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, the African American Heritage Walking Tour Marker in Rockville, and the 19th Century Crossroads Marker in Darnestown. A Lewis Reed photo is also featured on a historical/interpretive sign along a trail in the Watters Smith Memorial State Park in West Virginia.

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.

Roots of a 97 Year Old Auto Business

Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, grew up on a farm in rural Darnestown and for much of his young life had no running water or electricity. He was the son of a Blacksmith, raised in a family that survived on knowledge and hard work. Philip (1845-1918), father of Lewis Reed was an early settler in Darnestown who came from the Medley’s District of Poolesville in 1880. The Reed family farmhouse was located west of the James Windsor Store and Post Office as indicated on the map. In 1880, Philip Reed bought this lot from Windsor on which he built his house. The house was later owned by Kelley Rice who ran the farm at “Pleasant Hills.”

Reed Blacksmith Shop locationIn 1870, at age 25, Philip Reed’s occupation is listed as a Blacksmith and Cabinet Maker. Darnestown residents of that time included a doctor, a merchant, a blacksmith and a wheelwright. It seems Philip may not have considered his primary occupation as a wheelwright, but I do know he worked with both cabinetmaker and blacksmith skills. Blacksmiths were once important members of this thriving crossroads community. They provided a vital trade that continued up to the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until I traced the Reed family tree, that I found that the Blacksmithing trade goes back about four generations. Back then, it was commonplace for sons to follow their father’s professions.

“T. H. S. Boyd, The History of Montgomery County, Maryland, from Its Earliest Settlement in 1650 to 1879” gives a population of 200 in the Darnestown area in 1879. The inhabitants of the town at that time are recorded in G.M. Hopkins’ Atlas from which the map reproduced above is taken.

Philip Reed outside of his Blacksmith Shop ca. early 1900s.

Formerly located on Darnestown Road near the intersection of Seneca Road, Lewis Reed’s father, Philip (1845-1918), operated a blacksmith, wheelwright, and cabinet making business next to his home. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Lewis Reed’s passion for cars began at a very early age. He was a young man full of curiosity, with an insatiable desire to know details, how things worked, and why. Early vehicles were terrifyingly loud and could be heard coming from at least a mile away on rural country roads. As a child, he would watch cars go past the family farm and then take off running across the fields to catch up with them until they would go out of sight. The “normal” speed during this time was so slow that drivers had difficulty keeping their cars from stalling out. It was my mother, Mary Jane Gartner (Lewis Reed’s daughter) who told me this story.

Reed Farmhouse and Blacksmith Shop

Philip Reed family farmhouse and blacksmith shop. Photo by Lewis Reed

At the beginning of the 20th century, farming was done with the power of horses and the skills of a blacksmith were important to the local economy. The shop was a popular destination, to wait for repairs of equipment, have horses shod and hear the latest news.

According to the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Philip Reed worked as a Blacksmith in Darnestown until about age 65, after which time he moved his family to the Park Avenue community in Rockville. In July 1910, Philip purchased lot #3 of the east side of Park Avenue. In 1916, Lewis purchased lots 4-9 and started a garage and automobile dealership which became Reed Brothers Dodge. In 1923, he sold lots 4-7 to Edgar at which time Edgar then constructed a bungalow home and resided there until sold in 1947.

The Park Subdivision, Rockville

The Park Subdivision in Rockville, Lot #3 purchased by Philip Reed in 1910

From Miscellaneous For Sale Section: The Washington Post, (Washington, D.C.) April 21, 1910

Blacksmith tool ad 1910The classic anvil and hammer, in addition to tongs, forms, wedges, and chisels were all key tools of the Blacksmith; many of which were hand-made by each individual blacksmith. If they did not possess the tools required for a specific job, blacksmiths would make their own. Over the span of a blacksmith’s career, he could accumulate hundreds of different tools that existed solely for the completion of one particular item.

