Today marks the 242nd anniversary of the birth of our nation and the 96th anniversary of the beginning of the Montgomery County Police Department. Cattle rustling, bootlegging and stealing poultry were among the most common crimes when Montgomery County hired its first police chief and five officers in July 1922. So widespread was the theft of chickens and turkeys that some residents employed a homespun form of crime prevention by cutting off a specific claw on their birds to identify them. “Officers knew who all the chicken thieves were,” said one historical account of the era put together by the police department, “and upon getting a report of missing Rhode Island Reds, or some other breed, would head straight for the thieves’ hideaway to try to catch them ‘red handed’ before the birds got to the frying pan.”
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.
Congratulations MCPD and thank you for your many years of service!
A Poor Farm in Montgomery County? Yep. Although a lot of people have never heard of “poor farms,” they were once common across the nation. Various terms have been used to describe the “house for the poor,” and often the titles were unique to the part of the country where the house was located.
This is the Almshouse (aka Poor Farm). The 50-acre tract which includes the pauper’s graveyard was once part of the Montgomery County Poor Farm, established in 1789 as a place where the poor and homeless went to live, work, and, if they died, to be buried.
At the time, the farm was located well beyond the bounds of what was then the town of Rockville. But growth eventually caught up with the property. The farm house was razed in 1959 to make way for a county jail, and another chunk of property was dedicated for I-270. At least 75 graves were identified during a 1983 survey of the property by state archeologists, but according to George R. Snowden, funeral director, there may be as many as 500 people buried in the potter’s field.
Although the county’s poor farm existed for almost 170 years, virtually nothing has been documented about it, said Jane Sween, a librarian with the Montgomery County Historical Society. The property was deeded to the county in 1789 and expanded in 1825. After the Civil War, the farm’s almshouse was rebuilt, and until it was razed a century later it was home to an average of 40 indigent people, she said. The state paid for burial but did not pay for grave markers or upkeep on the property.
The Montgomery County Poor Farm Cemetery is no longer in existence. The National Park Service conducted an archaeological dig in 1987, which resulted in the removal of 38 bodies to Parklawn Cemetery in Rockville, Maryland. Montgomery County sold the land to a private developer.
This post is a continuation of a series of “Then & Now” images that will show photographs of buildings, street scenes, and other historical locales from Lewis Reed’s Photo Collection alongside photographs of how they appear today.
Howard House Hotel (THEN): The Howard House Hotel, built in 1840, contained a bar and dining room in addition to 14 bedrooms. The hotel featured fine German cooking and was the first place in town to offer ice cream — which was made on Wednesdays only and was a real draw. The hotel and restaurant was a popular stop for mid-19th-century travelers headed west on the National Road, and a day-trip destination for urban dwellers. In the 1940s, the decorative wrought iron on its second-floor porch was sold for scrap metal for the war effort.
The trolley tracks on main street were originally part of the Catonsville and Ellicott City Electric Railway Company trolley line that shuttled passengers between Ellicott City and Baltimore from the late 1890s to the mid-1950s.
Howard House Hotel (NOW): The same view 105 years later, restored to its original grandeur as 10 “luxury” rental apartments which includes panel doors, moldings and much of the original woodwork.
Reed Brothers Dodge and the surrounding area sure has changed a lot in its almost century-long history. You might not realize how much things have changed until you look back and see what it looked like in the past. For this post, I have used one of Lewis Reed’s original photographs for “then” and a Google Maps street view image from today for “now”.
THEN: Aerial view showing Reed Brothers Dodge at its original location at the triangle close to 80 years ago. The connector street behind the dealership was later named “Dodge Street” commemorating Reed Brothers’ presence from 1914-1970. Photo taken by Lewis Reed from a Goodyear Blimp that came to the dealership in 1938 to promote tires.
NOW: The color photograph below, 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 355 and donated the remaining sliver to the City. The state named the connector street behind the dealership’s location “Dodge Street” because Reed Brothers Dodge dealership was located there for more than 50 years.
Reed Brothers Dodge started Sales and Service operations in 1915 with a handful of key employees. Phillip Reed was a brother of Lewis Reed and a part of the dealership’s first work force. Phillip came to work for the dealership in 1916 as a mechanic until 1944.