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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“.

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

A Look Back at the Forgotten Art of Hand-Tinted Photography

The hand-tinted photos of Lewis Reed and his daughter, Mary Jane, are examples of the photographic process that most of the people reading this will have never experienced: hand-tinting.

The golden age of hand-colored photography occurred between 1900 and 1940. Before the days of true color photography, these views were immensely popular. While hand coloring doesn’t help you identify or date an image, it does enhance a photograph’s appearance and add to its history.

Before the advent of color photography, photographers painstakingly applied color to black and white photos in order to show a truer visual depiction of a photo image. All of the photographs featured here were taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1900s and were hand-tinted by his daughter, Mary Jane, likely in the late 1930s to 1940. She colored the photos with special photographic watercolor and a paintbrush. Rather than coloring the entire image—a time-consuming task—she carefully selected details that would make the image lively and attractive. The fact that these photos, all of which are over 100 years old, are still in relatively good condition is a strong testament to the lasting power of hand-tinted photographs.

Do you recognize the road pictured below? Few modern residents of Montgomery County would guess, but this is a shot down Veirs Mill Road in the early 1900s. Mary Jane Reed added some depth to the image with subtle earth tones, in the colorized version.

1911 Veirs Mill Road

Veirs Mill Road looking east before it was paved. Original photograph by Lewis Reed, 1911.

Veirs Mill Road 1911

Colorized version of the photograph above by Lewis Reed. The photo was hand-tinted by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner, making it look like a color photo.

Below, Lewis Reed’s c. 1909 photograph of his little cousin, Amanda Reed, sitting amongst the hydrangeas — the original before, and the colorized version after.

Amanda Reed before hand-tinting

Amanda Reed before hand-tinting. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

hand-tinted photograph

Amanda Reed after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner. Pastel was apparently a good choice for coloration.

To a visual artist like a dedicated photographer, the inability of the black-and-white camera to capture the richness of colorful blooms or the vibrancy of a summer scene must have been endlessly frustrating.

Lewis Reed’s daughter Mary Jane seemed particularly fond of hand-tinting photographs of flowers — it must have given her a lot of pleasure to “restore” color to her father’s beautifully composed shots. View some more of her work below.

Roses before hand-coloring

Roses before hand-coloring. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

Roses after hand-coloring

Roses after hand-coloring

Hand-colored flowers

Hand-colored flowers

Below are two different versions of tinting a similar image. In Version 2, some of the flowers at the top were removed from the vase (by Lewis Reed, before taking a second shot) for a different aesthetic effect. The color artist used bolder colors to enhance that effect.

Arrangement before hand-tinting

Original arrangement before hand-tinting. Original photograph by Lewis Reed.

Arrangement after hand-tinting

Version 1: Arrangement after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner

hand-tinted photograph

Version 2: Arrangement after hand-tinting by Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner

Rock Creek hand-tinted

This is a hand-tinted version of Rock Creek taken by Lewis Reed in the early 1920s.

Other examples of hand-tinting are included in the following collection of Lewis Reed’s Black Rock Mill photographs. Black Rock Mill was built by Thomas Hillary and has stood along the banks of Great Seneca Creek as a landmark since its construction in 1815-1816. The mill was in working operation for over a hundred years until a flood in 1920 destroyed a dam on Seneca Creek and damaged the mill. Today, it a unique survivor of the many mills in Montgomery County harnessing the water-power of the creeks to grind wheat and corn into flour. It is one of only two mills standing in Montgomery County Maryland. 

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill bridge hand-tinted by Lewis Reed’s daughter, Mary Jane.

These natural scenes from the turn of the century countryside are so much more powerful when reunited with interpretations of their vibrant color. The autumn hues imagined in the scene above is particularly striking, and the bark peeling off the sycamore is an artistic masterpiece.
Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Bridge over Seneca Creek. Photo by Lewis Reed and hand-tinted by his daughter, Mary Jane

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Strolling down a lane on a beautiful summer’s day. Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

Black Rock Mill hand-tinted photo

The art of hand-tinted photos was introduced along side the daguerreotype in 1839. In the 19th century it was most common for the professional photographer to tint the photograph or tintype just after printing. Later photo artists introduced new techniques using oil, watercolor and other types of paint to achieve the desired result. With the Great Depression, the sale of professional hand-tinted photographs declined, but the home artist continued to have access to hand-tinting kits. Today, we can look back and appreciate the time and creativity it took to edit these photos without Photoshop.

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

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin, Then & Now

Time passes, but the cherry blossoms always come back. Seeing the cherry blossoms is a time-honored D.C. tradition that dates back to 1912, when Tokyo gifted 3,020 cherry trees to the U.S. in an act of friendship. While many of the original trees have been replaced, the Tidal Basin’s beauty has persisted for more than a century. Each spring, more than 1.5 million visitors descend upon Washington, D.C. each year to admire the 3,000-plus trees.

Here’s a great “then and now” comparison shot of the Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. from the 1930s and 2023.

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (THEN): From Lewis Reed’s collection of photographs. Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin, circa 1930s with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner.

1930s DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin with my mother, Mary Jane (Reed) Gartner. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1930s

Cherry Blossoms on the Tidal Basin (NOW): The “now” photo is a google image of approximately the same location… some 90 years later. On average, DC’s cherry blossoms bloom around the last week of March into the first week of April. But it varies from year to year based on weather conditions, so it can also be a little before or after that period. The best viewing of the cherry blossom trees typically lasts four to seven days after peak bloom begins, but the blossoms can last for up to two weeks under ideal conditions.

The 2023 National Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled to run from March 18 to April 16. (It was originally scheduled to begin March 20, but they moved that forward by a couple of days in light of the early bloom.)

DC Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossoms in bloom along the Tidal Basin today.

Fun facts about Washington, DC’s cherry blossoms

  • The first donation of 2,000 trees, received in 1910, was burned on orders from President William Howard Taft. Insects and disease had infested the gift, but after hearing about the plight of the first batch, the Japanese mayor sent another 3,020 trees to DC two years later.
  • The first two trees were planted on the north bank of Tidal Basin in March 1912, and they still stand today. You can see them at the end of 17th Street Southwest, marked by a large plaque.
  • It’s against the law to pick the cherry blossoms in Washington DC. While there aren’t any subtle wire fences or stern security guards like in a museum, any attempts to create your own corsage may very well land you a fine.
  • The majority of the cherry blossom trees around the Tidal Basin are of the Yoshino variety. But another species, the Kwanzan, usually blooms two weeks after the Yoshino trees, giving visitors a second chance to catch the blossoms.
  • The average lifespan of a cherry blossom tree is only 20 to 30 years, but nearly 100 of the original trees from 1912 still thrive at the Tidal Basin due to the maintenance of the National Park Service.
  • No, they’re not all from 1912, reinforcements are sometimes necessary. New trees have been regularly planted, including in 1965, the late 1980s, 1999 and from 2002 to 2006, according to the NPS.
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