A good housekeeper keeps track of the household linens.  When was that tablecloth last used?  Which pillowcase needs mending? Did all the sheets come back from the laundress?  And whose towel is that, anyway? As Sidney Morse, author of Household Discoveries (1908), remarked, “All fabrics will wear better if not used continually, but allowed to rest at intervals . . . linen and other articles are often mislaid or stolen when sent to laundries, and sometimes taken from the line or blown away when spread on the grass to bleach.” Advice books and magazines from the 19th and 20th centuries suggest a variety of methods for inventory management, such as keeping a memorandum book, or tacking a list to the inside of the closet door. However, towels and sheets are not noted for their individuality.  The easiest way to maintain control is to mark them, either in embroidery or ink.

Elizabeth Ellicott Lea (1797-1858) of Sandy Spring wrote a cookbook, Domestic Cookery: Useful Receipts and Hints to Young Housekeepers, and published it herself in 1845.  The book was popular, and eventually went through 19 editions.  Our copy, published in 1856, includes this helpful tidbit on page 208:

House Linen. Have a book in which to set down all the bed and table linen, towels and napkins; every article of which should be marked and numbered, and counted at least once a month.”

I particularly like this piece of advice because it goes so nicely with these two artifacts, donated by Lea’s great-granddaughter Isabel Stabler Moore: a pair of pillowcases, marked respectively “M.L. No. 2″ and “M.L. No. 6.”

both cases
These linen cases are handsewn. Number 6 is larger, 33″ x 18″, with attached twill tapes to close it around the pillow.  Number 2 measures 28″ x 16.5″, is made of a slightly coarser linen, and shows more evidence of use; it is stained and mended.  Both cases are carefully marked in ink (which has created a slight stain around each set of initials).  The donor told us they were made and used by her grandmother – Betsy Lea’s daughter – Mary Lea Stabler (1822-1888) of Sandy Spring.  It’s worth noting, however, that the initials don’t actually match:

ML 2 and 6
Researcher Mary Robare* kindly provided us with a photo of Mary Lea Stabler’s embroidered initials, on the Pidgeon Family Quilt.  The form of the M there matches – or at least is closer to – our pillowcase No. 6 … assuming, of course, that Mary embroidered the quilt signature herself.

"M.L.S." embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

“M.L.S.” embroidered on the Pidgeon Family Quilt, in the collections of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation; photo copyright Mary Robare.

At any rate, the two cases were marked by two different people, whoever they were. Did other family members mark them for Mary, as a gift, or just to give her a hand?  Was one of the cases made, marked, and/or used by Martha Lea, Mary’s sister – or by someone else entirely?  Initials can be deceptive; some women chose their middle name over their maiden name, or put their final initial in the center of the mark, or even added their husband’s first initial before their own.  A third pillowcase in this donation is marked “E.W.S. No. 6″; we haven’t been able to trace E.W.S., thanks in part to these issues.  However, based on the donor’s genealogy, it seems likely that one or both of the M.L. cases belonged to Mary Lea Stabler, following her mother’s published advice.

Household linens were not the only items that required marking.  Anything that was going to be sent out to the laundry would benefit from an identifying laundry mark; our collections include gloves, collars, shirts, aprons, dresses, and underthings that are marked in ink with initials and names, or have pre-made name tapes sewn inside.  For example, we have a pair of black cotton knit stockings, donated by Mrs. Jack Stone; each stocking has an attached strip of twill tape on which is written in ink “M. Clements No. 2.”

Mary Elizabeth Clements (1865-1962) of Rockville married Lee Offutt in 1888; awesomely, she won a Discretionary Premium for her knit stockings (including these??) at the 1889 Rockville Fair.  She must have had more than one pair of black stockings (since this is pair number two), and she may even have made them herself; I don’t know where she sent her laundry, but she clearly wanted to be sure she got all her belongings back in good order.

Laundry exhibit status: Both Domestic Cookery and Household Discoveries are on display in the exhibit, through January 12, 2014.  Though Mary Lea Stabler’s pillowcases and Mary Clements Offutt’s stockings are not included, there are plenty of other examples of laundry marks to be seen.

