Tag Archive | rockville history

Down Memory Lane: Rockville VFD Carnival

Whiz Bang Carnival

Montgomery County Sentinel, Friday, Sept 9, 1932

On this date 90 years ago the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department held its first annual carnival.

From The Daily News, Frederick Maryland, August 10, 1932:

At a special meeting of the department August 5 it was unanimously voted that a carnival should be held on the Fairgrounds from September 3 to 10, inclusive. The first event will be a fireman’s parade and hook-up contests with three cups being offered as prizes. Other items of interest will be the baby show, the old-fashioned square dance, and the public wedding. An automobile and fifteen cash prizes are to be given away during the carnival.

The Carnival Parade

The carnival parade always kicked off the celebrations and were held on the first day, with the intent of drawing the spectators to the carnival grounds. There were always a few high school bands in the lineup, and most of the floats were simple, many being your average flatbed farm wagons decorated with yards of colored crepe paper and sponsored by a local business. Following the procession, teams of 10 men each, engaged in a tug-of-war contests in front of the dancing pavilion at the fair ground.

The June 1960 Rockville Sanborn map below shows the location of the Rockville Fire Department Carnival Grounds. From what I have been able to piece together from newspaper archives, the carnival began in 1932 and closed sometime in the early 1970s. The carnival office and administrative building used to be the one-room doctor’s office built for and used by Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet from 1852 to 1903. It was donated to the Montgomery County Historical Society and moved to the complex in 1972.

Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival

Rockville Fire Department Carnival Grounds location, circa 1960. Courtesy of the Library of Congress digital collection of Sanborn maps.

All of the buildings, including flood lights, fencing and metal frames for carnival stands, on the 10-acre site on the Rockville Pike were permanent fixtures all year long and remained unused until the carnival. In 1947, a 70-foot dance pavilion with detachable side walls was built by labor and materials donated by members of the department and Rockville citizens. Over the years, department members built the 12 red and white wooden buildings on the grounds.

Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival

View of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival buildings across from Beall’s Esso on Rockville Pike, circa 1960s. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

The Rockville Fire Department held its annual carnival during the month of August. The eight-night carnival was the staple of the organization’s fundraising for several decades. Locals came to the carnival every year to enjoy the rides, win raffle prizes, listen to the live music every night and most importantly, to eat the food. It was the perfect place to catch up with friends, ride a few rides and maybe win a gold fish that might actually remain alive by the time you got home.

Valuable prizes given away nightly. Prizes by General Electric:

  • 4-Speed Record Player
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Portable Transistor Radio
  • Roll Around Fans
  • Toaster Ovens

All prizes — including the automobiles, and the items like vacuum cleaners and record players as grounds prizes — were bought by the Department. Nothing was donated except the time and work of the volunteers.

Not One, Not Two, but Three…

It is exciting to note that for many years, a car was the grand prize given away at the carnival. Three spanking new automobiles were awarded to lucky ticket holders.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Automobiles were given away as Grand Awards. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Win this new Chevrolet! Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Win this new Ford! Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Car tent, ca. 1950

Car tent, ca. 1950

Beauty Contest, Wedding to Highlight Carnival

A public wedding and a bathing beauty contest for “Miss Rockville” highlighted the eight-night carnival on August 12, 1949. The contest winner receives $75 and have the honor of representing the firemen in a September contest at Sandy Spring for the title of “Miss Montgomery County Fireman of 1949.”

Rockville Carnival Wedding

The Evening Star, August 17, 1949

From The Evening Star, August 17, 1949:

Rockville’s Volunteer firemen are beginning to believe in sawdust wedding aisles as lucky omens.

All 17 couples who in as many years have been married in public at the Rockville fireman’s carnival have lived happily ever after – at least without a divorce.

And the firemen are counting on this year’s couple, Arthur Fleming, 21, Rockville Post Office employee, and his 18 year old bride, Dorothy Lucille Campbell Fleming of Gaithersburg to maintain that record. The two were married last night at the carnival, and like their predecessors, they spoke their vows over a loud speaker in view of a merry-go-round and walked down a sawdust aisle edged with 5,000 onlookers.

Chief W. Valentine Wilson originated the public wedding at the Rockville Carnival back in 1932. The firemen provided a $500 set of furniture, the wedding license, ring, minister, bridal gown, bridegroom’s and ushers’ white tie and tails and flowers.

Some of the town folk weren’t too much in favor of the idea and almost talked a town minister out of performing the ceremony. Later they found out the ceremonies are all very solemn affairs with no frivolity and bystanders even whimpered. For the 17 weddings, State Fireman’s Association Chaplain James C. Minter has conducted the ceremonies. Most of the nuptials ran smoothly, but the Chief remembered one that edged on the border line. That was the time a bridegroom, kneeling at the altar with his bride, whispered, “I can’t get up.”