Inside Blacksmith shop early 1900s

A young Lewis is shown inside his father’s Blacksmith Shop, ca. early 1900. The identity of the man on the right is unknown. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Special note: Lewis Reed’s love of photography began at a very young age, at a time when most families did not own a camera. The oldest photo in his collection is dated 1898, which would have made him around 11-12 years old when he started using a camera. I am relatively certain that Lewis took the photograph above himself by stabilizing the camera on a nearby tripod or some other object, and because of the long exposure times in early photography, he was able to run into the shot himself for a minute or more.

When the car was first invented there was no such thing as an automotive mechanic. When a car broke down, people turned to blacksmiths and bicycle mechanics for repair work. When using horses for farming and transportation came to an end, it forever changed the blacksmith’s role in the community. The traditional, small town blacksmith’s shop gradually went out of business, or evolved into the first automobile repair shops, as the horsepower of mechanical engines replaced the power of horses. Having grown up in a blacksmith family, Lewis Reed was well positioned to move to the new technology. 

1916 Rockville Garage First Shop Force

1916 – Rockville Garage first shop force. Lewis Reed, (first name unknown) Long and Phillip Reed. Photo by Lewis Reed.

One hundred years ago, the direction of the auto industry was uncharted territory to be explored by many people. Lewis Reed was an enterprising young man who put his future in the fledgling automobile industry. Although the specific motivation for Lewis to go into the automobile business is not clear, the 1910s was a period of exponential growth in the American automobile industry, and with a location on the major east-west route through Rockville, a town that was on its way to becoming a satellite community of Washington, D.C., he was well positioned for success. The 1910 census indicates that 23-year old Lewis Reed was working as a machinist.

In 1914, Lewis Reed became a partner in Rockville Garage with, a business he purchased in 1918. His brother Edgar joined the business in 1919 upon his return from World War I, and the name became Reed Brothers Dodge. In October 1915, Lewis Reed signed a franchise agreement with brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. He was just 27 years old. Since then, the business grew and transformed into the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the entire nation.

Rockville Garage original owners

1916 – The original owners of Rockville Garage. From left: Roy Warfield – Lewis Reed – Griffith Warfield. Photo by Lewis Reed.

Over 100 years later, the only name that remains familiar to Rockville car buyers is Lewis Reed. Reed Brothers Dodge was one of the longest running automobile dealers in Montgomery County Maryland, serving Rockville and the area for over 97 years. Along with St. Mary’s Church (1813), King Farm (1925), Red Brick Courthouse (1891), and the B&O Railroad Station (1873) — Reed Brothers Dodge (1915) — became a “Peerless Place” in 2015, the year marking its 100th Anniversary. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.

Credit to: Jane C. Sween, The Montgomery County Story, “Darnestown, As It Was” (Feb 1982)
Other sources of information:, Montgomery History, and Montgomery County Land Records

Life Before Ice in Montgomery County (1910)

Ice harversting, 1910

Men harvesting ice with pitchforks and hand saws in Darnestown, Maryland. Photo taken by Lewis Reed in 1910. Note the blocks of ice stacked up along the shoreline. The exact location of the pond is unknown.

Got ice? Usually, we don’t think about ice very often, unless there’s none in the freezer. Before the first successful ice-making machines were built, ice for refrigeration was obtained through a process called “ice harvesting.” Ice cutters used to risk their lives by going out onto frozen ponds with saws, tongs, and pitchforks and methodically cut and dragged blocks of ice which would be stored in hay-packed ice houses. But people did not put ice in drinks as we do now. The possibility of debris having been in the water as it froze – even a bug now and then – discouraged the idea.

Ice houses were dug into the ground to keep the temperature low; double-thick walls were often filled with sawdust for further insulation, and the blocks themselves were packed in sawdust or straw. When you wanted some ice for drinks or to make ice cream, you wouldn’t pull out a whole block; ice picks, chisels, hatchets and shavers were used to get just what you needed.

Ice harvesting pond, 1910

Same pond in summertime without ice. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910.

I’m not exactly sure what the structure is in the middle of the pond, but “google” said it could be an outlet structure to keep the water surface in the pond at its optimum level, which usually coincides with the maximum water level designed for the pond. If anyone knows exactly what it is, please leave a comment.

Ice harvesting pond in summer

Same pond in summertime from a different perspective. Photo by Lewis Reed, 1910.

