105 Years Ago: Rockville’s First Gulf “Gas Station”
Curbside gasoline pumps were the predecessor to today’s contemporary fuel pumps. Before the advent of curbside pumps, gasoline was pumped from storage barrels, then hand poured into the automobile from tins. In 1901, a new underground container system was patented. The system used underground holding tanks which allowed the storage and subsequent distribution of gasoline to the surface via a curbside pump. It is considered the first vehicle fuel dispenser.
One hundred and five years ago, Rockville Garage began selling gas at their original location in Old Rockville at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. It was a perfect site for the filling station due to being on a high visibility corner which gave the dealership maximum visibility to the largest volume of cross traffic. Their first “gas station” consisted of a single pump and one small tank. Rockville Garage dispensed gasoline produced by the Gulf Oil Co. and later offered Texaco gasoline as well. Reed Brothers is credited as the first Gulf gasoline dealer in the Washington, DC area.
Rockville’s First Gulf “Gas Station” – A Single Pump
The close-up image above illustrates the utilitarian design of the early gas pumps. These early pumps were roughly four feet tall and were supplied with a hose for dispensing fuel directly to the automobile. Although hardly an ideal system, pumps and underground tanks along the curb were an improvement over the earliest filling stations where gasoline was poured from hand containers. This curbside pump would remain in use until roughly 1917.
The zoomed-in image of the November 1915 Sanborn map shows the one-story Rockville Garage at the junction of Rockville & Georgetown Turnpike and Washington Road. These maps are quite specific, not only in representing graphically the dimensions of buildings and spaces around them, but also in the details of the construction materials and activities that took place there. Notes on this map indicate that the garage had a 15-car capacity as well as a single gasoline pump. They also noted the buried gas tank and where it was located with a small circle.
Upside Down to Prove Its Strength
The advertisement in this post does more than just simply pitch a product, it captures a moment in history. A moment in history when Lewis Reed’s Rockville Garage represented several franchise nameplates along with Dodge, including Hudson and Essex. The Hudson and Essex were sold at Reed Brothers from roughly 1917-1923. Rockville–Hudson-Essex–Garage, is highlighted in yellow in the ad below. In addition to franchise car dealers, there were also factory stores. In the early days, the factory stores did the national advertising. A factory store, also known as a branch store or branch dealer, was a dealership owned and run by the manufacturer. A list of area Dealers was placed in fine print at the bottom of the ads.
The upside down coach on the dealers sales floors to demonstrate strength and sturdiness of construction is what proved effective in selling the Hudson and Essex.
We make this test at our store to show the strong, rigid body construction of the Hudson and Essex Coaches. In this position it is supporting a crushing load of 2700 pounds. Come see it. Test the doors and windows, which operate with ease, showing a total absence of body strain.
Hudson introduced the Essex brand in 1919. The Essex was intended to compete with Ford and Chevrolet for budget-minded buyers. The Essex offered one of the first affordable sedans and by 1925 the combined Hudson and Essex sales made Hudson the third largest automobile manufacturer in the United States.
The Hudson Motor Company, assisted by advertising a stripped Coach body and a chassis, and by a display of the individual parts that go into the Hudson and Essex cars, resulted in the sale of 75 Hudson and Essex cars the first 10 days. During its production run, the Essex was considered a small car and was affordably priced. The Essex is generally credited with starting a trend away from open touring cars design toward enclosed passenger compartments. By 1922 the Essex Motor Company was dissolved and the Essex officially became a product of Hudson.
In 1923, the big news was the demonstration the values the Hudson and Essex purchasers received. The advertisement below demonstrates the strength of the rigid body construction of the Essex Coach.
Site History Shown With Sanborn Maps
For over a half-century at the triangle, Reed Brothers Dodge became a community icon and a local landmark for motorists traveling to and through Rockville. Recently, I have been interested in discovering more about the early history of the Rockville Garage, which was originally located in the triangle at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. I wanted to know “what was there before” and “how and when it got there”. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine just what a building, street, or neighborhood looked like a century ago. A little bit of creative research can uncover a wealth of information in records that were intended to serve a different purpose, and valuable information can be found from unexpected sources like the Sanborn maps. This post features a series of historical Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Rockville to illustrate how Rockville Garage/Reed Brothers Dodge evolved in the city’s built environment from 1915 to 1960. Originally in color, the digital editions are line drawings only, but provide a great amount of historical data.
From the late-1800’s to the mid-1960’s, the Sanborn Map Publishing Company of New York City created complex footprint maps of approximately 13,000 American cities. Fires were an all-too-common danger, sometimes wiping out major portions of a block. Insurance companies went to great lengths to know what they were insuring. They periodically sent out map-making teams to gather information about the buildings in cities they served. Rockville was one of those cities. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company produced maps of Rockville in 1892, 1897, 1903, 1908, 1915, 1924, 1949, and 1960.