As to why the marriages have been such successes, Fire Department General Counsel David E. Betts, thinks he has the answer: “If they love each other enough to be married at a carnival public wedding under the populace’s eyes, they’ve got enough love to hold them together for life.”

RVFD Carnival Program Line up from 1968

1968 Carnival Program

The Music

Music has been a big part of the carnival over the years too, as big-name country acts performed at the fairgrounds. There were floor shows each night featuring artists such as  Conway Twitty & the Twittybirds, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Jimmy Dean, Patsy Cline, the Osborne Brothers, and many others.

Nightly entertainment featured attractions such as a trapeze artist, hillbilly comedy, Punch and Judy show, old fashioned hoedowns, the Jamboree Boys of television fame, a western rope spinning and whip act, thrilling acrobatic on the slack wire, comedy juggling act by Billy Dale, the Ringling Brothers circus clown, and the Blue Mountain Boys. And nightly dancing in the Pavilion to the music of Sid Graham’s “Five Tones.”

Also appearing were the Shirleyettes with Linda Rita Peluzo, a versatile young lady who danced, sang, and played the accordion. The Eng Sisters, a Chinese trio, entertained with modern song. Carol Bo Barnstead, a flaming baton twirler, appeared with the young Jean Kruppa and Bert Bottamilla on drums.

From The News, Frederick MD 07 August 1965:

Local talent such as the Rockville Municipal Band under the direction of Frank Troy, the Tune Twisters with the Darnell Sisters, and Johnny Glaze and the Night Hawks will round out the entertainment for the two week period. Proceeds from the carnival will go toward payment of a $15,000 Miller-Meteor Cadillac ambulance and a $62,000 Peter Pirsch, 100 foot aerial ladder which were put into service to meet the demands of a growing community.

1961 Cadillac Ambulance by Miller-Meteor

1961 Cadillac Ambulance by Miller-Meteor. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

The Games

“Dime to play, dime to win, come on in!” The games – The Duck Pond, simply pick up a floating rubber duck out of the water, turn it over to see your prize. Dunk Tank, Rifle Range, Hoop-la (throw hoops around pegs), Balloon Pitch, Teddy Bear Toss (get ring completely around bear stand for 1st prize), Guess Your Age, Cigarette Wheel (spin the wheel and win unfiltered cigarettes)… Lucky Strikes, Camels, and other horrible brands. Lamps (ring toss over miniature lamps was a lot harder than it looked). Panda Bear Stand, ring a coke bottle to win one. Test your strength on the “High Striker” (driving a puck up a tower with a hammer to ring the bell). Rifle Range, 25 cents for shots with a carnival rifle at rotating ducks you just fired away for prizes. And for those a bit older, the favorite game was Bingo.

The closest thing to “big” trouble the carnival ever had was the escape of a mouse from the “guess-which-hole” mouse game. A stand that year featured a game in which a live mouse was put on a board with several numbered holes. Players bet on which hole the mouse would choose. When the mouse was put on the board, it got scared and ran away! It was the only mouse, so two firemen had to chase it all over the grounds to catch it. The game was discontinued after that incident.

In 1935, county residents, in a special referendum, gave the Fire Department and other non-profit community and church groups the right to hold raffles and bingo games.

Rockville Carnival carnival cigarette wheel

Cigarette wheel at RVFD Carnival. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Lucky Number Ball Game at RVFD Carnival. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Calling Bingo at RVFD Carnival, August 1961. Photo credit:  RVFD Photo Archives.

The Rides

The heart of the historic fireman’s carnival was the rides – Ferris Wheel, Kiddy Automobiles, Merry-Go-Round, Kiddy Aeroplanes, Scrambler, Loop-O-Plane, Round Up, Dipper Dive Bomber, Octopus, Paratrooper, Live Pony Rides, Kiddy Train, Kiddy Boat Ride, Space Chaser and Tank Ride. The rides were operated by a commercial firm. Everything else was staged or staffed by the volunteer firemen and their families, plus friends of the department who donated their time. For parents, a lot of enjoyment came from seeing their kids having such a good time. Below are a few samples (only) of the rides that were featured at the carnival.

The Scrambler

The Scrambler

This ride is fast — really fast. Proving that rides don’t have to go high to make you question all of your choices, The Scrambler is something you shouldn’t ride if you’ve eaten within your current lifetime. Picture this: the ride has three arms. On the ends of each of those arms are clusters of individual cars, each on a smaller arm of its own. When the Scrambler starts, the main arm and the little arms all rotate. The outermost arms are slowed and the inner arms are accelerated, creating an illusion of frighteningly close collisions between the cars and passengers. The Scrambler proves that you don’t have to go on a roller coaster to lose your lunch or have the wits scared out of you.

The Octopus

The Octopus

One of the most entertaining rides that you can go on at any carnival is called The Octopus. The arms go up and down multiple times during the ride, but it is the spinning action of the ride itself which causes the carts to automatically spin, making this one of the most fun rides ever created.