From The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. December 22, 1904

The cold weather of the past ten days has frozen the ponds and creeks throughout this county to a thickness of six or seven inches, and the ice harvesting is now the order of the day. The quality of the ice is not regarded as first-class, however, and for this reason many persons will defer filling their houses until later in the winter.

Next time you drop a few ice cubes into a glass or take out a frozen piece of meat from the freezer, perhaps give a momentary thought to how much we take for granted the ability to have ice cold drinks, preserved foods that can be stored for months, ice cream, cold frothy beer, and so many perishable food products. Refrigeration is a modern convenience that we just can’t live without and certainly one that I take for granted … or took for granted until I wrote this!

Christmas Trees and Snow Villages from a Century Ago

With only a few days left until Christmas, I thought it might be fun to take a look at some photos from Lewis Reed’s collection that show us what Christmas trees used to look like a century ago. In those days, there was not wide-spread agreement on exactly what a tree should look like, which made for a lot of creativity. Not surprisingly, they were very different than the perfectly shaped tress we have on display today.

The trees were big back then and always fresh. They went right to the ceiling and were very wide. Early Christmas trees were generally fastened onto a flat board surrounded with fence-rails, snow villages and carpeted with cotton blankets of snow. The tree in the photo below has an abundance of tinsel, which grew in popularity to the point that, by the 1920s, it was common to nearly cover the tree in the decorative material.

So, what is tinsel (aka icicles) exactly? Originally made from strands of silver alloy, tinsel was in fact first used to decorate sculptures. It was only later that it became a Christmas tree decoration, employed to enhance the flickering of the candle flames. In the 1950s, tinsel became so popular that it was often used as a substitute for Christmas lights.

vintage Christmas tree

A small snow scene with what appears to be a miniature church is arranged at the foot of the Christmas tree. A popcorn garland adorns the tree. Photo by Lewis Reed

So, where did Washingtonians get their trees?

From The Evening Star, Washington, DC 23 December 1923:

Conduit Road on the long stretch between Glen Echo and Great Falls for many years has been a favorite hunting ground where hundreds and hundreds of families have customarily obtained scrub pine trees for Christmas week. Usually there is plenty of holly and some mistletoe to be found in the rugged and rolling hill lands which are the gateway to Great Falls.

vintage Christmas tree

No room for a star on the top of this tree! And just look at those big Santa and Angel dolls. Other fun little details are notable, including a miniature church with picket fence is arranged at the base of the tree. Photo by Lewis Reed

There’s a fine art to decorating Christmas trees that’s been developing since over 100 years ago. People consider lights, garland, ornaments, skirt, and more. But one thing that’s hard to resist sometimes is just filling every available space with decorations. Clearly, that was the case years ago too. What I like about these trees is that they are so randomly shaped and even misshapen. Folks back then didn’t trim them down to a more aesthetically pleasing symmetry like we do today.

The tradition of building miniature Christmas village landscapes, including houses, animals, and other hand-crafted wooden figures, began with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the late 1800s. Mass-produced cardboard houses, sold in dimestores, became popular in the mid-20th century. Today, these villages in good condition can be highly collectible.

Below are photos of Lewis Reed’s snow village set up under the Christmas tree decorated with vintage ornaments, tinsel, and lights. I don’t remember the odd-shaped Christmas trees, but I do remember having a lot of fun helping my grandfather set up the miniature landscapes with the varied figures, little houses, and trees at Christmastime each year. It seemed like a holiday village right out of a storybook.

1900s Christmas village

A rustic picket fence is used to set off the village display. Dangling strands of tinsel hang below the tree. Photo by Lewis Reed

The snow villages were set up in Lewis Reed’s basement on top of a big table beneath a small Christmas tree. He made the snow scenes entirely by hand using wire-covered cardboard and balled up paper to make hills and pathways. The little houses and figurines would fit into the landscape with cotton ‘snow’ all around; and lights would be wired underneath.

1900s Christmas village

Little houses, churches, fences, trees, and pathways were added to the scene. Some of the houses have charming light effects in the windows. The roofs of the houses were decorated with fake snow. Photo by Lewis Reed

These Christmas villages were precursors of the Holiday Villages that were made popular by Department 56 that you see today.

