Montgomery History New Online Exhibit: Montgomery County 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed

Montgomery County, 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed

Montgomery History has launched a new online exhibit co-developed by Blog Author, Jeanne Gartner and Montgomery History Librarian & Archivist, Sarah Hedlund: “Montgomery County, 1900-1930: Through the Lens of Lewis Reed”. Explore Montgomery County and its environs in the early 20th century through the lens of Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge. A pioneering automobile dealer and one of the most prolific photographers in Montgomery County at the turn of the 20th century, Reed took motorcycle excursions all over the state of Maryland with his camera, capturing landscapes, monuments, historical places, people, and anything else that caught his attention.

The presentation of the Lewis Reed collection features his photography in several themed exhibitions (Transportation, Photo-magic, Recreation, Daily Life and Community) which will be released separately over time. The first exhibition, “Transportation in Montgomery County”, features some of the earliest known photographs of various modes of transportation, from horses and canal boats to motorcycles and automobiles. It is an absolutely unique window into how Montgomery Countians lived over a century ago.

Click on the category you are interested in below to visit the various presentations and their photographic content. Through the lens of Lewis Reed, we see that Montgomery County’s history is America’s history.

  • Transportation: Lewis Reed loved moving vehicles and photographed the evolution of transportation happening around him at the turn of the century. Explore the pages on modes of transportation in Montgomery County from horse power to automobiles.
  • Photo-magic: Details how self-taught photographer and county native Lewis Reed edited photos before computers existed, using techniques like hand-tinting and double exposure.
  • Recreation: Enjoy a vicarious getaway by exploring the newest section of the Lewis Reed Photography online exhibit, “Recreation”. View these amazing photos to see how Montgomery Countians in the first half of the 20th century enjoyed fun in the sun — beach trips, camping, fishing, vacationing, attending fairs, and more. You’ll find many summer activities have stood the test of time!
  • Daily Life [coming soon!]
  • Community [coming soon!]

New Blog Feature: Then & Now

Then & Now

Looking back at photography from the past is a fascinating experience for me, and with a newfound interest in history, it occurred to me that with the vast number of historical photographs in Lewis Reed’s Collection, that this blog would be a great place to feature a series of Then & Now photography. I started doing this about a year ago as a research tool, now I mostly do it because of my passion for history and fascination with the subject. With that in mind, I will occasionally be spotlighting some “Then & Now” images from his collection that will show photographs of buildings, street scenes, and other historical locales alongside photographs of how they appear today.

Some of the historic locations in this series includes the Smithsonian, Capitol, Union Station, Old Post Office, Library of Congress, Raleigh Hotel, Key Bridge and other important sites in and around the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area. There are also photographs of many non-Maryland locations including the historic landmark “Lucy the Elephant”, Gettysburg Battlefield, Mount Vernon, Pennsylvania Monument and United States Regulars Monuments under construction, and Quebec Bridge (the 8th Wonder of the World).

I have no formal history training, just a general interest in local history where I grew up. I will post one of Lewis Reed’s photographs matched with a corresponding contemporary shot of the same area, and supply a few sentences of context. All of them will in some way will offer a visual history of how things have changed over the years. I look forward to sharing them with you.

Reed Photo Collection (1898-1960)

Lewis Reed Photos

Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, was a well-known photographer in Montgomery County. Many of his photographs are now part of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Historical Society photo archives. He even developed his own photographs. He had a darkroom in his house —  in the kitchen, to be exact — and worked at night to develop the negatives.

About This Collection:

Since I started this blog, I have had the opportunity to look through my grandfather’s extensive collection of photographs from historical locations not only in Maryland, Washington, DC and Virginia, but all across the country. The Reed Photo Collection (1898-1960) spotlights the photographs that I have been able to research and identify. There are 100+ blog posts within this section that gives a snapshot of what life was like more than 100 years ago. Highlights include the Black Rock Grist Mill, Rockville Water Tower, C&O Canal, 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair, Rockville Fair dirt track races, Trolley Cars, Wright Brothers Airplane, and Quebec Bridge (8th Wonder of the World). Especially stunning are images of the aftermath of the 1936 Gainesville Georgia tornado, one of the deadliest tornadoes in American history. Many photographic images in this collection have never before been seen publicly in print.

Lewis Reed’s photography has appeared as a resource in highly regarded local history publications, and in historical television programming, including on the national television show American Pickers, Science Channel Impossible Engineering, Maryland Public Television, and the American Experience History Series on PBS.

If there’s an historical marker on the side of the road in Montgomery County, chances are, one of Lewis Reed’s images is on it. Some of the markers that display his photographs include the Andrew Small Academy Marker in Darnestown, The Origins of Darnestown Marker, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Station Marker in Gaithersburg, From Trolley to Trail Marker in Bethesda, Clinton A.M.E. Zion Church Marker in Rockville and the 19th Century Crossroads Marker in Darnestown.