Paratrooper

Paratrooper

The Paratrooper, also known as the Parachute Ride or Umbrella Ride is a type of carnival ride where the seats are suspended below a wheel which rotates at an angle. The seats are free to rock sideways and swing out as the wheel rotates.

Tilt-a-Whirl

Tilt-a-Whirl

The Tilt-a-Whirl ride wildly spins in countless directions at variable speeds. Calculated chaos ensued. Those who look a little green or lose their lunch of hot dogs, cotton candy, and soda pop are probably just coming off a Tilt-a-Whirl.

Loop-O-Plane

Loop-O-Plane

The Loop-O-Plane is just what it sounds like: Mechanical arms take riders, over and over, in a stomach flip-flopping, upside-down-turning loop.

Round Up Carnival Ride

The Round Up

The Round Up has been a popular ride on the American carnival midway since the 1950s. Riders stand against the wall and as the barrel begins to spin, they are stuck to the wall. The barrel soon raises in the air at a 70 degree angle.

The Food

Did I mention the food? Carnivals are a feast for the senses. The smells of food floods the air with the toasty, oily, salty smell of french fried potatoes mingled with scents of buttered popcorn, spicy pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and other tasty treats. Those french fries in a paper cone with vinegar… didn’t you just love those french fries? There was fried chicken that Colonel Sanders would have to salute. And as if that was not enough, there was snack time. The night would not be complete without cotton candy or a caramel apple. And I would be remiss to not mention the infamous funnel cake, which is either loved or hated; there is no middle ground.

For hundreds of children who grew up in the Rockville area, the carnival is where they held their first job. It was such a great tradition and a real community effort. Unfortunately, due to increased call volume, the fire department had to end the annual event. Carnival revenue has since been replaced by a combination of public funding, private donations, and commercial income.

It made a lot of money for the fire department, and by the end of each evening there were quite a few happy young girls to be seen in the crowd, carrying a large stuffed animal and accompanied by a smiling young man.

Sources of Information:
Library of Congress digital collection of Sanborn maps
Chronicling America digitized newspapers
Newspapers.com historical newspapers

 

Origins of the Great Fair Rockville Maryland (1846-1932)

The Great Rockville Fair

The Washington Times., August 20, 1922

In 1846, James K. Polk was President of the United States, the U.S. flag had only 28 stars on it, and less than 1,500 people lived in Rockville. It also was the year that the Montgomery County Agricultural Society was organized, that began the tradition of the Montgomery County Fair in Rockville. A 12-member board of directors was chosen, headed by John P. C. Peter, President. The Montgomery County Fair opened two years later on the Pike in 1848, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today.

Discussions about farm improvements led to organized agricultural efforts. In 1846, Rockville farmers helped to establish the Montgomery County Agricultural Society. Two years later, Court House Square overflowed with displays of agricultural implements at the first county fair. The register of will opened his office for exhibits of household manufacturers. and the county clerk’s place teemed with fruits and vegetables. Women competed for cash prizes in the categories of homespun fabrics, fancy handwork, pickles, preserves, butter, cheese, and honey. Men exhibited livestock on the grounds of the Beall-Dawson House.

In a few years, the fair moved to Samuel T. Stonestreet’s woodlot adjacent to Saint Mary’s Church. The annual fair became a week-long gathering to showcase innovation, compete, and socialize. The property on the Rockville Pike was used until 1932, after which much of the land became Richard Montgomery High School.

From The Baltimore Sun Newspaper on September 20, 1848:

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair held at Rockville, Maryland on Thursday and Friday last, the Journal of that place says, fully met the most sanguine expectation of its friends. The concourse of people was very large, and the stock, implements, and other articles exhibited, were the most perfect and beautiful. The Journal designs to publish the various reports of the committee—and the very able and interesting address of R. J. Bowie, Esq., and the other appropriate remarks submitted on the occasion, and says:

The exhibition was highly credible to the officers and members of the club, and to our country. We must reserve, for a more lengthy notice, the beautiful stock and implements of agriculture sent by gentlemen residing out of our county. We are gratified, indeed, that every thing went off gloriously, and the occasion will be long remembered by all who were present.

1909 Montgomery County Fair

The Baltimore Sun, Sunday 31 August 1909

All the latest improved machinery in farm and garden implements were there, together with wagons, carriages, automobiles, trucks, and tractors. The display of cattle, sheep and hogs had long been one of the leading features at the Rockville Fair.  Many fine herds of cattle, including Jerseys, Guernseys and other varieties were on exhibition. Two hundred of the finest horses in Montgomery County, along with many from the District of Columbia, nearby Virginia, and elsewhere were on exhibition.

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Fair-goers in their finest stroll along the midway. Hats were a fashion requirement at the time, as were long flowing dresses and suits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Many other attractions were provided, including the midway, merry-go-round, Ferris wheel, side shows, free exhibitions in front of the grandstand, horse racing, pony races, mule races, automobile contests, a parade of stock, horse show, dog show, poultry show, an automobile show, and clay pigeon shoots. The clay-pigeon shoot was one of the biggest events of its kind ever held in Maryland.

