Celebrating Lewis Reed’s 135th Birthday
Lewis Reed was born in Darnestown, Maryland on November 25, 1887 and was the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. When Lewis Reed opened his car dealership in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. He founded what would become the oldest Dodge dealership under the same family ownership in the State of Maryland, and one of the oldest in the United States.
Success demands courage, dedication, perseverance and relentless hard work. As a young man, Lewis Reed apparently believed in the similar thought. He was the son of a blacksmith, raised in a large family that survived on knowledge and hard work. Tinkering with things and an interest in machines at an early age was probably encouraged by his father. The blacksmithing trade goes back about four generations in the Reed family. In those days, it was commonplace for sons to follow their father’s professions. The 1910 census indicated that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist.
On the occasion of my grandfather’s 135th birthday, I thought I would revisit some interesting facts about him.
1. Lewis Reed’s passion for cars began at a very early age. He was full of curiosity, with an insatiable desire to know details, how things worked, and why. 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.
2. Lewis attended Darnestown School, a one-room schoolhouse which was located on Thomas Kelley’s Farm at Pleasant Hill. First through sixth grades were taught by one teacher to about thirty or more students. Few students went beyond sixth or seventh grade; in fact, Lewis Reed’s education stopped after the sixth grade. He would later be home-schooled by his wife, who was a teacher in the Maryland public school system.
3. 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. At the turn of the century, before automobiles were even around, he toured up and down the East Coast on his motorcycle, taking photographs of landscapes, monuments, historic places, and people. His entire collection spans more than six decades and showcases his love for people, automobiles, events, landmarks, and travel throughout the first half of the 20th century. Unsurprisingly, his love of both cars and cameras resulted in his taking numerous pictures of car culture all over the State of Maryland as it developed from infancy to supremacy.
4. Lewis Reed understood automobiles. He knew how they worked and how to fix them. He loved cars and anything associated with them. Prior to World War I, his love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. Lewis Reed worked as a chauffeur from roughly 1910-1914, before he became involved in the business of selling and repairing automobiles.
5. In October 1915, Lewis Reed received his franchise to sell Dodge Brothers Motor Cars with brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit; less than one year after the very first Dodge automobile was invented.
6. In 1941, the State of Maryland named the connector street behind the original dealership at the triangle, “Dodge Street,” commemorating Reed Brothers’ presence from 1915-1970. The connector street was so short that Lewis Reed always liked to joke, “if the state wanted to name a street after him, the street needed to be longer”. Hence the street was named, “Dodge Street”.
7. When the United States entered World War I, Lewis Reed worked at the Navy Yard in Washington DC as a torpedo tester.
Note: Interestingly, there’s nothing online that explains how torpedoes were tested during WWI. I was, however, able to find how they were tested during WWII. “Torpedoes produced by the Alexandria Torpedo Factory were transported to Piney Point on the shore of the Potomac River where they were fixed with dummy heads, fired from boats and then retrieved by men or tenders. The purpose of the facility was to see whether the torpedo could hold a straight course. Some of them are said to have sunk to the bottom of the Potomac where they now rest in mud.”
8. In the early 1930s, Lewis Reed inaugurated a new department of auto body and fender repair. He did this primarily because no other repair agencies were locally available to motorists. The new department enabled motorists to obtain this critical repair service locally in Rockville, whereas, in the past they had to travel to Washington, D.C. or Baltimore for such work.
9. During World War II, Reed Brothers Dodge had virtually no new cars to sell for three and a half years. But that didn’t stop Lewis Reed. When manufacturers halted car production and many dealers went bankrupt, Lewis Reed converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines, Zuillen home freezers, Westinghouse radios, and other large appliances to fill the gap.
10. Active in the dealership daily until the day of his death, Lewis Reed passed on January 28, 1967 at the age of 79. Shortly after his death, the Senate of Maryland passed Senate Resolution No. 10, honoring the life and achievements of Lewis Reed. The resolution was sponsored by Senator Thomas M. Anderson, Jr and Senator Louise Gore.
Lewis Reed’s business philosophy was simple: “Treat your customer as your friend and always do what you promise.” These words aptly showcase his life and his passion for what would become his life’s work.
Happy Birthday to Our Founder, Lewis Reed
Lewis Reed was born in Darnestown, Maryland on November 25, 1887 and was the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. When Lewis Reed opened his car dealership in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. He founded what would become the oldest Dodge dealership under the same family ownership in the state of Maryland, and one of the oldest in the entire United States.
Lewis Reed was just 27 years old when he started selling cars built by brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. Few people jumped onto the Dodge Brothers bandwagon earlier than Lewis Reed, and not many have lasted longer. Reed Brothers was franchised as a Dodge dealership and service facility less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. Lewis Reed was the first to sell Dodge cars in Montgomery County, Maryland and his company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area. During the early years, Reed Brothers represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Oldsmobile, Hudson and Essex. The Hudson and Oldsmobile were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917 through 1923.
Lewis Reed was a member of the Gaithersburg Grace Methodist Church where he served as a member and Chairman of the Board of Stewards, a Lay Leader, and President of the Men’s Bible Class. He was one of nine original incorporators of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Volunteer Fire Department when it was created by charter in 1928. He was a Charter Member and Past President of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Fire Department and a member of the advisory board of the Rockville Branch of the First National Bank of Maryland. He belonged to the Masonic Lodge of Rockville, the Pentalpha Chapter of the Eastern Star and the Rockville Rotary Club. Before opening his Dodge dealership in 1915, Lewis Reed was one of the earliest and most prolific photographers in Montgomery County. Many of his photographs are now part of Montgomery History’s photo archives. Unsurprisingly, his love of both cars and cameras resulted in his taking numerous pictures of car culture all over the State of Maryland as it developed from infancy to supremacy.