Of particular interest is Lewis Reed’s collection of manipulated photographs. He was 100 years ahead of his time by creating special effects to images long before the convenience and efficiency of digital photography and Photoshop were ever imaginable. Lewis Reed used a wide variety of effects, including hand-tinting, double exposure, applied handwork, and creating images that made it look as if there were ghosts in the picture. It’s pretty amazing how his early photography shows such versatility and creativity considering the limited tools that were available at the time.

Click here to take a look back in time and explore the lives of those who have gone before us.

Note: All images are scanned from prints made from Lewis Reed’s original glass plate negatives. Glass plate negatives were in common use between the 1880s and the late 1920s. No touch-up or alteration has been done, in order to retain their historical essence.

SECO, 1914: Rockville’s First Movie Theater

Around the turn of the century, people began to think about places filled with seats where movies could be shown. Budding exhibitors took existing stores, gutted them, decorated the fronts, and installed seats. They added screens, sat a piano player under the screen and built tiny booths for the primitive projectors. With a staff made up of friends and family as cashiers, doormen, ushers, and projectionists, they were ready to make their fortunes.

The Seco, Milo, Arcade, and Villa Theaters presented movies in buildings on the main street in Rockville, Maryland from the 1920s through the 1960s.

Suburban Electrical Company (SECO) 1914

This image of the Suburban Electrical Company (SECO) shows how it looked in 1914. The upper story of the building was the living quarters of Mr and Mrs B. F. Hicks. The building was later acquired by W. Valentine Wilson, who tore it down and replaced it with the “SECO” Theater. The ground floor was made into a moving picture theater. Posters can be seen displayed on the front of the building. Photo by Lewis Reed.

The SECO theater in Rockville was opened for silent films and vaudeville shows around 1915 in what had been a general store dating back to Civil War days by W. Valentine Wilson. Prior to its opening, impromptu showings of films were held around the county at various stores and commercial buildings. It was perhaps the earliest movie house in Montgomery County and drew patrons from as far away as Mt. Airy in Frederick County.

Mr Wilson had operated an electrical business in the building and the SECO got its name from that business, the Suburban Electrical Company. The earliest ad for the SECO is in the Montgomery County Sentinel of October 22, 1915:

Shows four times a week – Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Our Monday night feature shows are the finest ever exhibited in Rockville and the management will continue to give nothing but the best of film service to the town.

On Saturday, October 23, we will feature Sally Crute and Augustus Phillips in a strong three-reel drama entitled, “Her Vocation,” with two other reels of laughter and side-shakes. … You never waste time by enjoying SECO moving pictures.

The SECO ran 10 films days after the first-run theaters in downtown Washington and had protection over the rival Takoma, Tivoli, and York theaters. A July 1916 advertisement read, “Paramount pictures at the SECO Theater three times every week, Monday, Thursday, Saturday, starting at 7:30 P.M.”

By the mid-1920s, the SECO had moved to 509 Commerce Lane. Sidney Lust took over the operation of this theater between 1931 and 1935 and renamed it the Arcade Theater. He installed a sound system in the Arcade for $2,250 in 1932 and closed it down on April 21, 1935. He opened the new Milo later that year.

North side of East Montgomery Ave Rockville, 1914

North side of Commerce Lane near the courthouse. Right to left: H. Reisinger Bakery, W. Hicks General Store, Suburban Electrical Company (SECO), and a two-story dwelling. Note the trolley car on the left. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1914.

Wilson also owned the SECO in Silver Spring that opened on November 7, 1927. Costing $60,000 to build, Silver Spring’s SECO had 500 seats and featured a 12×16 ft. screen and a projection system “said to be the latest word in motion pictures machines.”

Several Rockville businesses closed their doors during the depression. Some suffered from modern competition, and the economic downturn finished them off. Val Wilson’s 1929 purchase of a new organ to accompany silent movies at his SECO Theatre was the final straw for an enterprise losing ground to the “talking pictures” or “talkies”.

Valentine Wilson's Seco Theater in Rockville after its move from Montgomery Ave to Commerce Lane

This image of W. Valentine Wilson’s Seco Theater shows how it looked after its move from 402 Montgomery Ave to 310/509 Commerce Lane. Date unknown. (The Robert A. Truax Collection)

From The Evening Star, Washington, DC 25 Jul 1935:

One of the most modern theater, store and office buildings in this section of the country will be opened here September 1 when work is completed on the new Milo Theater on the site of the old Lincolnway Inn.

