later owned by Kelley Rice who ran the farm at “Pleasant Hills.”

Reed Blacksmith Shop locationIn 1870, at age 25, Philip Reed’s occupation is listed as a Blacksmith and Cabinet Maker. Darnestown residents of that time included a doctor, a merchant, a blacksmith and a wheelwright. It seems Philip may not have considered his primary occupation as a wheelwright, but I do know he worked with both cabinetmaker and blacksmith skills. Blacksmiths were once important members of this thriving crossroads community. They provided a vital trade that continued up to the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until I traced the Reed family tree, that I found that the Blacksmithing trade goes back about four generations. Back then, it was commonplace for sons to follow their father’s professions.

“T. H. S. Boyd, The History of Montgomery County, Maryland, from Its Earliest Settlement in 1650 to 1879” gives a population of 200 in the Darnestown area in 1879. The inhabitants of the town at that time are recorded in G.M. Hopkins’ Atlas from which the map reproduced above is taken.

Philip Reed outside of his Blacksmith Shop ca. early 1900s.

Formerly located on Darnestown Road near the intersection of Seneca Road, Lewis Reed’s father, Philip (1845-1918), operated a blacksmith, wheelwright, and cabinet making business next to his home. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Lewis Reed’s passion for cars began at a very early age. He was a young man full of curiosity, with an insatiable desire to know details, how things worked, and why. Early vehicles were terrifyingly loud and could be heard coming from at least a mile away on rural country roads. As a child, he would watch cars go past the family farm and then take off running across the fields to catch up with them until they would go out of sight. The “normal” speed during this time was so slow that drivers had difficulty keeping their cars from stalling out. It was my mother, Mary Jane Gartner (Lewis Reed’s daughter) who told me this story.

Reed Farmhouse and Blacksmith Shop

Philip Reed family farmhouse and blacksmith shop. Photo by Lewis Reed

At the beginning of the 20th century, farming was done with the power of horses and the skills of a blacksmith were important to the local economy. The shop was a popular destination, to wait for repairs of equipment, have horses shod and hear the latest news.

According to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Philip Reed worked as a Blacksmith in Darnestown until about age 65, after which time he moved his family to the Park Avenue community in Rockville. In July 1910, Philip purchased lot #3 of the east side of Park Avenue. In 1916, Lewis purchased lots 4-9 and started a garage and automobile dealership which became Reed Brothers Dodge. In 1923, he sold lots 4-7 to Edgar at which time Edgar then constructed a bungalow home and resided there until sold in 1947.

The Park Subdivision, Rockville

The Park Subdivision in Rockville, Lot #3 purchased by Philip Reed in 1910

From Miscellaneous For Sale Section: The Washington Post, (Washington, D.C.) April 21, 1910

Blacksmith tool ad 1910The classic anvil and hammer, in addition to tongs, forms, wedges, and chisels were all key tools of the Blacksmith; many of which were hand-made by each individual blacksmith. If they did not possess the tools required for a specific job, blacksmiths would make their own. Over the span of a blacksmith’s career, he could accumulate hundreds of different tools that existed solely for the completion of one particular item.

Inside Blacksmith shop early 1900s

A young Lewis is shown inside his father’s Blacksmith Shop, ca. early 1900. The identity of the man on the right is unknown. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Special note: Lewis Reed’s love of photography began at a very young age, at a time when most families did not own a camera. The oldest photo in his collection is dated 1898, which would have made him around 11-12 years old when he started using a camera. I am relatively certain that Lewis took the photograph above himself by stabilizing the camera on a nearby tripod or some other object, and because of the long exposure times in early photography, he was able to run into the shot himself for a minute or more.

When the car was first invented there was no such thing as an automotive mechanic. When a car broke down, people turned to blacksmiths and bicycle mechanics for repair work. When using horses for farming and transportation came to an end, it forever changed the blacksmith’s role in the community. The traditional, small town blacksmith’s shop gradually went out of business, or evolved into the first automobile repair shops, as the horsepower of mechanical engines replaced the power of horses. Having grown up in a blacksmith family, Lewis Reed was well positioned to move to the new technology. 

1916 Rockville Garage First Shop Force

1916 – Rockville Garage first shop force. Lewis Reed, (first name unknown) Long and Phillip Reed. Photo by Lewis Reed.

One hundred years ago, the direction of the auto industry was uncharted territory to be explored by many people. Lewis Reed was an enterprising young man who put his future in the fledgling automobile industry. Although the specific motivation for Lewis to go into the automobile business is not clear, the 1910s was a period of exponential growth in the American automobile industry, and with a location on the major east-west route through Rockville, a town that was on its way to becoming a satellite community of Washington, D.C., he was well positioned for success. The 1910 census indicates that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist.

In 1914, Lewis Reed became a partner in Rockville Garage with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield, a business he purchased in 1918. His brother Edgar joined the business in 1919 upon his return from World War I, and the name became Reed Brothers Dodge. In October 1915, Lewis Reed signed a franchise agreement with brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. He was just 27 years old. Since then, the business grew and transformed into the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the entire nation.

Rockville Garage original owners

1916 – The original owners of Rockville Garage. From left: Roy Warfield – Lewis Reed – Griffith Warfield. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Over 100 years later, the only name that remains familiar to Rockville car buyers is Lewis Reed. Reed Brothers Dodge was one of the longest running automobile dealers in Montgomery County Maryland, serving Rockville and the area for over 97 years. Along with St. Mary’s Church (1813), King Farm (1925), Red Brick Courthouse (1891), and the B&O Railroad Station (1873) — Reed Brothers Dodge (1915) — became a “Peerless Place” in 2015, the year marking its 100th Anniversary. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.

Credit to: Jane C. Sween, The Montgomery County Story, “Darnestown, As It Was” (Feb 1982)
Other sources of information: Newspapers.com, Montgomery History, and Montgomery County Land Records

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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.

2 responses to “Roots of a 97 Year Old Auto Business”

  1. Jonathan B. Richards II says :

    This is an excellent article outlining the early history of the Reed family. Thank you for this post. Please continue the posting of these superb retrospections into America’s past. Jonathan B. Richards II in Chesterfield, Missouri.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Hi Jonathan! Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving your very kind comment. Wishing you all the best for the new year ahead. Be safe and be well.

      Best Regards,
      Jeanne

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