*By the way, there’s a new Sandy Spring Quilt installment on Mary’s blog, Quaker Quilts.


It’s Fair Week once again!  Though only the rides and amusements are visible from the highway, there’s much more to the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair than a spin or two on the Ferris wheel.  There’s a spirit of friendly competition to be found at the Fair – and I don’t just mean whether or not you win a goldfish in a carnival game.  Even if you don’t have a Narragansett turkey, foundation-pieced quilt, or Rutgers tomato in the running, checking out the premium winners in each category can be both fun and and enlightening (so that’s what makes a perfect Rutgers tomato!).  But before you race off to Gaithersburg to check out this year’s winners, take a look at some historic prizes and premiums from our archival collections.

Note: These are all from the first incarnation of the Fair, held by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society (1846-1932) in Rockville and often known simply as the “Rockville Fair.” The current Fair, held at the Gaithersburg fairgrounds, was started in 1949.

First up, here are two (non-consecutive) pages from the 1876 Fair “List of Premiums,” published by the Montgomery County Agricultural Society.  That year, entries could be made in the broad categories of Horses, Cattle, Sheep, Hogs, Poultry, Dairy, Wheat Crops, Corn Crops, Seed, Flour, Tobacco, Machinery and Agricultural Implements, Carriages (Saddle and Harness), Vegetables, Flowers, Textile Fabrics (the Product of Factories), Home-made Fabrics, Hams, Culinary, Musical Instruments, and Sewing Machines.

 1876 pg 23

1876 pg 29

It can be entertaining to compare entry possibilities from year to year, but if I get going on that track this post will end up miles long, so I’ll stick with one point of comparison: The 1876 premium (e.g., cash prize) “For best crochet work,” above, was $2.00.  According to this inflation calculator, $2.00 in 1876 would equal $42.49 in 2012.  In 2013, the highest premium for crochet is $5.00 – something of a come-down, you might think.  Keep in mind, however, that the 1876 list includes only one crochet option, while the 2013 Home Arts Department 48 (Crocheting) includes 137 entry categories; that’s a lot of premiums to award.

Next, a genuine blue ribbon, awarding First Premium for “SHEEP” at the 1923 Rockville Fair.  The eight inch satin ribbon, made by the Hyatt Mfg Co., Baltimore, is stamped in gold “The Rockville Fair, Rockville, Md., 1923 ~ Sheep ~ First Premium.”  A small card on the back indicates that this was for “Class: Highest,” but does not note the actual breed of sheep; and, sadly, the award appears to have been given to “J.E. [scribble].”  Further research is needed to work out the specifics.

1923 first premium SHEEP

That covers the potential prizes, and the prize itself, but there’s one more important part of the award process (other than the delight in knowing you’ve won, of course): the money.  In 1912, Miss Mary B. Brooke of Derwood (her family home, “Falling Green,” is generally considered part of Olney today) entered an unknown number of items into competition at the Fair.  She won four $2.00 First Premiums, for her Maryland Biscuits, crackers, cross-stitch embroidery, and Swedish embroidery, for a total of $8.00 (minus 80 cents in entry fees).  Oddly enough, according to the same inflation calculator as above, $2.00 in 1912 equals $46.86 in 2013 – the premium only went up a tad from the 1876 amount.

1912 Miss Brooke receipt

Bonus prize! (So to speak):  A First Premium card from the 1928 Rockville Fair.  This little (4 1/4″ x 2″) tag is a sturdy card, with a snazzy font – very appealing – but, sadly, it has no information on it; perhaps it was a left-over, not actually awarded.

1928 first premium

We have other prizes in the artifact and archival collections – a blue ribbon from the 1911 horse show portion of the Fair, a 1913  First Premium card for best Bantams, 1929 Second Premium cards for photographs … but I have to save something for next year’s Fair post, right?

Martha Willson Magruder (1801-1860) finished this sampler in July 1813, when she was twelve years old.


