Gallery of Early 20th Century General Stores in Montgomery County
Some of the earliest general merchandise stores in Montgomery County were located in Rockville, and on the roads leading to it. They were community-oriented businesses: the owners were friendly and knew all the locals. Day books kept by merchants at this time indicate they kept open accounts for their customers, allowing them to buy items on credit, and occasionally accepted payment of items in trade rather than currency. Toward the end of the century, some general stores found it more profitable to stop being “general” and specialized stores (selling only drugs, hardware, or farming equipment) became more common.
Rockville Business District, 1914
The heart of Rockville’s business district ran east-west on East Montgomery Avenue and Commerce Lane, spanning approximately eight blocks. Proximity to the courthouse influenced many hotels, professionals, and businesses to locate along East Montgomery Avenue, Commerce Lane (now West Montgomery Avenue), and Washington Street. Craftspeople and merchants often lived on the second story of their building or in a dwelling house next door.
The shops sold groceries, baked goods, sewing machines, hats, lumber, and hardware. Families lived above their stores, renting rooms to others. From right to left is the H. Reisinger Bakery, Confectionery, Ice Cream and Lunch Room, 5 and 10-cent Bargain Store, W. Hicks General Store, Suburban Electrical Company (SECO), and a two-story dwelling.
W. Hicks General Store, 1914
Washington Hicks operated the general or dry goods store in Rockville from the late 19th century until 1940. His son W. Guy Hicks continued to run the store until his retirement in the late 1950s. The upper story of the building was the living quarters of Mr and Mrs B. F. Hicks. The building was later acquired by W. Valentine Wilson, who tore it down and replaced it with the “SECO” for Mr Wilson’s Suburban Electric Company. The ground floor was made into a moving picture theater in 1915. Sidney Lust took over the operation of this theater between 1931 and 1935 and renamed it the Arcade. He closed it down on April 21, 1935 and opened the new Milo later that year.
H. Reisinger Bakery & Confectionary, 1914
Below: H. Reisinger Bakery, Confectionery, Ice Cream and Lunch Room, 5 and 10-cent Bargain Store on Montgomery Avenue, Rockville. Prices were very low– in 1899 and 1900 Reisinger’s regularly advertised bread for 4 cents a loaf– yet wages were low also.
From The Baltimore Sun, 22 Sep 1912, Help Wanted Section:
WANTED – A sober, reliable all-around CAKE BAKER and ICE CREAM MAKER for retail trade; $14 per week, board and lodging. H. REISINGER Rockville, Md.
General Store at Quince Orchard, 1906
A small school for white children was established on the northeast corner of Darnestown and Quince Orchard Roads around 1850. It was damaged during the Civil War and eventually burned down in 1873. The school was rebuilt on the same site in 1875 but was moved across the road next to Pleasant View Methodist Church in 1902 after the fire destroyed the school for black children. The General Store at Quince Orchard was built on the same site shortly after the school building was moved.
Windsor Store in Darnestown, Early 1900s
Mr James Windsor, grandfather of Curry England, opened the Windsor Store at the corner of Seneca and Darnestown Roads in approximately 1878. He operated the store for many years, and also served as Darnestown’s Postmaster for some 20 years. During the 1800s mail arrived three times a week by stagecoach from Rockville and local people gathered for the arrival, creating a regular social event. The Darnestown Post Office was discontinued in 1911. The Windsor building survived until 1969, when it caught fire and burned to the ground.
Downtown Germantown, ca. 1906
The original downtown Germantown was located at the intersection of Route 118 and Clopper Road. At the turn of the 20th century, most of the activity shifted to the railroad station and mill. General stores, a post office, a bank, and houses were constructed in this new downtown area. Everything from lengths of cloth to a medium rare steak could be purchased at the general store and post office on the right. Opposite the store were the mill and various small industries.
Halpine-Lenovitz General Store, 1906
The Halpine Store, also known as the Lenovitz General Store, was built on Rockville Pike in 1898, taking advantage of the prime location on the trolley and railroad lines and the Pike. The store sold food, gasoline and other items to locals and Pike travelers. There is a young African American man standing in front of the store. Note the telephone or telegraph poles, and the trolley tracks paralleling the road. The nearby Halpine railroad station also brought customers to the area, and the store became the social/community gathering place for the Halpine area.
The proprietors, Benjamin and Anna Lenovitz, lived on the second floor. The building burned in 1923 and a new fire-resistant brick building was rebuilt in its place. This building, at 1600 Rockville Pike, became a Radio Shack, selling computers and electronics.
Clarksburg Main Street, 1913
In the early 20th century, Clarksburg was the third largest town in Montgomery County, after Rockville and Poolesville. Clarksburg had four general stores, two hotels, and an academy of learning. It also had a blacksmith, a doctor’s office, tanneries, shoemakers, winemakers, tailors, wheelwrights, fertilizer businesses, skilled farmers, master carpenters and two town bands.
Unknown General Store, Early 1900s
While every store was different, there were similarities among them, including a front door that was often decorated by tin signs advertising for tobacco, cigars, shoes, hardware, and more. The sign in front of this unidentified mercantile advertises Battle Axe Shoes, Stephen Putney Shoe Company. Usually, general stores featured double doors that opened inward and lots of barrels that might contain any number of items — from pickles, to crackers, potatoes, flour and candies. The store was usually an unpainted, two- story frame building fronted by a raised porch for convenient loading and unloading.
J.F. Collins General Store, 1914
On a bleak night in February 1921, a pistol shot was fired while others yelled, “Fire!”. From John Collin’s store on East Montgomery Avenue — beloved by local children for Cracker Jacks and penny candy — flames reached toward the sky. Volunteers arrived with buckets while others operated the hose reels and hook and ladder truck. The main street was saved with help from men and equipment of Washington, D.C., but Collins’s store was a smouldering ruin. A few weeks later, fifty concerned townspeople elected officers of the newly formed Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.
Find photos like these and much more on Montgomery History’s online exhibit, “Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed“.