Vintage Ferris Wheel

Ferris Wheel at the Rockville Fair. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Agricultural and various farm equipment exhibits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

The various departments were filled to overflowing with high-class exhibits. The main exhibition hall was devoted to farm products and garden products, household displays, flowers, fruits, etc. The household department had an endless array of preserves, jellies, canned fruits, bread, cakes, candles, pies, fancy articles, and works of art. Sanders & Stayman and E. F. Droop & Co. of Washington, had excellent displays of musical instruments in this hall. Examples of locally grown produce were abundant in the main hall. Peaches, apples, plums, damsons, cantaloupes and watermelons were piled up in tempting array. The poultry show was also a place of interest. Many fine chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and pigeons were being shown.

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Fair-goers meander through exhibits. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Can you hear me now? Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Hundreds of cars parked in the fair parking lot. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910.

The Fair was always attended by large numbers of out-of-town visitors from other Maryland counties like Frederick, Howard, and Carroll counties, as well as attracting out-of-state fair-goers from the District of Columbia and neighboring counties in Virginia. Vehicles were assigned places all around the fairgrounds, and the park was completely surrounded. What is fascinating to me is, with all of these early cars painted in black, how on earth would you find your car?

Montgomery County Fairgrounds in the snow.

Montgomery County Fairgrounds in the snow. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Montgomery County Fairgrounds 1910

Montgomery County Fairgrounds Poultry House boarded up for the winter. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Sign on the left side of the building reads, “The Beautiful Caverns of Luray Souvenirs”. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

The Race Track

If only the grandstands at the Rockville Fairgrounds could talk. The stories it could tell – it would tell stories of great racing – first on horses, bicycles and motorcycles, and then in cars. This grandstand could talk about the rich history of racing that took place on the one-third of a mile long dirt track which attracted high-power cars operated by some of the most noted speed kings of the country.

When Lewis Reed took these photographs in the early 1900s, the Rockville fairgrounds had undergone a significant upgrade. The grounds were enlarged by the addition of about five acres, allowing for the construction of a one-third of a mile race course along with a new grandstand, and improvements were made to the buildings and grounds, bringing them up-to-date in every respect. Montgomery County could well boast one of the nicest fairgrounds in the state.

Below is a previously unpublished Program of Speed Contests held in Rockville, Maryland, dated September 4 and 5, 1890. The program is from Lewis Reed’s collection. (click on photos for larger images)

1890 Fair Racing Program

Front cover of a racing program from the 1890 Montgomery County Agricultural Society Fair. From Lewis Reed’s Collection.

1890 Fair Racing Program

Racing program from the 1890 Montgomery County Agricultural Society Fair. From Lewis Reed’s Collection.

1890 Fair Racing Program

Back cover of racing program from the 1890 Montgomery County Agricultural Society Fair. From Lewis Reed’s Collection.

Bicycle Races

Bicycle races became very popular throughout the country and were a novel event at the Rockville Fairgrounds as early as 1915. The track was a one-third of a mile dirt racing oval with wide, sweeping curves and a grandstand for spectators, which made for clear views. Notice the riders are in shirts and ties. In the background: according to the 1903 Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas of the fairgrounds, these structures near the track were used as cattle pens.

Rockville Fairgrounds Bicycle Races 1910

This circa 1915 photo of an early bicycle race at the Rockville Fairgrounds gives a sense of just how popular the sport was at the time. Photo by Lewis Reed

Harness Races

Harness racing was one of the main attractions at the new race track before the introduction of the automobile and the subsequent popularity of racing cars. Horses were harnessed to lightweight one-seater buggies called sulkies, and would race around the track at a trot, as opposed to the galloping gait of horses ridden by jockeys.

1910 Harness Races

Rockville drew huge crowds for harness races. Photo by Lewis Reed, circa 1910

1920s Harness Races

Harness race at the Rockville Fair, circa 1910. All those throngs of people had plenty to see. Photo by Lewis Reed

1910 Harness Races

Harness racers rounding the bend on the racetrack, Rockville Fairground circa 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

1910 Harness Races

Bend on the harness racetrack, Rockville Fairground circa 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Fair Sulkie

Race horses and two-wheeled sulkies (for trotting races) at the Rockville Fairground stables, Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910.

1910 Harness Races

Race horse and two-wheeled sulkies (for trotting races) at the Rockville Fairground stables. Photo by Lewis Reed ca. 1910

First Auto Races at Rockville Fair Speedway

From The Baltimore Sun, August 27, 1923:

This is the first year that a Rockville Fair has continued through Saturday. The extra day was added this time as an experiment, the management believing that by substituting new features the additional day could be made a success. Automobile races, the first ever held at Rockville, were the day’s principal attraction and they attracted a good-sized crowd.