Martha’s sampler is worked with silk thread on a fine “tiffany” linen ground.  It measures 15″ x 13 5/8″, and features two different alphabets; numerals 1 through 14; her name, initials, the month and year; a verse; motifs including pine trees on a stepped terrace, vases or urns topped by birds, small birds inside wreaths, and stylized floral sprays; all surrounded by a flowering vine.  At some point, probably in the early 20th century, the sampler was framed behind glass.  The linen has gone very brown and fragile – and is now transparent enough that the over-long thread tails can clearly be seen, tsk tsk – and many of the silks have darkened, but originally it would have been a vibrant and colorful piece.


Martha was one of ten children born to Martha Willson and Dr. Zadok (or Zadock) Magruder, Jr.  She most likely grew up at The Ridge, a home in Derwood built by her grandfather Colonel Zadok Magruder.  In 1830 she married Rev. Basil Barry of Rockville; their daughter, Martha Rebecca Barry, married Rockville physician Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (who had studied with Martha’s brother, Dr. William Bowie Magruder).  Martha’s sampler was passed down through the family – it even won a prize for “best antique sampler” at the 1926 Rockville Fair, submitted by great-great granddaughter Martha Williams – until it was donated to MCHS in 1997 by Constancia Williams Allnutt, another great-great granddaughter, and Richard Buckingham, a great-great-great grandson.  It is the only Montgomery County sampler in our collections, though a handful of other Montgomery samplers are known, including several in the collections of the Sandy Spring Museum.

Needlework samplers were teaching tools, and also served as displays of proficiency.  Young girls in the 18th and 19th centuries were expected to learn the practical skills of sewing and needlework along with their basic letters and numbers.  “Marking” samplers like Martha’s included stitched alphabets and numerals, techniques which would be used later in life when marking household linens.  Other practical and decorative stitches (not just cross-stitch) were often included, along with inspirational verses; names of family members, teachers, or schools; and images as diverse as buildings, animals, flowers, people, and even maps. A wide variety of works fall under the heading “sampler;” for example, compare this July 1813 piece, made by nine year old Juliana Latrobe, to Martha’s more fanciful work (check out the overlarge bird perched on the flower, below), finished at the same time.


These skills could be taught at home, but many young women learned needlework and sewing at school.  Though samplers vary widely, girls taught by the same teacher or in the same school might produce similar works.  In the 2007 book A Maryland Sampling: Girlhood Embroidery 1738-1860, Gloria Seaman Allen looked at a large number of samplers – including Martha’s – to trace some of these teacherly influences.  (Several images from the book, and useful appendices listing identified samplers, can be found on the website marylandneedlework.com.)


Dr. Allen notes that Martha’s sampler is a bit of a mish-mash (my word, not Dr. Allen’s), with design elements borrowed from both the Quaker style and the “building” samplers popular in neighboring Frederick County.  As for the verse, religion and friendship were both common themes, as noted by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe in their 1921 book American Samplers. Martha’s verse:
t2117-6     Friendship’s a pure a Heav’n descended flame
    Worthy the happy region whence it came
    The sacred tye that virtuous spirit binds
    The golden chain that links immortal minds
can be found, unattributed, on page 23 of Miscellanies, Moral and Instructive, in Prose and Verse; Collected from Various Authors, for the Use of Schools, and Improvement of Young Persons of Both Sexes (Philadelphia, 1787 – read it here); though it’s not the most popular poem ever written, an internet search shows that these lines were used in a few other works, crafty and literary, during the early 19th century.

Montgomery County had several schools for young ladies in the early 19th century, many of them in the Quaker community of Sandy Spring. Some wealthier girls attended seminaries in Georgetown, Baltimore, Frederick, or Philadelphia.  Martha Willson Magruder was not a Quaker, and the school she attended – if any – is unknown. However, it seems likely that her sampler’s design came from a teacher or tutor, as there are at least two similar pieces out there.  An undated sampler by Jane Alexander of Montgomery County (in a private collection) features the same border, terrace of pine trees, stylized flowers, birds-in-wreaths, and central urn.  The other piece was recorded in 1921, in Bolton & Coe’s survey; worked in 1807 by Barbara Laird of Bladensburg, Md., while studying at an unidentified school in Georgetown, this sampler included the identical “Friendship” verse and very similar-sounding decorative elements: “Rose border. At bottom, vase in center with fuschia, and vases on either side with roses; terrace with pine trees; bushes on either side with birds.”  What’s the connection, then, between these three girls – other than the probable, if unidentified, needlework teacher?  That’s the next step in the research.

