October is American Archives Month, declared by the Society of American Archivists as “an opportunity to raise awareness about the value of archives and archivists.” Before you rush out to celebrate by visiting, and perhaps donating time and money to, the archival repository of your choice, take a moment to read today’s blog highlighting one of the many fabulous items in the Historical Society’s archives.
The Sween Research Library’s archival collections include an incredible variety of resources: diaries, letters, audio recordings, research notes, directories, minute books, theater programs, yearbooks, land deeds, diplomas, insurance records, newspapers both big and small . . . . The list goes on. I originally planned to put several brief examples on today’s blog, but everything I chose seemed so blog-worthy that I decided to stick with one, and save the rest for future posts. So without further ado, here is Hiram Grady’s account ledger for the years 1903-1906.
Mr. Grady (1841-1911) was a coachmaker and wheelwright. He worked in the eastern part of the county until the mid 1880s, when he settled in Rockville. The 1900 census shows Hiram Grady, Wheelwright, living in the town of Rockville with his second wife Harriet (1853-1903), daughter Olive, and granddaughter Mary Gandy.
The account ledger includes an index of names in the front; each customer has his or her own page, listing goods and services by date, as well as notations on payment. (Some account books in our collection are organized alphabetically; this one is not.) Around 200 people and organizations are included, most from the Rockville area; the customer list includes men and women, doctors and dentists, reverends and merchants, farm owners and farm workers, even the Montgomery County Commissioners (precursor to the County Council) and the Rockville Cemetery Association. Just like today, almost everyone had a vehicle that occasionally needed expert attention.
The ledger shows that Mr. Grady’s work encompassed more than making and repairing vehicles. His invoice letterhead (conveniently tucked inside the book) notes that painting and trimming will be “promptly attended to” along with repairs. On July 17th, 1905, the Rockville Mayor and Town Council paid $2.50 for a “frame for grind stone” (well, technically they received said merchandise on the 17th; they paid, in cash, on the 21st); other services include sharpening and repairing blades, such as saws, grain cradles, and even lawn mowers. Grady’s credit system seems lenient; several pages note an “amount carried over” from the previous year, and often months go by before a client settles up his or her bill.
Here are two contrasting customer pages – below, our own John Dawson (who lived in the Beall-Dawson House, our museum), noted in the 1900 census as a farmer; and above, Ed Brown, “Colored,” who may be one of two African-American gentlemen of that name in the Rockville area, both listed in the 1900 census as farm laborers. (Click on the images to enlarge and read!)
Mr. Brown paid $2.00 for a “pair [of] shafts” – that is, the long poles that connect a vehicle to the horse(s). They were ordered or delivered in December 1905, and paid for in cash four months later. Compared to many of the other pages, this is a pretty short list; perhaps Brown usually patronized a different shop, or perhaps he could take care of most of his repairs himself.
Mr. Dawson’s page is more complex, with a variety of wagon and buggy parts plus some saw-sharpening. Payment over the two years occurred in small amounts and, interestingly, was made in both cash and corn – one barrel (bbl.) on January 30, 1905, and two barrels on March 31, 1906. At the bottom of the page is noted “[Remainder] Transferred to other book page 56.” As a farmer (as opposed to Mr. Brown, who worked on someone else’s farm), Dawson was in charge of a variety of equipment as well as his own family’s vehicle(s); like many other customers, he appears to have kept a running tab with this frequently-patronized business.
Other fun things to learn through this ledger: Here’s an “exploded” carriage diagram, showing some of the basic parts refered to throughout Mr. Grady’s notes. Curious about the price comparisons between 1905 and 2012? Unfortunately the Consumer Price Index calculations don’t work for dates before 1913, but some less formal sources are available, and they can make these ‘old-timey’ account entries more immediate; for example, the Town Council’s super-cheap-sounding $2.50 purchase would be around $60 in today’s money.
Mr. Grady’s ledger is but one example of the goodies to be found in our archives; I’ve featured many before, and there are more to come. So don’t forget about the MCHS Archives when you’re doing your local history research. We are small but mighty!