In this post, I have included a zoomed-in map to show detail. Below the map is a photograph that provides a visual of how Reed Brothers Dodge grew over the years. (click images to enlarge)
Aug 1908 Rockville Sanborn Map
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Sanborn maps were regularly updated as cities and towns grew and changed. Specific changes in an individual site such as when a building was built, expanded, or torn down, can often be dated within a reasonably accurate time frame, depending on how many different map editions for that city are available. These maps provide a very detailed picture of Reed Brothers Dodge at different stages in its history.
The Aug 1908 Sanborn map shows the junction of Rockville & Georgetown Turnpike and Washington Road before the Rockville Garage existed. The map reveals three, two-story dwellings. Letters A, B, and C in front of the dwellings are arbitrary identifications supplied by the Sanborn Map Company. These identifications were necessary in the absence of official numbers actually posted on the buildings.
The Montgomery County Agricultural Society fairgrounds (aka Rockville Fair) was located directly across the Rockville & Georgetown Turnpike. Compared to the Rockville of today, the sparseness of structures in this 1908 map really stands out.
Nov 1915 Rockville Maryland Sanborn Map
The zoomed-in image of the Nov 1915 map shows the one-story Rockville Garage at the junction of Rockville & Georgetown Turnpike and Washington Road. Lewis Reed and brothers Robert and Griffith Warfield established the Rockville Garage in this location after acquiring the building from Lee Ricketts and Sons in July 1915. These maps are quite specific, not only in representing graphically the dimensions of buildings and spaces around them, but also in the details of the construction materials and activities that took place there. Notes on this map indicate that the garage had a 15-car capacity as well as a single gasoline pump. You can also see notes written in regarding building features such as “Heat: Stove In Office”— “Lights: Electric”— “Earth Flr”. They also noted the buried gas tank and where it was located with a small circle. The number “28” represents the official designation for the block provided by the city or arbitrarily by the Sanborn Map Company. The triangle is currently occupied by Rockville Garage, five two-story dwellings, and one vacant lot. In 1916, Lewis Reed purchased 6 lots in Rockville (Land Record, 294/375) and began his expansion in 1917 with a two-story addition behind the original garage.
Note: “CADIZ ALLEY” is an arbitrary designation supplied by the Sanborn Map Company in the absence of a suitable official name. “Cadiz Alley” would later become “Dodge Street”.
Nov 1924 Rockville Maryland Sanborn Map
This enlarged view from the 1924 map shows the garage capacity increased to 30 cars. If you look closely, you can see the annotations “G.T.” by four open circles—these indicate the gasoline supply is stored in tanks buried just in front of the building. Solid black circles mark the location of fire hydrants. The dealership’s Office is identified by “OFF”. Saint Mary’s Church and Cemetery is also visible where it still stands today. Other notes written in regarding building features include “Heat: Steam”— “Lights: Electric”. The small circles in the corners of the main building indicated it had a slate or tin roof. The numbers immediately in front of the buildings facing the streets are the official address numbers.
By tracking Reed Brothers Dodge on successive Sanborn maps—1915, 1924, 1949 and 1960—I have confirmed a couple of things. First, Lewis Reed purchased a total of 6 residential lots in the triangle to expand his business. The expansions took place over the course of about 50 years—from 1917 to about 1953. Second, and more curiously, sometime between 1924 and 1949, Cadiz Alley became “Dodge Street”. The street was named “Dodge Street” by the State of Maryland sometime following the dealership’s 1941 expansion. The number “28” marks the spot where Reed Brothers constructed completely new buildings for the Parts and Service Departments.
June 1949 Rockville Maryland Sanborn Map, Sheet 10
After 1924, there is a large gap in the sequence of Sanborn maps, and the next survey was published in 1949. This map shows the expansion of the showroom and Gulf Gas Station that took place during the mid-1930s. At about the same time as the gas station was remodeled, Lewis Reed split up the Sales and Parts and Service operations by constructing a complete new building; it was located at the intersection of at Montgomery Avenue and Dodge Street. In this image of the June 1949 map, you can see notes written within the “Auto Repair” building regarding construction materials such as “Cinder Block”—“Steel Trusses”— “Pilasted Walls”—”Conc. Fls”. This map reveals that Reed Brothers has implemented automatic sprinklers throughout Auto Sales & Service as indicated by the symbol “AS” within a circle. The solid black circle with “D.H.” at the top of the map identifies a Double Hydrant. New buildings for Auto Sales & Service and Auto Repair have replaced dwellings A, B, and C. One remaining two-story dwelling stands near the back of the dealership, in front of the new Parts and Service building. Block number (28) has been changed to “97”.