Early action shots like the ones below are rare, however, Lewis Reed was there to capture six epic moments of race history through the lens of his camera that day.

Rockville Fair Auto Race Aug 1923

Rockville drew huge crowds for auto races. Rockville Fair, August 25, 1923. Photo by Lewis Reed

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

Dusty Action – 1923 photo of the exciting auto races at Rockville Fair. Five racers are just coming around the bend on this dirt track with their tires spinning up dust in their wake. Photo by Lewis Reed

August 1923 Auto race, Rockville Fair

Race car drivers deep in dust round a turn at the Rockville Fair auto races. Print made from a Lewis Reed glass negative.

August 1923 Auto race, Rockville Fair

High-powered race cars rounding a wide, sweeping curve at the Rockville Fair auto races, August 25, 1923. Print made from a Lewis Reed glass negative

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

Two-man race car. Some early race cars included both a driver and a ‘riding mechanic’. One of the key jobs of the second man in a race car was to look backward and alert the driver to what was going on behind him. Photo by Lewis Reed

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. Special note: The above photograph was featured as a part of the London Array Series of “Impossible Engineering,” broadcast on January 24, 2019 on Discovery’s Science Channel. The photograph was used on the program that featured a segment on the development of the race car.

August 1923. Auto race, Rockville Fair

More dirt track action. Skinny tires make for slippery turns. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage Displaying New Model Cars at the Rockville Fair Grounds, 1918

The Fair also gave automobile dealers like a young Lewis Reed the opportunity to display their new models. Below is the dealership’s new car tent, allowing attendees to get their first glimpse at the latest models that Rockville Garage had to offer.
Rockville Garage at Fairgrounds 1918

Anybody for a demonstration drive? Identified by the triangle logo on the grill and the number of passengers seated in it, the car appears to be a 1918 Hudson Super Six Seven Passenger Touring. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

Hudson Super Six, Oldsmobile, and Dodge Brothers Motor Cars on display. Lewis Reed in drivers seat.

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

Rockville Garage displaying their new models at the Rockville Fair Grounds. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

At Your Service Rockville Garage. Lewis Reed on the left

Reed Brothers Company Softball Team at the Rockville Fairgrounds, late 1920s

From a distance, it looks and sounds like a regular baseball game: the crack of the bat, the cheering from the bench, the sliding into home plate. But a closer look at the field shows something is very different. They’re playing on a rough grass field, no one is using a batting helmet, fielding glove, or catcher’s mask. From the 1920s through the 1940s, Reed Brothers Dodge had their own company softball team that played on the fields at the Rockville Fairgrounds where Richard Montgomery High School now stands.

Reed Brothers Softball Team

Reed Brothers Softball Team playing on a field set up inside the Rockville Fair racetrack oval, circa late 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed

Fair Now History

From The Daily Mail (Hagerstown, Maryland) 23 Aug 1933:

The historic Rockville Fairgrounds, scene of many harness race programs, will be sold at a sheriff’s sale Friday afternoon at Rockville. The property consists of 26 acres, a dwelling and numerous stables, exhibition buildings and other structures. The sale is being made to satisfy a claim of a bank. It is rumored that the Montgomery County Board of Education will try to buy the grounds as a site for an elementary school and a future location for the entire Rockville educational plant.

Fair Ground Auctioned

From The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) 26 Aug 1933:

The Montgomery County National Bank submitted the only bid for the historic Rockville Fair Grounds at a public auction on August 25, 1933 to satisfy a bank’s claim. Its bid was $19,500.00 subject to a mortgage held by the Sandy Spring Savings Institution, and unpaid interest and taxes.

The Montgomery County Fair was reborn in 1949 and again started holding its annual Fair in Gaithersburg. On June 4th, 1949, hundreds of volunteers participated in an old-fashioned barn raising and 12 outbuildings were constructed in one day. The site of the new Montgomery County Agricultural Center was created.

Montgomery County Agricultural Fair

June 4, 1949 – Construction of the cattle barns along the railroad tracks. Photo courtesy of Montgomery County Agricultural Fair photo archives.

End of An Era

While many things about the fair have changed over the years, its mission has remained the same.

This event provides the opportunity for 4-H and FFA members to exhibit their livestock, homemaking and craft projects. We also focus on promoting the science and preservation of agriculture in Montgomery County and educating Fair patrons and the community regarding agricultural related topics.

To that end they have been successful since 1846. The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair is now today, one of the largest county Fairs in the State of Maryland.

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

References:
Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Library of Congress
Newspapers.com: the largest online newspaper archive
Rockville, Portrait Of A City, Eileen S. McGuckian
Ag Center History

Montgomery Magazine Wheels and Deals Feature

Reed Brothers Dodge, Montgomery MagazineReed Brothers is very proud and honored to be featured in the month of August/September 2022 Montgomery Magazine, “Then & Now” section. The black and white photograph above shows the expansion of Reed Brothers Dogde showroom and Gulf Gasoline Station that took place in 1941. 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 that was located at the intersection of at Montgomery Avenue and Dodge Street.