1900s Christmas village

Old-fashioned lights can be seen on the tree, along with lit windows in the houses. The miniature houses usually had holes in the back or the bottom through which tiny lights were placed to provide illumination. Photo by Lewis Reed

Wishing all of you who have stopped in to visit a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Stay safe and enjoy the holiday season with friends and family!

Merry Christmas

Looking Back 50 Years Ago Today: 55th Anniversary and Grand Opening

Reed Brothers Dodge Grand OpeningToday marks 50 years since the Grand Opening of Reed Brothers Dodge new showroom and service facility. When the state widened the roads in 1970, Lee Gartner purchased 4.37 acres of land from Eugene Casey and relocated Reed Brothers Dodge to a new state-of-the-art showroom and Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep service complex on Route 355 at 15955 Frederick Road in Rockville Maryland.

55th Anniversary

Turning out to honor the company were several hundred dignitaries, officials, businessmen and friends. The new building, a complete automotive sales and service facility marked Reed Brothers 55th year of selling Dodge’s. The state-of-the-art dealership contained the newest customer-focused features throughout which combined technology and comfort. (click on any photo to scroll through gallery)

Reed Brothers Dodge 55th Anniversary

The new dealership provided a modern new vehicle showroom, 30 service bays, a comprehensive detail and car wash area, Parts Department, Body Shop, the newest technologies to service customer’s vehicles and provided customers with a convenient location to purchase and service their vehicle needs.

Reed Brothers Dodge New location

Design and construction of the new dealership was managed by the Glen Construction Company.

Reed Brothers Dodge After 42 years of serving Rockville at this location, the dealership property went to settlement on August 30, 2012. Reston, Virginia-based Silverwood Companies put the former Reed Brothers Dodge dealership under contract, then won annexation into the City of Rockville, and ultimately conveyed the property to apartment builder, The Bainbridge Companies. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro pays homage to almost a Century of history by celebrating the golden age of the automobile with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers Dodge dealership.

Before There Was Photoshop, There Was Lewis Reed…

If you take a look at the state of photography today, such as the advances of digital cameras and the artful image manipulation by Photoshop, it is easy to forget that back in the 1900s photographers couldn’t just go into a computer program and change their images any way they wanted. They did what they could with the tools they had. Double image exposure was one tool Lewis Reed had in his photography tool belt. He was doing crazy things to images and creating humorous effects over 100 years ago. With double exposure technique, you could create certain effects like placing the same person on both sides of a picture simultaneously. Photographs were pieced together in the darkroom from separate photographs.

Spotting these manipulated photos in Lewis Reed’s extensive collection has been both easy and difficult. It wasn’t until I viewed the high resolution scan that the modification jumped out at me. The photograph below taken at Black Rock Mill, highlights Lewis Reed’s photo manipulation. (click image to enlarge)

Double exposure image at Back Rock Mill 1905

This is a double exposure photograph of Lewis Reed and the same two ladies with bundles of flowers appearing twice – standing on a bridge over Seneca Creek at Black Rock Mill – and on the left at the foot of the bridge. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1905

With double-exposure technique, Lewis Reed learned how to make a subject appear twice in a frame, as if they had an identical twin. To capture these images, he would snap a picture of the subject in one position. Then, he would have to move into another pose before the following photo was shot. Rotating lens caps and special glass plates (the precursor to film) were also part of the process. The final image was then pieced together and developed in the darkroom from the separate photographs. The result was a playful and surreal approach to early photographs.

Double exposure technique often left a telltale vertical line running down the center of the image that is lighter than the left and right sides — a fuzzy stripe separating the two exposures. This is the area where the two exposures overlapped. The picture is lighter where the images overlap because the exposure value is doubled (causing over-exposure) in that specific vertical area. The left half of the image (standing at the foot of the bridge) ends where the light band becomes dark on the right side. And vice versa for the right half of the image (standing on top of the bridge).

Today we are accustomed to Photoshop and people manipulating images, but back in the early 1900’s photo manipulation was used as a form of whimsy.

%d bloggers like this: