Today’s artifact, a pair of leather boots with aluminum soles, could be useful to those of us here in slushy, sleety Montgomery County. According to the donor, William Coleman, they belonged to Edward Horner (1833-1927) of Rockville. The Horners farmed in the area now known as Maryvale (near Horner’s Lane), and these boots were almost certainly used there.

Not good shoes to wear to the airport.

The boots are not in great shape, and clearly had years of hard use. The backs are unstitched and loose; the tongues are crumpled and torn; and the metal heels are worn through. The heavy-duty aluminum soles originally had cleats, which are now almost completely worn down. Each shoe is marked on the bottom “Overland Shoe Co, Racine Wis, Pat Dec 8 1914.” An advertisement (found on an auction website) from 1917 declares that the boots will “save money and prevent sickness,” and describes them as “water proof, rust proof, rot proof. Warm in winter, cool in summer. . . Comfortable to wear.”

One of my predecessors noted down some biographical information, but these boots still required some quick research (so much fun!) (no, seriously!). Other than the usual avenues of census, church and cemetery records, and newspaper accounts, most of what I’ve found so far came from research on Horner’s Mill, off Avery Road in Rockville. (Stand down, mill enthusiasts; I’m really not going to talk much about the mill today, sorry.)

Here’s what I’ve gleaned – William and Mary Horner moved to Montgomery County from New York state in the late 1850s, with their seven children (four boys, three girls). They lived first in Laytonsville, and moved to a farm in the Rockville area around 1865. In the late 1870s the four boys purchased an existing mill site along Rock Creek. (According to the 1880 census, Frank was the one who lived at the mill, although John and Frank are named on the 1879 atlas – see below). Edward, David and Mary never married, and they stayed at the family farm outside Rockville most of their lives; John and Frank married, but both were widowed young, and they moved back home.(As for the other sisters, Theodora died young, and Sarah has, for the moment, vanished). The mill was closed around 1890, and the 1900 census lists the five siblings living and working at the farm. By 1919, only Edward and Frank were left living in “the old Horner homestead” (from David’s 1918 obituary); Edward, the last surviving sibling, died in 1927.

From G.M. Hopkins' 1879 Atlas of the county. The farm ("Mrs. Horner," the mother) and the mill site are highlighted.

There’s still more to learn. How is the donor related to the family? What happened to Sarah? We (the Historical Society, not the world at large) have no photos of any of the family, their home, or the mill in action. Sure, there’s a road named for them, but there are roads named for lots of people; it often needs some other impetus to start the research ball rolling. One slightly off-beat pair of shoes, a little history from the donor, and we’re off and running.

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