t2117 name and date

Martha’s grandfather the colonel and her son-in-law the doctor had many accomplishments, though perhaps today they’re remembered most for the buildings named in their honor (a high school and a small museum, respectively).  Unlike them, Martha Willson Magruder Barry is not terribly well-known outside of her family and the Beall-Dawson House docent corps… but nonetheless Martha put her own name on something she made herself, something that proclaims her skills, and has lasted for 200 years.  And there’s something to be said for that.

Today we have a pair of “ruby flash” salt & pepper shakers, now missing their tops, souvenirs of the 1906 Rockville Fair.



Ruby Flash glass (also called Ruby Stain) is named for the red color, which is applied to glass pieces by coating them with a chemical compound, then baking them in a kiln. The technique was used for both fancy dinnerware and inexpensive novelties. Our shakers are pressed glass, 2 3/4 inches tall, in the “Button Arches” pattern made by the US Glass Co.  “Button Arches,” and similar patterns with a decorated bottom and plain top, were perfect for creating on-the-spot personalized items. Locations, dates, and names could be easily engraved, cutting through the layer of stain. Souvenirs in the form of mugs, creamers, cordial glasses, toothpick holders, and the like were sold at fairs and festivals from the 1890s through the 1920s.


Who were Fannie and George? I doubt we’ll ever know for sure. This set was donated by our long-time glass and ceramics curator, who most likely spotted them at an antique store. I did find a potential match in the 1910 census, George and Fannie Chase of Wheaton, but there’s no particular reason to assume our George and Fannie were ever married. Unfortunately, there’s no match listed among the “Fair Week Weddings” (Washington Post, August 25, 1906) – unless Weldon Livingston Ferguson, Jr, of Loudon County, who married Frances Garner of Connecticut, went by “George.” (Apparently getting married at the Rockville Fair was kind of a thing; the article begins, “As usual, fair week brought a number of couples to Rockville on matrimonial errands.”) Perhaps, however, the Fair was an inspiration to George and Fannie, as it was to Miss Bessie Scott Montgomery of Washington. A September article in the Post describes Miss Montgomery as a “heroine of romance,” noting that she and George Kelchner of Rockville “had been sweethearts for several years, but some months ago they had a falling out, which to all appearances was of a permanent character. At the late Rockville Fair, however, they met and a reconciliation followed.” A few weeks later, they eloped. Who can deny the power of the fairground setting?

Some fantastic and fashionable hats at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Some fantastic and fashionable hats at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Romantic imaginings aside, we can get an idea of what our unknown couple experienced at the Fair, thanks to extensive coverage in the Washington Post. The Fairgrounds were just outside Rockville, about where Richard Montgomery High School is today. The 1906 Fair lasted four days, from August 21st to the 24th, and drew visitors from local counties, Washington, and Baltimore. Crowds on the first three days were record-breaking, with the Post reporting “probably 7,000 persons on the grounds” on the second day; on the third day there was “an immense throng. . . probably as large a gathering as ever attended a Rockville Fair.” However, the weather was not terribly cooperative; a “terrific storm” on the 24th interrupted the racing, and “the intense heat all four days undoubtedly kept several thousand away.”

Crowds at the racetrack, Rockville Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Crowds at the racetrack, Rockville Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

All those throngs of people had plenty to see. There were eleven horse races held on the newly improved track. Baseball teams from Rockville and Kensington played on the 21st (Rockville won, 7 to 2). There were displays of horses, cattle, poultry, sheep and hogs, mules, garden and farm products, cakes and candies, honey, preserves and jellies, “fancy articles” and sewing, works of art, photographs, fruits, flowers, and children’s exhibits. The “grand cavalcade,” an exhibition of stock, was held on the morning of the 22nd, headed by young Margaret Jones (daughter of an Agricultural Society official) and Clements Offutt (son of Rockville’s mayor) riding Shetland ponies. Maryland Governor Edwin Warfield was “expected,” though I couldn’t tell from the articles if he ever showed up. The annual “fair ball” was held on the evening of the 24th.

