Looking Back at the Montgomery County Fair, Whose Origins Stretch Back to 1846

It’s August, which means the Montgomery County Fair is coming soon! (The Agricultural Center’s website is literally counting down the seconds until opening day.) Since the fair will be here soon, I thought it would be fun and interesting to look back at some rare, historical photographs taken by Lewis Reed at the fair, whose origins stretch back 172 years.

All of these photographs are from the first incarnation of the Fair, held by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society (1846-1932) in Rockville and often known simply as the “Rockville Fair.” The current Fair, held at the Gaithersburg fairgrounds, was started in 1949. From the August 25, 1923 Washington Post Rockville Fair Auto Race article, to some of the earliest known photographs of the original grounds, Lewis Reed’s photos show the splendor of the original fairgrounds with its grandstands, to the oval dirt track used for bicycle, harness, and later, car races, and conversion to a baseball field.

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

The headline of the Washington Post article about the race read, “Auto Races to Clash at Rockville Today”.

World speed records will be placed in jeopardy at Rockville fair this afternoon when half score of professional drivers, including speedway and dirt track auto monarchs, will compete in a seven-event program.

The annual County Fair used to be held for four days in the month of August at the old Fairgrounds of Rockville, Maryland. Families came from every section of the Montgomery County in wagons and carriages, and stayed for the duration of the Fair. Like many fairgrounds, the Rockville Fairgrounds included an oval track. Fairground race tracks, typically one-mile or half-mile dirt racing ovals with wide, sweeping curves and grandstands for spectators, were easily adapted for bicycles, harness racing, and the sport of car racing. The fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. As always, click the photos to get a better look.

Montgomery County Fairgrounds 1910

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

Montgomery County Fairgrounds 1910

Chicken House. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville Fair Ground Old Ferris Wheel

Riding the Ferris Wheel at Rockville Fair, circa 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

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

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Hundreds of cars parked in the fair parking lot. What is fascinating to me is, with all of these early cars painted in black, how on earth would you find your car? Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

View from the grandstand. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

View from the grandstand. Photo by Lewis Reed, ca. 1910

Rockville MD Fairgrounds 1910

Families came in wagons and carriages to the Rockville Fairgrounds and stayed for the duration. 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

Agricultural and various farm equipment exhibit. 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

Bicycle Racing

Like many fairgrounds, the Rockville Fairgrounds included an oval track. Fairground race tracks, typically one-mile or half-mile dirt racing ovals with wide, sweeping curves and grandstands for spectators, were easily adapted for bicycles, harness racing, and the sport of car racing.

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 Racing

Rockville Fairgrounds Harness Races 1910

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

Rockville Fairgrounds Harness Races 1910

This photo shows the grandstand and surrounding areas filled with spectators watching the action, ca. 1910. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Fairgrounds Harness Races 1910

Crowd at the racetrack. Photo by Lewis Reed

Rockville Fairgrounds Harness Races 1910

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

Rockville Fairgrounds Harness Races 1910

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

Auto Racing

The photos below reveal what auto racing looked like in the days before helmets, seat belts, air bags, and traction control.

Auto races Rockville Fair 1923

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

Auto races Rockville Fair 1923

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

Auto races Rockville Fair 1923

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.

Auto races Rockville Fair 1923

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

Below is a 1923 Washington Post article for an auto race at the Rockville Fair.

1923 Rockville Fair Race Ad

Rockville Fair Race Ad

A football field was designed within the oval of the old Fair racetrack in 1946.

Dirt track racing was one of the main attractions, but the Fair also provided other events such as horse pulls, games of chance, showing of prized livestock and poultry, needlework, homegrown produce, baked and canned goods. A building called the Exhibit House displayed the prize-winning entries of the various categories.

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

The Fair also gave automobile dealers the opportunity to display their new models. Below is new car show time as fair goers get their first glimpse at the latest models that Rockville Garage had to offer.

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 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 of Rockville Garage Service Truck.

Rockville Garage at Rockville Fair 1918

Rockville Garage tent displaying Hudson Super Six, Oldsmobile, and Dodge Brothers Motor Cars 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 Dodge Baseball Team at Rockville Fair, ca. 1920

Most likely, Rockville’s first experience with baseball was during the Civil War on the fields where Richard Montgomery High School now stands. It was known as “Camp Lincoln” because of the Union encampment there, and Federal soldiers helped popularize the new game they brought from the North. After the Civil War those fields – known as the Rockville Fairgrounds – continued to be a popular place for baseball.

Reed Brothers Dodge had a company baseball team that played on those same fields. The photos below were taken by Lewis Reed on a field at the Rockville Fairgrounds circa early 1920s.

Pat Murray (Parts Department Manager), keeping score. Photo by Lewis Reed

Reed Brothers Dodge Baseball Team, circa early 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed

Reed Brothers Dodge Baseball Team, circa early 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed

In 1949, the Montgomery County Agricultural Center (the Fairgrounds) was moved from Rockville to its current location adjacent to the B&O Railroad between Chestnut Street and Perry Parkway.

Source: Montgomery History

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

4 responses to “Looking Back at the Montgomery County Fair, Whose Origins Stretch Back to 1846”

  1. Patrick Kernan says :

    Fun pics.

  2. Jonathan B. Richards II says :

    Hello Again , Ms. Jeanne Gartner,
    Today’s post of multiple historic photographs of the Rockville Fair days is wonderful.The atmosphere present at the early 20th Century county fair is so well captured, including the attire of attendees. Particularly exciting are the photographs of new automobiles on display under tent AND the racing cars in action on the short dirt track. Duesenberg , Marmon , Benz are there , all members of the early pantheon of automobile racing. Thanks so much for your excellent historic posting.

    • Reed Brothers says :

      Thanks, Jonathan! Science Channel series ‘Impossible Engineering’ will be using two of the race car photos here on an upcoming episode they are making on the development of the race car. Exciting! Thanks again for visiting and taking the time to leave your comment.

      My Best Regards,
      Jeanne

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