A closer look at the photo reveals the price of gasoline as 15 cents. On the right attached to a telephone pole is a sign pointing the way to Olney. In addition to the Gulf signage there is a small, barely visible sign below that promotes, “Clean Rest Rooms”.Reed Brothers Dodge, Montgomery Magazine

The color photograph above, is the dealership’s location today, now known as Veterans Park. In the 1970s, the site was known as the Francis Scott Key Memorial Park, and later in 1988, it was permanently rededicated as Veterans Park. In the late 1960s, the state of Maryland acquired the land to widen Rt 355 and donated the remaining sliver to the City. The State of Maryland named the connector street behind the dealership’s original location “Dodge Street” following the dealership’s 1941 expansion.

Montgomery Magazine is a lifestyle magazine, with timely articles on county leaders, entertainment, sports, neighborhood and restaurant profiles, entrepreneurs, historic landmarks then and now, plus seasonal special sections of local interest.

Find the issue online at: http://digital.montgomerymag.com/issues/August-2022/index.html

1921 Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Charter Members

On the evening of March 9th 1921, the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department was formed by fifty-one men who gathered at the office of the Potomac Electric Power Company on S. Stonestreet Ave after a major fire at a store on East Montgomery Ave in old downtown Rockville raged out of control and threatened to burn down the entire block just a month before. That night, officers were elected and a committee was appointed to raise funds for the department. The first officers were President Dr. O.M. Linthicum, Vice President C.H. Robertson, Secretary-Treasurer Bache Abert, Engineer W.F. Disney, and Chief Joseph Howes. William Prettyman was named chairman of the committee designated to canvas house-to-house for funds. The fifty-one men, listed on the monument above, formed the original members of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department 101 years ago.

Two of those men were Rockville residents, Edgar Reed and Phillip Reed. Edgar was a partner with his brother, Lewis Reed, in the firm Reed Brothers Dodge. Phillip was a brother of Lewis Reed and a part of the first work force at Reed Brothers Dodge. Phillip came to work for the dealership in 1916 as a mechanic until 1944. Lewis Reed was an original incorporator and Charter Member of the Gaithersburg-Washington Grove Volunteer Fire Department.

1922 Ford Motor Company Model T Waterous Pumper

Rockville VFD paid $3,424 for their first fire engine, a 1922 Ford Motor Company Model T Waterous Pumper. The top running speed was 18 MPH. The unit is pictured here are the original charter members.

Only six people were allowed to ride on the Model-T in times of emergency and to prevent an argument, a ring system was developed. The first man to arrive after the siren sounded, grabbed the red ring, earning the coveted driver’s seat. The second man would grab the blue ring for the next most popular position, the officer’s seat. The remaining four men would grab white rings, signifying riding the back step. The rest would follow in their own cars.

Rockville VFD Monument

The Rockville VFD monument used to sit across the street from the Montgomery County Court house and in front of the old library on E. Jefferson Street. The monument currently sites in storage as it was removed for the building of the new courthouse.

Organized with 51 men in 1921, the RVFD now has a diverse complement of over 270 volunteers supported by almost 100 Montgomery County career firefighters.

Source: Rockville VFD Website

Old Fashioned Family Fun: Rockville VFD Carnival

A Whiz Bang Carnival

Montgomery County Sentinel, Friday, Sept 9, 1932

On this date 89 years ago the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department held its first annual carnival.

From The Daily News, Frederick Maryland, August 10, 1932:

At a special meeting of the department August 5 it was unanimously voted that a carnival should be held on the Fairgrounds from September 3 to 10, inclusive. The first event will be a fireman’s parade and hook-up contests with three cups being offered as prizes. Other items of interest will be the baby show, the old-fashioned square dance, and the public wedding. An automobile and fifteen cash prizes are to be given away during the carnival.

The Carnival Parade

The carnival parade always kicked off the celebrations and were held on the first day, with the intent of drawing the spectators to the carnival grounds. There were always a few high school bands in the lineup, and most of the floats were simple, many being your average flatbed farm wagons decorated with yards of colored crepe paper and sponsored by a local business. Following the procession, teams of 10 men each, engaged in a tug-of-war contests in front of the dancing pavilion at the fair ground.

The June 1960 Rockville Sanborn map below shows the location of the Rockville Fire Department Carnival Grounds. From what I have been able to piece together from newspaper archives, the carnival began in 1932 and closed sometime in the early 1970s. The carnival office and administrative building used to be the one-room doctor’s office built for and used by Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet from 1852 to 1903. It was donated to the Montgomery County Historical Society and moved to the complex in 1972.

Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival

Rockville Fire Department Carnival Grounds location, circa 1960. Courtesy of the Library of Congress digital collection of Sanborn maps.