Margaret Jones and Clements Offutt at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Margaret Jones and Clements Offutt at the Fair, 1906. MCHS collections.

Altogether, George and Fannie probably had a pretty good time – and they brought home a matched set of souvenirs, to commemorate their day.

Historical Society interns work hard on a wide variety of projects. This past spring and summer we’ve had five students dedicating their time and energy to MCHS needs. You might get to hear from them in person in the near future, but in the meantime, let’s take a look at some fruits of their labors.

Josh, an MCPS student (and repeat intern, our favorite kind!) has been transcribing a 19th century diary, written by Caroline Miller Farquhar of Norbeck. Carrie’s diaries have been featured a few times before (and one of the earliest volumes is currently on display in our exhibit on Montgomery County women in the Civil War), but there is still this one last volume to transcribe. Thanks to Josh (and the many other students who have taken their turn with Carrie’s peculiar handwriting), we’re almost there.

Two students from GW’s Museum Studies program chose to fulfil their internship requirement here at MCHS. Maggie has undertaken the task of updating the location inventory for our main storage area; in the process, she’s seen many of our artifacts and, I think, learned some interesting new facts about household management in the 19th century. Here is our brass clock (or spit) jack, a mysterious item which inspired some internet searches. This puppy is worthy of a whole blog post to itself, but for now here’s a quick summary: clock jacks were used to evenly roast meat in a fireplace without too much tending. Once wound up, the clockwork mechanism – shown below – kept the spit (which hung from the bottom) turning.   This brass clock jack, circa 1850, was made by George Salter of England and is thought to have been used at the home of Charles England in Potomac. Ours still has its key, but it’s missing the round spit from which the meat hung; here’s a picture of a more complete one, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society. 

Maggie’s fellow-student Caitlin cataloged a significant portion of our medical book collection, adding the records to our computer database. One entertaining gem is the 1860 edition of Walker’s Manly Exercises and Rural Sports, published in London and owned by George Minor Anderson of Rockville. You will no doubt be delighted to learn, O manly readers, that this fine volume is available as a free ebook, complete with illustrations (for example, the link here takes you to the section on “vaulting” and “pole leaping” – scroll down to the picture, I implore you). Inspired by the artistic gymnastics portion of the London Olympics? Try it for yourself! (Note: MCHS is not responsible for any injuries incurred during Manly Exercises.)

Becky, a recent graduate of UMBC, interned here during the spring semester and stayed on as a summer office assistant. Her current project will be on view at the County Fair next week, as the “Old Timers” have once again kindly lent us space in their building. Becky surveyed our artifact and library collections for an exhibit on entries at both the past and current incarnations of the Fair. It’s good to have interns – they help you get to the things you haven’t yet gotten to, like taking photos of an 1884 knitted bedspread with crochet-lace border, made by Annie H. Settle of Virginia and entered in the “antiques” category of the Rockville Fair sometime in the early 20th century.

Our fifth intern’s project is not quite ready for the internet yet, but it will be soon! Cathy, a student of the Johns Hopkins online museum studies program – and also a professional videographer – is creating a short promotional video to help MCHS tell the world about all the cool stuff we have and do.

Of course, this only brushes the surface of the many things our interns have done over the past few months. Less ‘exciting’ activities included stocking the shop, scanning photos, cleaning out the Dairy House, labeling newsletters, washing coolers, and dressing a mannequin in a 19th century gown (well, hopefully they thought that was exciting). Museum work, especially in a small institution like ours, requires a certain willingness to do all kinds of boring and/or unexpected tasks.  The hard work of our interns (and of all our volunteers) helps keep MCHS running – we couldn’t do it without them!

Carrie Farquhar’s diaries donated by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.  The clock jack donated by Warren Conklin.  Exercise book donated by the Anderson family.  Annie Settle’s bedspread donated by Gladys Benson.

