In my position as Director of Collections (i.e., curator), I have a lot of keys. There are nine on my ‘everyday’ key ring, and another dozen or so that come into play upon occasion. My favorite are two enormous iron keys on my ‘special occasion’ key ring – these two don’t actually do anything, but theoretically go to one or more interior doors in the Beall-Dawson House. Useless they may be, but they add a level of, shall we say, gravitas to the proceedings.
My prop keys resemble the pair shown above, which were once far from useless. These are ward keys, made of iron; the larger key is 4 5/8″ long. The smaller key appears to have been painted or otherwise coated in a brass color, though it’s mostly worn off. According to the donors, Misses Virginia and Martha Royer, these keys to the Montgomery County Courthouse belonged to their grandfather, Sheriff John H. Kelchner.
Mr. Kelchner (1838-1903) moved to Rockville with his family around 1880, and was soon an active member of the community. In addition to owning and operating the Montgomery House Hotel and livery stable, he served two terms as County Sheriff in the early 1880s, was elected to the town council in 1888, and was a founding stockholder of the Farmers’ Banking & Trust Co., incorporated in 1900.
How Sheriff Kelchner managed to hold on to his keys is unclear. The donors’ information said the keys were ”to the Courthouse,” not the separate Jail, so maybe these locks weren’t quite as important as, say, the ones on the cell doors. Or maybe the locks were changed every time a new sheriff was elected. At any rate, Kelchner’s Courthouse – a brick building erected in 1840 – was torn down in 1891 and replaced by the Red Brick Courthouse (still standing in downtown Rockville); at that point the keys became simply keepsakes, passed down to his granddaughters.
Above: the 1840 Courthouse, shown circa 1870, from the Albert Bouic collection. For more info on the history of the county’s various courthouse (fun fact: one of Rockville’s early names was the somewhat unimaginative “Montgomery Court House”), check out the City’s historic walking tour, the National Register listing, or Rockville: Portrait of a City (2001) by Eileen McGuckian. Plus here’s a brief article on the history of keys (which, like so many “easy” blog topics, is rather more complicated than I have conveyed here).