All of the buildings, including flood lights, fencing and metal frames for carnival stands, on the 10-acre site on the Rockville Pike were permanent fixtures all year long and remained unused until the carnival. In 1947, a 70-foot dance pavilion with detachable side walls was built by labor and materials donated by members of the department and Rockville citizens. Over the years, department members built the 12 red and white wooden buildings on the grounds.

Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival

View of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department Carnival buildings across from Beall’s Esso on Rockville Pike, circa 1960s. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

The Rockville Fire Department held its annual carnival during the month of August. The eight-night carnival was the staple of the organization’s fundraising for several decades. Locals came to the carnival every year to enjoy the rides, win raffle prizes, listen to the live music every night and most importantly, to eat the food. It was the perfect place to catch up with friends, ride a few rides and maybe win a gold fish that might actually remain alive by the time you got home.

Valuable prizes given away nightly. Prizes by General Electric:

  • 4-Speed Record Player
  • Vacuum Cleaner
  • Portable Transistor Radio
  • Roll Around Fans
  • Toaster Ovens

All prizes — including the automobiles, and the items like vacuum cleaners and record players as grounds prizes — were bought by the Department. Nothing was donated except the time and work of the volunteers.

Not One, Not Two, but Three…

It is exciting to note that for many years, a car was the grand prize given away at the carnival. Three spanking new automobiles were awarded to lucky ticket holders.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Automobiles were given away as Grand Awards. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Win this new Chevrolet! Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Win this new Ford! Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Car tent, ca. 1950

Car tent, ca. 1950

Beauty Contest, Wedding to Highlight Carnival

A public wedding and a bathing beauty contest for “Miss Rockville” highlighted the eight-night carnival on August 12, 1949. The contest winner receives $75 and have the honor of representing the firemen in a September contest at Sandy Spring for the title of “Miss Montgomery County Fireman of 1949.”

Rockville Carnival Wedding

The Evening Star, August 17, 1949

From The Evening Star, August 17, 1949:

Rockville’s Volunteer firemen are beginning to believe in sawdust wedding aisles as lucky omens.

All 17 couples who in as many years have been married in public at the Rockville fireman’s carnival have lived happily ever after – at least without a divorce.

And the firemen are counting on this year’s couple, Arthur Fleming, 21, Rockville Post Office employee, and his 18 year old bride, Dorothy Lucille Campbell Fleming of Gaithersburg to maintain that record. The two were married last night at the carnival, and like their predecessors, they spoke their vows over a loud speaker in view of a merry-go-round and walked down a sawdust aisle edged with 5,000 onlookers.

Chief W. Valentine Wilson originated the public wedding at the Rockville Carnival back in 1932. The firemen provided a $500 set of furniture, the wedding license, ring, minister, bridal gown, bridegroom’s and ushers’ white tie and tails and flowers.

Some of the town folk weren’t too much in favor of the idea and almost talked a town minister out of performing the ceremony. Later they found out the ceremonies are all very solemn affairs with no frivolity and bystanders even whimpered. For the 17 weddings, State Fireman’s Association Chaplain James C. Minter has conducted the ceremonies. Most of the nuptials ran smoothly, but the Chief remembered one that edged on the border line. That was the time a bridegroom, kneeling at the altar with his bride, whispered, “I can’t get up.”

As to why the marriages have been such successes, Fire Department General Counsel David E. Betts, thinks he has the answer: “If they love each other enough to be married at a carnival public wedding under the populace’s eyes, they’ve got enough love to hold them together for life.”

RVFD Carnival Program Line up from 1968

1968 Carnival Program

The Music

Music has been a big part of the carnival over the years too, as big-name country acts performed at the fairgrounds. There were floor shows each night featuring artists such as  Conway Twitty & the Twittybirds, Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, Jimmy Dean, Patsy Cline, the Osborne Brothers, and many others.

Nightly entertainment featured attractions such as a trapeze artist, hillbilly comedy, Punch and Judy show, old fashioned hoedowns, the Jamboree Boys of television fame, a western rope spinning and whip act, thrilling acrobatic on the slack wire, comedy juggling act by Billy Dale, the Ringling Brothers circus clown, and the Blue Mountain Boys. And nightly dancing in the Pavilion to the music of Sid Graham’s “Five Tones.”

Also appearing were the Shirleyettes with Linda Rita Peluzo, a versatile young lady who danced, sang, and played the accordion. The Eng Sisters, a Chinese trio, entertained with modern song. Carol Bo Barnstead, a flaming baton twirler, appeared with the young Jean Kruppa and Bert Bottamilla on drums.

From The News, Frederick MD 07 August 1965:

Local talent such as the Rockville Municipal Band under the direction of Frank Troy, the Tune Twisters with the Darnell Sisters, and Johnny Glaze and the Night Hawks will round out the entertainment for the two week period. Proceeds from the carnival will go toward payment of a $15,000 Miller-Meteor Cadillac ambulance and a $62,000 Peter Pirsch, 100 foot aerial ladder which were put into service to meet the demands of a growing community.

