School’s in session once again, so let’s take a look at some early Montgomery County homework.  Our collections include two handwritten exercise books created by a young man attending Damascus area schools, circa 1850.


Both books are bound with marbled-paper cardboard covers, with leather spines and corners, and measure 12.5” x 8”.  They’re the 19th century version of the composition notebook, basically.  The owner carefully inscribed the title pages with the subject, school, and teacher, as well as his name:

LAB title pages Left: “Larkin A. Beall’s Book. Containing Gauging, Mensuration, Geometry, & Surveying.  As taught by E. Thompson preceptor of Mountradnor School.”  Right: “Double Entry Book Keeping By Larkin A. Beall As Taught by E. Thompson Preceptor & Teacher of Mathematics In Mountradnor School Montgomery County, Md.” (Please note the extra flourishes, which are hard to transcribe.) The bookkeeping notebook also contains a section on mensuration and geometry; those pages are noted, “Larkin A. Beall, [various dates] 1854, James Purdum, Preceptor and teacher at Pleasant Plains School, Montgomery County, Md.” (See below.)  In addition, the names F.E. Beall, Horace Beall, and James O. Etchison are noted in different hands, though Larkin seems to have been the original, and primary, creator.  Dated pages range from 1848 to 1854.


These were likely workbooks, in which students took dictation, made notes, and solved problems.  Some sections may have been written by the instructor, including notes referencing a printed textbook, and instructions for exercises.

DSC05795 “Exercises in Journalizing
Transaction   |   Journalizing
[pointing hand] Note Refer to the page 172, 173 fur further perticulars under this head” (errors original)

These workbooks give me a lot to cover: schools, study subjects, and people.  Though geometry – specifically, measuring solids – takes up much of the books, I’m going to focus on the bookkeeping section; after all, it’s not often I can say that something was invented in 14th century Italy.  I’ve spoken to two separate people in the last month who have praised the delights of double-entry bookkeeping.  I suspect the satisfaction a bookkeeper derives from a balanced ledger is akin to my own when I match up a set of mystery artifacts with the appropriate paperwork.  However, I do not personally understand this age-old method, so let’s let E. Thompson explain it (all spelling and grammatical errors are from the original):

part second PART SECOND
Double Entry Book Keeping

Double Entry
This term is derived from the fact that every business transacted recorded in the Day book is entered twice in the Ledger one on the debtor and once on the creditor side

Debtor And Creditor
These terms are correlative, the one implies and involve the other  Wherever there is a debtor there must necessarily be a creditor of an equal amount; and wherever there is a creditor there must be a debtor

Application of Debtor and Creditor
In single entry these terms are (with the exception of cash only applied to persons, but in double entry they are applied alike to persons and property, the persons being made [a] debtor for what you have trusted them, and creditor for wat they have paid or trusted you; and the property account being made debtor for the balance or cost of the property, and credit for what it produced when disposed of

On to the people.  Larkin A. Beall (b. 1836) was one of ten children born to Elisha and Alethea Lewis Beall; he grew up on a farm between Damascus and Browningsville (off present-day Bethesda Church Road).  Several of Larkin’s brothers are referenced in the notebooks; Horace and Franklin added their own names, and Larkin noted the deaths of John in 1852 and Evan in 1860.  (There’s also a side note in one of the books about three feet of snow that fell in 24 hours on February 20th, 1854.)  By the early 1860s, Larkin had moved to Washington, DC to pursue a career in retail, with a shop on 7th Street. City records from the 1860s and 1870s describe him variously as “clothier,” “merchant,” “[in] hats,” and “dealer in gents’ furnishing goods.”  Good thing he studied double-entry bookkeeping!