It’s August, which means the Montgomery County Fair is coming soon! (The Agricultural Center’s website is literally counting down the seconds until opening day.)   Since it’s Postcard Wednesday, here’s a card from 1914 that references the Fair.

Addressed to Mrs. John Peters, Germantown, Md., RFD #2.  Postmarked Dickerson, Md, 1914. “Dear Cousin Ada, Sorry [you] & Helen can’t come up & go to the fair wish you could.  Let Helen come up and stay a week with me.  Hope you all are well.  Love to all.  From Blanche.”

Okay, I did realize this morning that the postmark is dated October 1914, and that Blanche says “come up,” which probably means she’s talking about the Frederick County Fair rather than Montgomery’s.  But I’d already figured out who Ada was, so here it is anyway!  Lillian Ada Collier (1876-1960) of Seneca married John W. Peters in 1896; in the 1910 census, John (a farm laborer) and Ada are listed near Germantown with their daughter Helen, born 1897.   (Cousin Blanche still eludes me – is she Ada’s maternal or paternal cousin, or John’s, ditto? English words for family relationships are too vague!) 

The front image of the postcard (published by Carroll Merchandise Co., Westminster, Md.) shows the Monocacy Aqueduct (built 1829-1833), which carries the C&O Canal over the Monocacy River and connects Montgomery and Frederick Counties.  So actually I like the fact that Blanche is talking about [probably] the Frederick Fair; it goes nicely with the image she chose.  Down-county-ers like myself can easily forget that our upcounty neighbors in Dickerson, Poolesville, and Damascus are closer to Frederick’s institutions and businesses than to things in Rockville or further south.   The Historical Society’s arbitrary distinction between Montgomery County and Other Places, while necessary for the sake of keeping our collections in check, has the disadvantage of downplaying the naturally fluid relationship between the county and surrounding jurisdictions.  Pay the Monocacy Aqueduct a visit this weekend, and wave to our neighbors in Frederick County!

In honor of next week’s Montgomery County Agricultural Fair (theme: “It’s Udderly Terrific!”), here’s an advertising banner used at a variety of fairs, exhibitions and livestock shows in the late 19th century.

The painted canvas banner measures 48″ x 29″, and has a number of nail (or rope) holes in each corner. The banner was folded in half for many years and some of the paint has rubbed off on the opposite side, making it a little hard to read: “Jersey Herd of ‘The Woodlands’ Farm. Clopper’s Post Office, Montgomery Co., Maryland. F. C. Hutton, Proprietor.” In very small letters near the bottom is added, “Economy Sign Co., Trenton N.J.”

Francis Clopper (Frank) Hutton (1863-1929) was the son of William Rich Hutton and Mary Augusta Clopper Hutton, and he lived most of his life at the family home, The Woodlands, in Clopper. The Woodlands has been featured on the blog before; to recap, the house – outside Gaithersburg, on Clopper Road in what is now Seneca Creek State Park – originally belonged to Francis Cassatt Clopper, whose daughter Mary Augusta married William Rich Hutton and inherited the house. The Huttons had five children who lived to adulthood: one daughter married and lived nearby; one daughter joined a convent; and two daughters and one son – Frank – never married, and stayed in their childhood home.

Frank’s obituary in the Montgomery County Sentinel tells us that he was a member of the Maryland State Roads Commission, but “although a civil engineer, he devoted most of his time to farming.” A history of the family, written by Frank’s great-niece Helen Caulfield Madine, summarizes his career: “Frank worked on the State Roads Commission and helped in the re-engineering of Route 240 from Rockville to Gaithersburg, and Rt. 117 from Gaithersburg to Clopper. He had a prize Jersey Herd and represented the state of Maryland at several National Agricultural Conventions. He once won second prize at a National Smoked Ham Competition.”