The structure is being erected by Rufus E. Milor of Rockville, contractor and owner, at a cost of $100,000, and it will contain two stores and 14 office rooms in addition to the theater, which is named for the owner of the building. The two stores, Peoples Drug Store and Sanitary Grocery, Co. will flank the theater lobby.

A two-story building with a modernistic, white limestone front, the new structure will be an attractive addition to Rockville’s business section. In addition to the main structure, Milor is building a new restaurant on an adjoining lot.

A paved parking area large enough to accommodate 300 cars will be opened at the rear of the main building.

Sidney B. Lust, owner of a chain of theaters in and around Washington, will operate the Milo. A stage to take care of any vaudeville requirements will be built, and the theater will seat 750.

Arcade Theater Rockville

The Evening Star, Washington, DC 12 August 1934

Milo Theater, Rockville

The Milo Theater (120 Commerce Lane) was designed by John J. Zink and named after its owner, Rufus E. Milor. It opened in October 1935 and lasted until 1969. Sidney Lust operated it until 1955. The name was changed to the Villa in 1956. Google Image

The theatre continued through to the late 1960s. Seating about 700+, in the mid 1950s, the name was changed to the Villa by new owners. The old movie house has since been torn down years ago, and the site built over. In a 1914 Theatre Guide, the Rockville Opera House was found listed, with theatre seating on the second floor of the building.

Villa Theater 120 Commerce Avenue

A 1963 photo of the Milo Theatre when it went by the name of the Villa. Google Image

Sources: Motion Picture Exhibition in Washington, DC: An Illustrated History of Parlors, Palaces and Multiplexes in the Metropolitan Area, 1894-1997 online archive
“Maryland’s Motion Picture Theaters” Images of America Series

Then & Now: The Tomb of Washington

In this “Then & Now” feature, I have combined one of Lewis Reed’s original photograph’s for “then” and paired it with a Google composite image to show how The Tomb of Washington has transformed over the years.

THEN: George Washington died in his bedchamber at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799. His last will outlined his desire to be buried at home at Mount Vernon. Washington additionally made provisions for a new brick tomb to be constructed after his death, which would replace the original yet quickly deteriorating family burial vault. In 1831, Washington’s body was transferred to the new tomb, along with the remains of Martha Washington and other family members. 

George Washingtons Tomb Mt Vernon

George Washington’s at Tomb Mount Vernon, Virginia. Photo by Lewis Reed

NOW: Today, the gently wooded enclosure that surrounds the Washingtons’ final resting place is a lovely, fitting space to pay homage to the Father of Our Country and the first First Lady.

Tomb of Washington, Mt Vernon earyl 1900s

A composite image of the tomb today.

Lewis Reed’s “Sunday Prowlers”

Being of a certain age, going for a “Sunday Drive” was a fixture of life when I was a kid. Not to be confused with driving on Sunday, the Sunday drive meant climbing into the car with your family, for no particular purpose other than to get out of town, take in the scenery, and enjoy the pleasure of moving.

Lewis Reed belonged to a group of Sunday drivers, called the “Sunday Prowlers”. A typical day may have been going to church, coming home for Sunday dinner, spending a little time after the meal on the porch talking or dozing, and then piling into the car for a ride around town or into the country. Back in the day, Lewis Reed always carried his camera to take snapshots along the way. These previously unpublished photographs taken by Lewis Reed capture the lives of traveling companions of a bygone era.

Sunday Prowlers

The Sunday Prowlers. Far left, Catherine Reed, unknown, unknown, unknown, Eva Reed, Geneva Reed, unknown. Rear, Bernard Hanshew. Photo by Lewis Reed

While automobile travel offered an escape from everyday existence, motorists’ adventures were not always of the sort that they had sought. Carburetors got out of adjustment, valves burned, gears stripped, clutches fried, and electrical systems succumbed to mysterious ailments. Successful trips often hinged on the ability of drivers and passengers to do roadside repairs. Most problematic of all were tires, which had a useful life of only a couple thousand miles and were prone to go flat at the most inopportune times. Fixing a flat tire entailed wrestling it off the rim, patching the tube, remounting the tire on the rim, and energetically working a hand pump to re-inflate the tire.

Sunday Prowlers

The Sunday Prowlers

For all their mechanical shortcomings, early automobiles were usually better than the roads on which they traveled.

From The Baltimore Sun 30 Jul 1922:

Driving a motorcar is better exercise than walking, according to Dr. Royal S. Copeland, Commissioner of Health of New York City… According to the doctor the slight physical effort needed in moving the steering wheel reacts on the muscles of the arms and abdomen… Summing it up. The doctor maintains that the motorcar is a wonderful aid in maintaining health and promoting happiness.

Sunday Prowlers

Sunday Prowlers. Lewis Reed far right.

Since now, at least for a while, there isn’t much of anywhere to go, just “going for a drive” doesn’t seem like a such a bad idea.