Prior to World War I, Lewis Reed’s love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. Chauffeurs were not only trained to be proficient with their driving skills, but they also had to keep the luxury automobiles in tip top shape which is where his mechanic training would have come into play. He received his training as an automobile mechanic at the Pierce Arrow factory at Buffalo, New York, the Dodge and Hudson factories at Detroit and the Washington Auto College.
Active in the dealership daily until the day of his death, Lewis Reed passed on January 28, 1967 at the age of 79. Shortly after his death, the Senate of Maryland passed Senate Resolution No. 10, expressing “the deepest regret and sympathy of every member of this body,” describing Reed as “a kindly and loyal person completely devoted to his duties” which he carried out “with fairness and human understanding.” The resolution was sponsored by Senator Thomas M. Anderson, Jr. and Senator Louise Gore.
When you look back and consider what has taken place in the world in the past 100 years or so, you gain a perspective of what Lewis Reed faced. He overcame a lot of obstacles throughout his life. He steered his dealership through World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. When Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years and many dealers went bankrupt, he converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE Washing Machines, Westinghouse Radios, and other large appliances. Reed Brothers Dodge occupied two locations, the original at the Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike intersection and the second at 15955 Frederick Road in front of the Shady Grove Metro.
Lewis Reed set an outstanding example through his success, but more importantly through his sacrifices and commitment to the community he served. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays tribute to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.
Lewis Reed Glass Plate Negatives Collection
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 (Fearon’s Pharmacy, pictured below) is dated 1898, which would have made him around 11-12 years old when he started using a camera.
The print below was originally made from Lewis Reed’s glass negatives collection. His full collection dates from about 1898 to 1960, and includes 280 glass negatives and 2500+ photographic prints, the majority of them more than 100 years old. The early 1900s were considered by many to be the golden era of early photography, because of its new availability to the public and somewhat simplified production methods. Many of Lewis Reed’s early photographs are now part of Montgomery History’s photo archives.
The following is an excerpt taken from the Summer 2011 edition of the Montgomery County Historical Society Newsletter.
The Sween Library was recently given a collection of 280 glass plate negatives, showing Montgomery County in the early 20th century. Lewis Reed was a well-known photographer in the county as well as owner (along with his brother Edgar) of Reed Brothers, the Rockville automobile dealership. The collection was donated to the Society by Mr. Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane Reed Gartner.
There are scenes of different areas of the county, buildings, events such as the county fair, and local people. These are a welcomed addition to our growing graphics collection.
The photograph below shows Lewis Reed and his family posing in front of a camera set up on a tripod. Lewis Reed is holding a dry glass plate encased inside a holder in his left hand to protect it from the light. Because Lewis used dry plates, he could carry them to locations and expose them, then carry them back to his darkroom to process them. He developed all of his own photographs in a darkroom in his house — in the kitchen, to be exact — and worked at night to develop the negatives. He likely needed considerable chemical and technical knowledge to develop the plates and print photographs.
On location, once he had identified the subject of the potential photograph, the dry glass plate holder would be inserted into the camera, the cover would be removed from the holder to reveal the negative, the lens cover quickly removed to take the photograph and re-covered, and finally the plate holder cover replaced before it was taken out of the camera. Lewis Reed wrote in pencil on the back of the holder a brief subject description. The image on the negative would then be stored to develop at a later point in a darkroom.
Photography became a lifelong passion for Lewis Reed that expanded in later years to include movies that he made not only of his family, but on his several trips to various parts of the world. The majority of photo prints from his albums were taken during the early part of the 20th century (ca. 1900-1930). His entire collection spans more than six decades and showcases his love for people, automobiles, events, landmarks, and travel throughout the first half of the 20th century.
He had a great eye for composition and seemed to be drawn to historical events and landmark locations, including the Smithsonian, Capitol, Union Station, Old Post Office, Library of Congress, Raleigh Hotel, grading of Massachusetts Ave in DC, and Key Bridge. There are also photographs of many non-Maryland locations including the historic landmark “Lucy the Elephant”, Gettysburg Battlefield/Monuments, Mount Vernon, Pennsylvania Monument and United States Regulars Monuments while under construction, and Quebec Bridge (the 8th Wonder of the World).
Other highlights include Montgomery County Grist Mills, Rockville’s first pipe stem water tower, 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, and rare photos of the Wright Brothers Flyer in a demonstration at Fort Myer, VA. Especially stunning are images of the aftermath of the 1936 Gainesville Georgia tornado, one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history. He also took aftermath photos of the 1929 Montgomery County F3 Tornado that devastated northeastern Montgomery County.
If there’s an historical wayside 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, Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church Marker in Rockville and the 19th Century Crossroads Marker in Darnestown.
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.
In the double exposure photo above, Lewis Reed’s brother, Edgar, is playing cards with himself. The thing to look out for is to see that nothing inanimate in the scene is moved during the time of making the two pictures — in this case, you can tell the angle of the camera changed slightly when Edgar moved to the other side of the table for the second shot.
His photographs comprise a remarkable historic record of Montgomery County life in the early 20th century.
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.”
In 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.
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.
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.
From Miscellaneous For Sale Section: The Washington Post, (Washington, D.C.) April 21, 1910
The 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.
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.
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.
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
Happy Anniversary to Lewis and Ethelene Reed
Happy Anniversary to Lewis and Ethelene Reed, married 100 years ago on this day June 15, 1920! Shortly after their wedding, the newlyweds left on an extended motor trip to Niagara Falls and other points north. They will be at home after July 1, in Gaithersburg, near the place of business of the groom.
In addition to this photo of their wedding, here is a clipping from the Frederick Maryland “The Daily News”, describing the ceremony.