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.
Lewis Reed as a Chauffeur-Mechanic
The year is 1910 and you’ve just purchased a brand new automobile. To show it off for the first time, you’ve hired a knowledgeable chauffeur. You sit on a padded seat while the chauffeur tends to the engine. Though it takes a while to start up, your new ride can reach around 37 mph. The ride is a bumpy one, and you could probably walk faster than the car travels. Ooops! One of the wheels has popped off as you go around a bend. 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 Lewis Reed’s mechanic training – a vital skill in the early days of motoring – would have come into play.
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, Lewis Reed’s love of automobiles led him to becoming a chauffeur. At the dawn of the early 20th century, society was transitioning from horse-drawn carriages to automobiles. Having grown up in a blacksmith family, he was well positioned to move to the new technology. The 1910 census indicates that 23-year-old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist. Lewis worked as a chauffeur from roughly 1910-1914, before he became involved in the business of selling and repairing automobiles.
Chauffeur-mechanics of the early 1900s were the first group to earn a living working on automobiles. Wealthy people employed private chauffeur-mechanics to not only drive, but also maintain and repair their large, expensive automobiles — rather than learn to do it themselves. The vehicles of the time came with mobile toolboxes often resembling a small hardware store tucked away in the trunk. The early 1900s Pierce-Arrow toolkit included extra intake and exhaust valves, not exactly your typical roadside service. During the height of travel season, Spring through Fall, oil changes were required almost weekly. As you can easily surmise, there had to be someone to keep track of all of the maintenance and upkeep of the vehicle as well as the daily driving.
The novelty of the motor car led many manufacturers to create clothes that were specifically marketed for the automobile driver and his or her passengers. Lewis Reed wore a typical chauffeur’s uniform of the time. His motoring outfit was taken from the military uniform, combining a single or double breasted hip length coat and a pair of knicker pants with tall boots and a traditional driver’s cap. Gauntlet gloves were worn while driving and goggles were worn in open air cars. Goggles obviously protected ones’ eyes from flying pebbles and dirt, but heavy-weight boots ensured that the driver could, when necessary, get out to push a stalled car or fix a punctured tire.
Savvy marketers were especially quick to recognize that automobile owners had “more money to spend” than non-car owners. As these marketers gleefully noted, car owners “spend…more freely than non-[car] owners.” Convincing these customers of the need for special clothes was not too difficult. In fact, some car owners spent nearly as much on their motoring clothes as they did on their cars. The ladies in the photograph with parasols could have used them as an attractive way of shielding themselves from the sun’s rays, or to keep the dust from the dirt roads off their faces.
In October of 1915, Lewis Reed opened his Dodge dealership on Rockville Pike, less than one year after the first-ever Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. Reed Brothers Dodge provided “wheels” to many families for most of the 20th century during a period when the number of motorcars was rising rapidly throughout Maryland. Few businesses survived the Great Depression and two world wars, but Reed Brothers Dodge eventually emerged from the gauntlet of the 20th century as the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the United States.
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.
Honoring a Legacy
When Lewis Reed opened his Dodge dealership 106 years ago in October 1915, he never knew he was starting a family tradition that would be carried out for 97 years and three generations. Since then, the business grew and transformed from a small-scale garage and dealership into one of the largest and most recognized commercial enterprises on Rockville Pike.
Lewis and Edgar Reed’s business philosophy was simple:
Treat your customer as your friend and always do what you promise.
The photo above shows the Rockville Garage where Lewis Reed got his start by becoming a partner with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield in 1914. The Warfield brothers had purchased this building in July 1915, from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. In 1917, Lewis Reed bought out the Warfield brothers’ interest and continued the business until 1919 when he was joined by his brother, Edgar. The firm’s name was changed to Reed Brothers upon a suggestion of the late Judge Edward C. Peter.
Reed Brothers handled the first Dodge cars placed on the market in Montgomery County, Maryland. The company continued for two generations later under the Gartner family and sold tens of thousands of cars to generations of local drivers. The late George M. Hunter, President of the Montgomery County National Bank, purchased the first automobile sold by the Rockville Garage.
Initially, Reed Brothers sold Oldsmobile and Hudson along with Dodge. The first Plymouth was built in 1928 and Plymouths were sold at Reed Brothers from 1930 until 1969, when the Plymouth car was given to the Chrysler dealers. In 1928, when Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died, Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. By 1929, when the stock market crashed and Great Depression began, nobody could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard and Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.
During World War II, Reed Brothers Dodge had virtually no new cars to sell for three and a half years. Tires and parts were rationed. Strict price ceilings governed used-car sales. Used cars were really hard to find, because people couldn’t afford to give them up. So, most dealerships had to rely on their service and parts departments to fix the cars people couldn’t replace. Empty showrooms were a problem. 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, Westinghouse Radios, and other large appliances to fill the gap.
The dealership survived The Great Depression, World War II, the first Chrysler Bailout and resurgence under Lee Iacocca, the sale of Chrysler to Daimler and the sale to the private equity firm Cerberus. Reed Brothers has, in fact, survived everything but Chrysler itself. Whether a franchise is run by a second- or third-generation dealer or is older than even Chrysler itself didn’t seem to matter when Chrysler decided to cut dealership ranks during their 2009 bankruptcy process. After almost 95 years selling Dodges, Reed Brothers was one of the 15 dealerships in Maryland and 789 dealerships nationwide notified by Chrysler that their franchise agreement would not be renewed.
The dealership’s historical legacy continues to this day on the site of its former location at 15955 Frederick Road in Rockville, which is now the Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments. Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to this history with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers Dodge dealership.
Tom Keady, President of the Bainbridge Companies said:
Honoring the rich historical legacy of this site was extremely important to us. With the sculpture and the floor plan names, our residents and visitors feel a real connection to the site’s past, and we pay tribute to Reed Brothers Dodge’s role in creating a vibrant Rockville.
A sculpture now installed on the property pays tribute to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history. More than 20 feet high, and over 6 feet wide, the public art is inspired by 1939 Dodge headlamps and the fender of a 1957 Dodge pickup truck. Along with the sculpture, a set of Hemi Piston street lamps line the walkway towards the metro station. Historical elements have been incorporated into the interior design of the development which carries out a common theme of dealership history and automobiles.
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