Larkin referenced two Damascus area schools in his workbooks.  E. Guy Jewell, in his manuscript “Damascus: Small But Lively” (1974), identified Mount Radnor as having “stood on the west side of Ridge Road near the intersection of Gue Road” from as early as 1839 until the site was sold to the county school board in the late 1870s.  The Pleasant Plains School was in Purdum, on the other side of Damascus, off present-day Mountain View Road.  (Note that both of these schools were for white children only; Pleasant Plains should not be confused with Pleasant Grove, Purdum’s African American school, which opened in 1869.)

There are two teachers listed in the 1850 census for this election district, but neither of Larkin’s preceptors are among them.  Jewell noted, “Many of the men teachers had their own small farm and taught school for the little extra cash each year.  Remember, the school law then limited teachers’ salaries to ‘not more than $300 per annum.’” With that in mind, 52 year old Elijah Thompson and 37 year old James Purdum, both “farmers” in the 1850 census, become likely candidates for Larkin Beall’s instructors.

Why did Larkin switch schools between 1849 and 1854? Maybe Pleasant Plains opened around that time, and was easier to reach. However, the Bealls lived about halfway between the schools (as the crow flies / as the teenage boy walks across neighbors’ fields), so distance may not have been a factor.  Perhaps one teacher was more congenial, or had a better reputation for mathematical skills.  Although there are a few side notes in the books (see: deaths of brothers, and depth of snow, above), there are few clues to the reason for the switch.

The books were donated to MCHS in 1978 by Lawrence Walter, who informed us that he received them from Miss Estella Drane (1865-1955), a DC school teacher.  Unfortunately (for me, since I like the whole story) it’s not clear how Miss Drane acquired them.

So, children, as you begin this school year full of enthusiasm and excitement, follow Larkin Beall’s example to keep that enthusiasm from flagging as the year progresses: Either take the time to make your notes pretty, with elaborate fonts (not at the expense of your attention span, of course!) . . . or be glad you don’t have to hand-write a textbook’s worth of notes.


“Directions for posting.”


…And we’re back! Since I’ve just returned from a short trip to Minneapolis, for the American Association of Museums annual meeting, I thought a vacation souvenir would be appropriate for May’s postcard entry.

When you live here, it can be easy to forget that Montgomery County is a destination for tourists and business travelers. (Sorry, Conference & Visitors Bureau!) Many of the cards in our collections were acquired, written and mailed by out-of-town visitors. Some depict local ‘sights,’ such as the Cabin John Bridge or the Naval Hospital; others advertise hotels, motels and restaurants. I like this card because it simply shows downtown Damascus, circa 1950.

This Silvercraft card was published by C.H. Ruth of Washington, D.C.  In the 1940s-60s, Mr. (?) Ruth published a wide variety of postcards – both black and white and color – from up and down the east coast. “Main Street, Damascus, Md.” is part of a series; we have similar cards showing other everyday buildings and scenes in Damascus and Gaithersburg. Shown here, if I am reading the tiny signs correctly, are Whitesell Pharmacy and the Damascus Feed Food Store. Main Street consists of the downtown-Damascus section of Route 108. I think this brick building is still standing, next to the Druid Theatre (now a drug store). . . any Damascus residents want to confirm or deny?

The card is postmarked 1952 and addressed to Mrs. Mary Mark of Cleveland, Ohio. The message reads: “4-9-52. Hello – you never know where you will hear from us from next, do you? Was going to call you Tuesday but didn’t get around to it. Mildred lives about a mile from here. Nice place. We will probably be back sometime Sat. Pretty warm down here, wind is pretty strong and chilly, too. Don’t know if we’ll go on to Washington or not. See you one of these days. Love, Ellen & Bob.” The identities of the senders and receiver (and Mildred, for that matter) are now unknown. Presumably Ellen and Bob were in Damascus visiting Mildred, and sent a quick report to their friend Mary, who may or may not live “back home” (maybe Mary’s a neighbor; maybe all four were college friends. . . so many possibilities!).