June 1949 Rockville Sanborn Map, Sheet 10, Revised Jan 1960
This final map is a new report that was updated in Jan 1960. Due to changes in the highway in 1953, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. The program consisted of a sizable addition to the service shop which enlarged the showroom area and housed the Parts Department. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of Montgomery Avenue and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected. The zoomed-in map reveals the new Gulf “ice box” design filling station in front. The last two-story house was demolished and replaced with a parking lot and used car lot, which now completes the triangle.
Today, Sanborn maps are rarely used by insurance companies, having been supplanted by new technologies. However, these maps remain a vital source of historical information. The Sanborn Fire Insurance Company’s maps are a great way to get a visual sense of the development and changes that took place in the city over time. Today, they can be invaluable for uncovering a business’s long-lost historical details.
Notes: All map screenshots in this post are courtesy of the Library of Congress digital collection of Sanborn maps.
The original Sanborn maps were printed in color, so some details from the original historical maps do not show.
Reed Brothers Beginnings at the “Triangle”
Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States; the Green Bay Packers did not yet exist; the United States was two years away from joining World War I; the cost of a stamp was two cents, and Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland was founded. It is a family business history that parallels the evolution of the American automobile industry itself.
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 Reed 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 1915, Lewis Reed and brothers Robert L. and Griffith Warfield established Rockville Garage after acquiring the building from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. In 1918, Lewis Reed bought out Rockville Garage from the Warfield’s and changed the name to Reed Brothers Dodge. Soon after opening the doors to his dealership, Lewis Reed started to expand. In 1917, a two-story addition was added. The first floor housed the Service Department and upper floor was used for parts storage. At the left side of the two story building was a narrow vehicle entrance that led to the service department in the rear. A house can be seen behind the addition. Lewis Reed later purchased the remaining five residential lots to expand his dealership in the back.
In addition to Dodge Brothers Motor Cars, Rockville Garage carried Hudson and Oldsmobile. To survive the early days in the automobile business, most dealerships sold several makes of cars. Cross-selling was an acceptable business practice until the late 1940s when brand loyalty took hold. Also by then, the vast number of automobile manufacturers had been pared down. Reed Brothers got a new remodel in 1921, and an island with three new modern gas pumps were added. By this time, gasoline retailers had determined that placing gas pumps on an “island” in front of the station, where drivers could approach from either side, provided the most efficient station layout.
In the late 1920s, a second story was added to the showroom with a glazed front looking out onto Rockville Pike on the right. A modern drive-through canopy was added along with new gasoline pumps and Dodge Brothers Motor Car and Graham Brothers Truck signage. “That Good Gulf” was one of the the Gulf Refining Company’s marketing slogans for a number of years during the twenties and thirties. Another interesting detail is the placement of floodlights on the canopy roof pointing at the signs.
The new car showroom below is filled with late 1920s Dodge Brothers new car models. The high ceilings and mezzanine floor gives an air of elegance to the showroom and the expanse of windows on the front extends the full width of the building. Locating a showroom “in relation to traffic” was of the utmost importance. The showroom faced the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike which gave the dealership maximum visibility to the largest volume of cross traffic. Behind the large plate glass windows and an awning above was the product — the new car. It appears the showroom could accommodate 4-5 new automobiles. An upper floor mezzanine housed the dealership’s Parts Department and storage area. This level was accessed by a wide, open staircase. All of the elaborate design features inside, such as the high ceiling, wood railings, and mezzanine were usually reserved for upscale dealerships. To find this level of construction expense in a dealership selling mid-priced cars was extremely rare.
In 1930, Reed Brothers added the Plymouth line. Even though times were tough during the Great Depression, Reed Brothers was doing well enough to finance another facelift and renovation; the front of the Gulf Gasoline Station and the canopy was remodeled as shown below during the mid-thirties.
After years of hard work that also helped to establish an excellent reputation, once again Reed Brothers Dodge needed to expand. At about the same time as the gas station was remodeled, Lewis Reed split up the sales and parts and service operations by constructing a complete new building; it was located at the intersection of at East Montgomery Avenue and Dodge Street. The showroom was ideally located at the intersection of two streets, with a large curving window placed within the field of vision of approaching traffic and designed in such as way as to increase drivers’ viewing time. The corner showroom window simulated a “corner statement.”
At this point, eight new cars and trucks were being sold each month, along with a number of used car sales. Many purchases at the time, as had been the custom for years in the automobile business, were still initiated at a prospect’s home or job site; as many of the customers were farmers, the Reed’s had an active team of salesman in place who called on prospects right on their property.
Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected. Below is a mid-1960’s photo of the Reed Brothers Dodge Gulf Gasoline station. The famous Gulf “ice box” design dates back to late 1930’s and there were probably more of these built than any single one of the later Gulf designs.
Two great entrepreneurs, Lewis and Edgar Reed, built and sustained a business that lasted for more than a half-century at one location under one ownership, and earned a place not just in the history of Maryland, but in American automobile history as well. For 55 years at the triangle, Reed Brothers Dodge became a community icon and a local landmark for motorists traveling to and through Rockville.