1961 Cadillac Ambulance by Miller-Meteor

1961 Cadillac Ambulance by Miller-Meteor. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

The Games

“Dime to play, dime to win, come on in!” The games – The Duck Pond, simply pick up a floating rubber duck out of the water, turn it over to see your prize. Dunk Tank, Rifle Range, Hoop-la (throw hoops around pegs), Balloon Pitch, Teddy Bear Toss (get ring completely around bear stand for 1st prize), Guess Your Age, Cigarette Wheel (spin the wheel and win unfiltered cigarettes)… Lucky Strikes, Camels, and other horrible brands. Lamps (ring toss over miniature lamps was a lot harder than it looked). Panda Bear Stand, ring a coke bottle to win one. Test your strength on the “High Striker” (driving a puck up a tower with a hammer to ring the bell). Rifle Range, 25 cents for shots with a carnival rifle at rotating ducks you just fired away for prizes. And for those a bit older, the favorite game was Bingo.

The closest thing to “big” trouble the carnival ever had was the escape of a mouse from the “guess-which-hole” mouse game. A stand that year featured a game in which a live mouse was put on a board with several numbered holes. Players bet on which hole the mouse would choose. When the mouse was put on the board, it got scared and ran away! It was the only mouse, so two firemen had to chase it all over the grounds to catch it. The game was discontinued after that incident.

In 1935, county residents, in a special referendum, gave the Fire Department and other non-profit community and church groups the right to hold raffles and bingo games.

Rockville Carnival carnival cigarette wheel

Cigarette wheel at RVFD Carnival. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Lucky Number Ball Game at RVFD Carnival. Photo credit: RVFD Photo Archives.

Rockville Fire Department Carnival

Calling Bingo at RVFD Carnival, August 1961. Photo credit:  RVFD Photo Archives.

The Rides

The heart of the historic fireman’s carnival was the rides – Ferris Wheel, Kiddy Automobiles, Merry-Go-Round, Kiddy Aeroplanes, Scrambler, Dipper Dive Bomber, Octopus, Paratrooper, Live Pony Rides, Kiddy Train, Kiddy Boat Ride, Space Chaser and Tank Ride. The rides were operated by a commercial firm. Everything else was staged or staffed by the volunteer firemen and their families, plus friends of the department who donated their time. For parents, a lot of enjoyment came from seeing their kids having such a good time. Below are a few samples (only) of the rides that were featured at the carnival:

The Scrambler

The Scrambler

This ride is fast — really fast. Proving that rides don’t have to go high to make you question all of your choices, The Scrambler is something you shouldn’t ride if you’ve eaten within your current lifetime. Picture this: the ride has three arms. On the ends of each of those arms are clusters of individual cars, each on a smaller arm of its own. When the Scrambler starts, the main arm and the little arms all rotate. The outermost arms are slowed and the inner arms are accelerated, creating an illusion of frighteningly close collisions between the cars and passengers. The Scrambler proves that you don’t have to go on a roller coaster to lose your lunch or have the wits scared out of you.

The Octopus

The Octopus

One of the most entertaining rides that you can go on at any carnival is called The Octopus. The arms go up and down multiple times during the ride, but it is the spinning action of the ride itself which causes the carts to automatically spin, making this one of the most fun rides ever created.

Paratrooper

Paratrooper

The Paratrooper, also known as the Parachute Ride or Umbrella Ride is a type of carnival ride where the seats are suspended below a wheel which rotates at an angle. The seats are free to rock sideways and swing out as the wheel rotates.

Tilt-a-Whirl

Tilt-a-Whirl

The Tilt-a-Whirl ride wildly spins in countless directions at variable speeds. Calculated chaos ensued. Those who look a little green or lose their lunch of hot dogs, cotton candy, and soda pop are probably just coming off a Tilt-a-Whirl.

The Food

Did I mention the food? Carnivals are a feast for the senses. The smells of food floods the air with the toasty, oily, salty smell of french fried potatoes mingled with scents of buttered popcorn, spicy pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and other tasty treats. Those french fries in a paper cone with vinegar… didn’t you just love those french fries? There was fried chicken that Colonel Sanders would have to salute. And as if that was not enough, there was snack time. The night would not be complete without cotton candy or a caramel apple. And I would be remiss to not mention the infamous funnel cake, which is either loved or hated; there is no middle ground.

For hundreds of children who grew up in the Rockville area, the carnival is where they held their first job. It was such a great tradition and a real community effort. Unfortunately, due to increased call volume, the fire department had to end the annual event. Carnival revenue has since been replaced by a combination of public funding, private donations, and commercial income.

It made a lot of money for the fire department, and by the end of each evening there were quite a few happy young girls to be seen in the crowd, carrying a large stuffed animal and accompanied by a smiling young man.

Sources of Information:
Library of Congress digital collection of Sanborn maps
Chronicling America digitized newspapers
Newspapers.com historical newspapers

 

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