So if we don’t know who these people are, what’s the point? We acquired this postcard largely because of the documentary aspect of the photograph on the front. However, the message on the back serves as a reminder of the ordinary, everyday (and I mean that in the most positive sense) lives that have been, and are being, lived in Montgomery County. Sure, we often focus on Big Names, Major Events and Famous Buildings (relatively speaking), but in the broader sense, the county’s history is much more about, say, college friends getting back together for a quick visit and maybe some sightseeing in D.C. (Yes, I am enamored of my college-friend theory.) Damascus may not feature any Famous Buildings, but it is, as Ellen sums up, a “nice place,” worthy of a souvenir postcard or two.

Although a few schools in the DC area are still closed, thanks to last week’s earthquake/hurricane double whammy, for most local kids it’s Back To School time. In honor of the occasion, here is an 8.5″ tall brass and wood handbell, used to summon students to the one-room Etchison School in the early 20th century. It came to us from the estate of E. Guy Jewell (1902-1984), who was a teacher, administrator and planner for the Montgomery County Public School system for fifty years.

Mr. Jewell attended the Barnesville School and Poolesville High School, and during his career worked at a large number of county schools (starting at the one-room Comus School, in 1921). As far as I can tell, he never worked at the Etchison School. Instead, he most likely collected this piece during his extensive research into the history of the county’s public schools.

Thanks to Mr. Jewell’s research, we know a little about the school where this bell was used. The Etchison School was a one-room school for white students in the small community of Etchison, near Damascus. It was in existence at least as early as 1899 (possibly as early as 1868) and it closed in 1937; I believe the students were then sent to Damascus Elementary School. One source in our vertical files claims that after Etchison closed, the building was dismantled and used to construct a Home Economics building at Damascus High School.

The Etchison School, 1929.  Originally published in the Maryland News.

Unfortunately, so far I have not found too much more specifically about the students or teachers at Etchison; the original ringer(s) of this bell are still unidentified.  In the early days of MCPS many schools opened, closed, and/or changed names, sometimes repeatedly. Some of the smaller community schools were short-lived, and were recorded only in an occasional reference in the School Board minutes, or the memories of a student or teacher. Thanks to the work of historians such as Mr. Jewell, Nina H. Clarke, and Lillian B. Brown, the sometimes-confusing traces of these schools – and the people who attended and taught in them – are set straight. They pored through one hundred years of School Board minutes so you don’t have to! If you’re interested in the history of your school, or the schools-that-were in your community, take a look at Jewell’s From One Room to Open Space: Montgomery County Public Schools from 1732 to 1965, and Clarke and Brown’s History of the Black Public Schools of Montgomery County, Maryland, 1872-1961, available in the Montgomery County public library system and our own research library at the Society.

Raise your hand if you know what a sphygmomanometer is. Now raise your other hand if you can spell it without looking. Very good! I confess, I did not know what it was until recently (and we’ll see how many different ways I can spell it before this post is through).

A sphygmomanometer measures blood pressure.  Throughout the 19th century, physicians looked for new and better ways to accurately measure a patient’s blood pressure. The use of mercury in a glass tube was developed early in the century, but the problem of getting and maintaining uniform pressure against the patient’s artery (so that the mercury could do its work) persisted until the mid 1890s, when Scipioni Riva-Rocci added the inflatable cuff that is familiar to us today. For a more detailed explanation of how these devices work (not written by non-medical me), click here.

This circa 1920 Baumanometer Desk Model sphygmomanometer (at left and below) was owned by Dr. Gilcin F. Meadors, Jr. (1915-1989). Dr. Meadors practiced in Damascus from 1955 until the mid 1960s, when he moved to Frederick. In addition to his practical, modern-day equipment, he also collected antique medical devices, of which this would seem to be one. However, the canvas cuff (which closes with hook-and-loop tape) and rubber squeeze bulb are circa 1960 replacements; that, plus the fact that the cuff has Dr. Meadors’ name written on it in ink, could indicate that he used this particular example despite its age. . . or it could mean that he had no more need for the cuff, and wanted his antique piece to look complete. Apparently the mercury Baumanometers were well regarded for their accuracy and reliability, and never needed recalibration. Any patients of Dr. Meadors recognize this piece as one used in his office?

