Looking Back at the Montgomery County Fair, Whose Origins Stretch Back to 1846
It’s August, which means the Montgomery County Fair is coming soon! (The Agricultural Center’s website is literally counting down the seconds until opening day.) Since the fair will be here soon, I thought it would be fun and interesting to look back at some rare, historical photographs taken by Lewis Reed at the fair, whose origins stretch back 172 years.
All of these photographs are from the first incarnation of the Fair, held by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society (1846-1932) in Rockville and often known simply as the “Rockville Fair.” The current Fair, held at the Gaithersburg fairgrounds, was started in 1949. From the August 25, 1923 Washington Post Rockville Fair Auto Race article, to some of the earliest known photographs of the original grounds, Lewis Reed’s photos show the splendor of the original fairgrounds with its grandstands, to the oval dirt track used for bicycle, harness, and later, car races, and conversion to a baseball field.
The headline of the Washington Post article about the race read, “Auto Races to Clash at Rockville Today”.
World speed records will be placed in jeopardy at Rockville fair this afternoon when half score of professional drivers, including speedway and dirt track auto monarchs, will compete in a seven-event program.
The annual County Fair used to be held for four days in the month of August at the old Fairgrounds of Rockville, Maryland. Families came from every section of the Montgomery County in wagons and carriages, and stayed for the duration of the Fair. Like many fairgrounds, the Rockville Fairgrounds included an oval track. Fairground race tracks, typically one-mile or half-mile dirt racing ovals with wide, sweeping curves and grandstands for spectators, were easily adapted for bicycles, harness racing, and the sport of car racing. The fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. As always, click the photos to get a better look.
Like many fairgrounds, the Rockville Fairgrounds included an oval track. Fairground race tracks, typically one-mile or half-mile dirt racing ovals with wide, sweeping curves and grandstands for spectators, were easily adapted for bicycles, harness racing, and the sport of car racing.
The photos below reveal what auto racing looked like in the days before helmets, seat belts, air bags, and traction control.
Early race car drivers were required to have a riding mechanic, otherwise it was voluntary. Riding mechanics, who in addition to being lookouts, kept an eye on tire wear and would even hop out of the car and run back through the infield to get fuel.
Below is a 1923 Washington Post article for an auto race at the Rockville Fair.
A football field was designed within the oval of the old Fair racetrack in 1946.
Dirt track racing was one of the main attractions, but the Fair also provided other events such as horse pulls, games of chance, showing of prized livestock and poultry, needlework, homegrown produce, baked and canned goods. A building called the Exhibit House displayed the prize-winning entries of the various categories.
Rockville Garage Displaying New Model Cars at Rockville Fair Grounds, 1918
The Fair also gave automobile dealers the opportunity to display their new models. Below is new car show time as fair goers get their first glimpse at the latest models that Rockville Garage had to offer.
Reed Brothers Dodge Baseball Team at Rockville Fair, ca. 1920
Most likely, Rockville’s first experience with baseball was during the Civil War on the fields where Richard Montgomery High School now stands. It was known as “Camp Lincoln” because of the Union encampment there, and Federal soldiers helped popularize the new game they brought from the North. After the Civil War those fields – known as the Rockville Fairgrounds – continued to be a popular place for baseball.
Reed Brothers Dodge had a company baseball team that played on those same fields. The photos below were taken by Lewis Reed on a field at the Rockville Fairgrounds circa early 1920s.
In 1949, the Montgomery County Agricultural Center (the Fairgrounds) was moved from Rockville to its current location adjacent to the B&O Railroad between Chestnut Street and Perry Parkway.
Source: Montgomery History