Then & Now: Montgomery County Police Department Motorcycle Unit

This blog entry is posted today to commemorate the anniversary of the Montgomery County Police Department. It was 98 years ago on July 4, 1922 that the MCPD was first established, consisting of five officers and a Chief. Each of the officers was issued a police motorcycle for routine patrol duties and was allotted $300.00 a year for the upkeep of their motor. Thus, the Montgomery County Police Department was formed upon the foundation of the motorcycle.

Montgomery County Police Department Motorcycle Unit (THEN): Posing in front of Reed Brothers Dodge on July 4, 1922 Chief Charles Cooley, center, and his men of the first mounted unit of the Montgomery County Police Force, were on their first day of duty. For several years, since there was no police station, the officers would meet for “roll call” on the steps of the Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville at 2:00 p.m. every day to let each other know they were alive and well. Chief Cooley was given the privilege of a Model T Ford. The chief was paid $1,800 a year (the chief now gets $112,564) while the officers got $1,500. Each of the officers was issued a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, a .38 Smith & Wesson handgun, a black jack, law book and was allotted $300.00 a year for the upkeep of their motorcycle. Jones patrolled Silver Spring, Rodgers the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area and Burdine, Clagett and Gaither the Upper County areas.

The county’s population in the early 1920s was just 35,000 (it’s now more than 800,000). Much of the county was farmland, which accounted for the thefts of livestock. It also was the Prohibition era, when bootlegging and moonshine still factored routinely on an officer’s shift.

The officers worked 14 hours at night, 10 hours in the day, with two days off every two weeks. But they were on call at all times. Since there was no mobile radio contact (the first one-way radio system was installed in cars in the early 1930s), the officers tended to hang around the courthouse or a local firehouse that had a phone.

One of the officers came up with the idea of placing a flashing red beacon light on a pole atop the Rockville courthouse. When flashing, it would alert police that they had a call or were wanted at the office. In 1927, similar lights were used at district stations in Silver Spring and Bethesda.

Montgomery County Police Department

This is the first known photograph of the entire MCPD. Pictured left to right: Earl Burdine, Lawrence Clagett, Guy Jones, Chief Charles Cooley, Leroy Rodgers, and Oscar Gaither. Photo taken by Lewis Reed on July 4, 1922.

Montgomery County Police Department Motorcycle Unit (NOW): Currently, the Motor Unit consists of forty-two full-time motor officers who make up six decentralized motor squads. The squads are assigned to each of the six district police stations and are under the command of a sergeant. The primary missions of the squads are traffic enforcement, collision reduction, pedestrian safety and maintaining the orderly flow of traffic in the county. The squads are also involved in special details to include, dignitary and Presidential escorts, funeral escorts, the Montgomery County Fair, the Tiger Woods Golf Tournament and numerous foot races and parades.

The Motor Unit currently fields twenty-eight 2007 and 2008 Harley-Davidson Police motorcycles of which four to five are assigned to each of the district stations. The squads at each station are divided into a day work and evening shift and those officers share motorcycles as necessary. The current work period for the squads is eight hour shifts, Monday through Friday. The current work period for the squads is eight hour shifts, Monday through Friday.

The Unit also fields a Competition Team which participates in events that include both the United States and Canada. The team has received numerous awards in both the individual and team categories at these events. The Unit will also be hosting the Mid- Atlantic Police Motorcycle Safety Competition in Gaithersburg, Maryland in September of 2010.

The Montgomery County Department of Police Motor Unit continues its traffic safety mission today as well as the furtherance of police motorcycle safety and awareness throughout Montgomery County and the State of Maryland.

MCP Motorcycle Unit

MCP Motorcycle Unit Competes in Annual Motorcycle Rodeo 95 years later.

Thank you to the entire Montgomery County Police Department for all you do in keeping our community safe. Salutes!

Sources: “Montgomery County, Two Centuries of Change” by Jane C. Sween
Montgomery County Police Department

Happy Anniversary to Lewis and Ethelene Reed

Happy Anniversary to Lewis and Ethelene Reed, married 100 years ago on this day June 15, 1920! Shortly after their wedding, the newlyweds left on an extended motor trip to Niagara Falls and other points north. They will be at home after July 1, in Gaithersburg, near the place of business of the groom.

Lewis and Ethelene Reed wedding June 1920

In addition to this photo of their wedding, here is a clipping from the Frederick Maryland “The Daily News”, describing the ceremony.

Reed Wedding The Daily News, Frederick, MD Wed June 16,1920

The Daily News, Frederick, Maryland, Wednesday, June 16,1920


Lewis and Ethelene Reed

Lewis and Ethelene Reed on April 10, 1948 on their daughter’s wedding day

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