How did you get to work today?  Montgomery County residents have a variety of options: car, bus, Metro, MARC Train, bicycle, foot power, the internet.  What you choose depends on many variables, including where you are, where you’re going, what you need to bring with you, and how much each option costs per day. If you travel the same way most days, you’ve probably invested in a few things to make your commute a little easier and/or cheaper – car and office keys on the same ring, a bag for your bike helmet, an EZ Pass on your windshield, a Metro Smartcard or MARC monthly pass in the front of your wallet.

20130501120121_00001Here’s the 1915 version: a Quarterly Commutation Ticket for the B&O Railroad, valid for 180 rides between Gaithersburg and Washington, DC, from May through July.  It is a handy little pocket-sized cardboard folder, 4.5″ x 2.5″ (when folded), covered in green canvas.  Inside is a page where the conductor punched out the rides by number.  The text on the inside reads:

top portionBaltimore & Ohio Railroad
Quarterly Commutation Ticket.
This ticket will entitle JB Ely
to 180 rides between Washington, D.C. and Gaithersburg, Md.
During the three months ending July 31, 1915
upon the conditions named on back hereof, which must be signed by purchaser before ticket is valid for passage.
88997                    O.P. McCandy, Passenger Traffic Manager

bottom portionCONTRACT.
In consideration of the reduced fare at which this ticket was sold, I agree that its use shall be subject to the following conditions:
1. If presented by other than myself, or if any condition of this contract is violated, it becomes void, may be taken up by the conductor and fare collected.
2. It must be presented each trip to the conductor for cancellation, and is valid for the passage only on trains designated and advertised to stop regularly at stations named hereon.
3. It conveys no stop-over privilege and does not permit checking of baggage thereon.
4. The right of the company is conceded to change the time of arrival or departure of its trains, or to diminish their number at its option.
I, the original purchaser, hereby agree to above contract, and will sign my name and otherwise identify myself as such whenever called upon to do so by any conductor or agent of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and on my failure or refusal this ticket shall thereafter become void.  [stamped] B&O RR Co May 1 1915 Agent Gaithersburg Md.

John Ball Ely (1875-1964) of Gaithersburg was an insurance agent.  On his 1918 draft card, he named his employer as the Equitable Life Insurance Co., on 14th Street, Washington, DC; he most likely worked for that firm, or for another downtown company, for most of his career.  Mr. Ely, originally from Harford County, married Essie M. L. Crawford (1882-1959) of Gaithersburg in 1906, and the couple stayed in that town the rest of their lives, living in various homes near the center of town on Park, Brooks, Russell, and Diamond Avenues.  Gaithersburg is conveniently located on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s Metropolitan Line, which runs from Point of Rocks to DC by way of central Montgomery County.  What better way for Mr. Ely to reach his downtown job every day than by rail?

The text in the “CONTRACT” makes it clear that this was a deal specifically designed by the B&O Railroad for commuters: reduced fare, no baggage checking, no stop-overs.  You couldn’t use this Gaithersburg-to-DC pass for excursion trips to Point of Rocks, or to visit Aunt Millie in Dickerson. The Metropolitan Line was completed in 1873, and by improving transportation to and from Washington it greatly facilitated the practicality of living in the suburbs while working in the city.  It wasn’t used solely for commuting, by any means, but that was a large part of the line’s business (and still is; today, the line is owned by CSX and used by CSX, Amtrak and MARC trains for freight, long-distance, and commuter travel).

This May-July 1915 pass doesn’t appear to have quite all its 180 rides used up (though it’s hard to tell because the punching, what’s left of it, is pretty haphazard), but it clearly got a lot of use.  I also notice that Mr. Ely did not, as instructed, sign the contract on the dotted line.  Likely, this pass was one in a long series, and the various train conductors knew him by sight if not name; why bother to sign it? Everyone knew who he was.  We have no photos of the Elys in our collections; nor do we have additional stories thanks to donors, as we purchased this ticket from a local antique store (props to Jennie, our Office Manager, for spotting it!).  But, more so than some of our artifacts, this little commuter’s pass stands on its own in many ways, telling a quick little story of a suburban resident’s daily activities.

The Gaithersburg station (looking north up the tracks), 1911.  Picture our Mr. Ely here every morning and evening; he probably walked the few blocks home.  Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

The Gaithersburg station (looking north up the tracks), 1911. Picture our Mr. Ely here every morning and evening; he probably walked the few blocks home. Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

Bonus! In honor of May Day, and because the “occupation” part of the census is the best bit if you ask me, here are the jobs noted on the Elys’ census page in 1910.  In that year, John and Essie Ely were living with Essie’s aunt and uncle, the Hogans, at the corner of Park and Diamond Avenues in Gaithersburg.  Mr. Hogan was “installing telephones” (he was also a baker) and Mrs. Hogan was the town telephone operator; their nephew Charles Crawford, also living with them, was a telephone lineman.  (For many years, the town’s telephone switchboard was in fact installed in the Hogans’ house.)  Their neighbors – many of whom were probably living above their shops, as Diamond is one of the town’s main streets – included: two tinners, a gardener, a dressmaker, laborers in a store and a livery stable, a blacksmith with his “own shop,” “plumber, own shop,” “laundry, own shop” (that would be Charlie Foo, a Chinese immigrant and a story all to himself… for another time), the postmaster (plus the postal clerk, an unrelated young man, was boarding with this family), a bank clerk, and the railroad baggage master.

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