In contrast to the Baumanometer, with its wooden case and hand-inked markings, this plastic and metal German-made Erkameter 280 (right) looks more modern, but both pieces function in very much the same way. This kit as a whole is later than the Baumanometer, but earlier than Dr. Meadors’ replacement cuff; sadly the internet is letting me down, and I haven’t yet figured out when the 280 model was being manufactured and sold. (The company is up to the 3000 model, though, so maybe I can calculate backwards from that?) This piece of equipment was used by Dr. Washington Waters Stonestreet* (1875-1965 ), a Rockville native who practiced medicine in West Virginia from 1906 until his retirement in 1960. This sphygmomanometer, along with many other instruments from his career, was donated by his daughter Ouida Stonestreet MacDonald.  Unfortunately, Dr. Stonestreet did not mark his name anywhere on this instrument, although there’s a metal plaque on the lid for just that purpose.

* This is not “our” Dr. Stonestreet – that would be Edward Elisha – but rather his nephew, son of Dr. E.E. Stonestreet’s brother Thomas. He was probably named for Dr. Washington Waters (1804-1882) of upper Montgomery County, though the reason for this is uncertain.

Wouldn’t you like to purchase a lovely hat like this one? That’s what Miss Gertrude Darby, Gaithersburg milliner, hoped when she sent out this advertising postcard in the early 1910s.

Gertrude Darby (1884-1931) lived all her life in Woodfield, near Damascus. She was the second child of Samuel Trott and Rosabel Verlinda Hieronimus Darby. Samuel died in 1900, leaving Rosabel with eight children, aged 17 to 3, to support. A fragment of a 1902 letter to Rosabel from a friend begins, “You don’t know how glad I was to hear from you once more. I had thought of you all so often. Then when I thought of the size of your family and the many cares that rest upon you, I would just conclude that you didn’t have the time to write. . . . Dear Rose, I am glad your health is better than it was but my dear girl you should take good care of yourself for the sake of your family. I hope you will be spared to raise them all.”

The 1900 census, taken before the death of Mr. Darby, shows the family living in Woodfield; Dad is a farmer, and 16 year old Gertrude (actually “Harriet G.” here) is in school. In 1910 Rosabel is the farmer, with all eight kids still at home; 26 year old Gertrude H.’s occupation is given as Milliner. This and the advertising postcard (the postmark date of which is almost illegible, but looks like 191something) are the only pieces of evidence that I’ve been able to find for Gertrude’s venture into business, which I imagine was part of the family’s attempt to support themselves after Mr. Darby’s death. By 1920 the shop/business is absent from the census; the 1930 record literally gives Gertrude’s occupation as “none.” Her 1931 obituary in the Gazette (she died suddenly of a heart attack at 47) makes no mention of her (possibly brief) career.

How, and when, did Miss Darby get her business started? It was clearly more than a make-some-money-on-the-side venture, as the shop was located in Gaithersburg rather than out of her home in Woodfield. She shelled out the money for postcards (and the postage), at least once; was it an attempt to drum up custom for her new business, or the fruits of a successful year or two? Why and when did the shop close? Was she a predecessor, or a rival, of the better-known (as far as these things go) Miss Hattie Plummer, who had a millinery and dress shop on Frederick Avenue in the early 20th century?

The advertising postcard, addressed to Mrs. E. E. (Clara May) Mullinix, was donated to MCHS by the Mullinix/Grigg family as part of a large collection of correspondence. Also donated was this snapshot, identified as “Gertrude Darby with Clara Shipley, 1904.” There are several Gertrude Darbys to be found in Montgomery County history, but the connection with the Mullinix family makes me think that this is our Miss Darby, perhaps right around the time that she began her business. Thanks to Mrs. Mullinix’s saving ways, we have a few pieces of Miss Darby’s story; do any readers have more pieces to add?