Among the many boxes of archival material donated by the Madines are several pamphlets on the care and feeding of cattle, evidently collected by Frank Hutton; a ledger book recording the Holstein-Friesian herd belonging to Germantown farmer Daniel W. Baker (which will probably appear on the blog sometime soon – once I figure out why the Huttons had Mr. Baker’s ledger); and this painted banner. Alas, we don’t have any photos of the banner in use (or of the Jersey Herd, for that matter), although similar painted banners can be seen in images of the Rockville (County) Fair from the 1920s. Mr. Hutton started exhibiting his cattle at the local fair in the late 1880s, when his farm was cited by a Washington Post reporter as one of those contributing to “the great advance taken by Montgomery County [in terms of cattle] during the past year or two. The quality of the animals has so improved during that time that a visitor viewing them would recognize but little relation between the breeds now exhibited and those brought to the fairgrounds formerly, and showed the effect of the introduction of imported and other thoroughbred cattle to the farms in this neighborhood” (September 6, 1889). However, a fire in January 1901 destroyed the Woodlands dairy buildings, and killed 27 Jersey cows; I haven’t yet discovered what happened to Hutton’s agricultural efforts after this, but his name no longer appeared amongst the prize winners at subsequent county fairs.

The County Extension Agent's booth at the Montgomery County (aka Rockville) Fair, 1922. Note the painted banner hanging from the tent. MCHS Library.

The Historical Society does a lot with the life and times of Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (1830-1903) of Rockville. This is natural enough, seeing as how Dr. Stonestreet’s office is one of our museums. But what of his family? They usually end up a side note in our discussions, exhibits and presentations – not an unimportant one, but a side note all the same. Today, let’s pull one of those people off the sidelines and into the spotlight.

Shown here is one of a pair of fancy whitework sleeves, cotton, made with techniques including cutwork, embroidery, and some drawn-thread and darning. These circa 1860 sleeves belonged to Martha Rebecca Barry Stonestreet (1831-1902), who was born in Pennsylvania to the Rev. Basil Barry and Martha Willson Magruder Barry. The family moved to Rockville in the 1830s. Mrs. Barry came from an old Montgomery County family; her father, Dr. Zadock Magruder, was a son of Col. Zadock Magruder of Revolutionary War (and local-high-school-name) fame. Young Martha Barry attended the Jarboe School (which I have not yet tracked down), and at the age of 21 she married Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, a fellow Rockville resident. The marriage was performed by her father, Rev. Barry, who served at the Rockville Methodist Episcopal Church.

The Stonestreets lived in a three story house in Rockville, which Edward bought from his parents in 1855. They had eight children, seven girls and one boy. Six of their daughters lived to adulthood; the youngest, Elsie, died in 1879 at only one year old. (The eight children were pretty spread out – the oldest, Mary Adelaide, was born in 1853.) Their son, Edward Jr., died in 1876 of typhoid; he was 21. The six surviving daughters all married before their parents’ deaths, and Martha and Edward had several grandchildren, most of them local.  Adelaide was widowed in 1886 and she and her two children lived with Martha and Edward for several years, as did Martha’s elderly father.  The 1870, 1880 and 1900 censuses indicate that a few servants lived in the household; Mrs. Stonestreet’s occupation – and I don’t mean to belittle it, since taking care of a dozen people in a 3 story house is no sinecure – is given as Keeping House. 

Various obituaries (for her) and a biographical note (for her husband) provide a few other details. The Washington Post gave Martha a small paragraph, under the headline Death of Mrs. Stonestreet, saying she “died last evening of valvular affection of the heart.” A death notice in the Nashville Christian Advocate, March 6 1902, said she “was a Methodist through and through,” however you choose to interpret that. A biography of Dr. Stonestreet, published in the 1925 Tercentenary History of Maryland, described her as a “charming, congenial and devoted helpmate.”

So much, then, for the written record (as currently known). What else? We have two photos of Mrs. Stonestreet, both taken relatively late in her life, and this pair of fancy sleeves. The donor, Martha’s great-granddaughter, said that the sleeves came off a brown and white silk dress. The style and shape of the sleeves date to the late 1850s or early 1860s. Perhaps the silk dress was modified over the years to follow the changing modes, or maybe it simply wore out, but the wide lace sleeves – no longer fashionable, but too costly or otherwise valued to discard – were saved after their removal. It’s entirely possible that she made the sleeves herself; a Mrs. Stonestreet won second premium at the 1894 Rockville Fair for “darning in cotton,” and while that may mean best sock-mending, I think it refers to fancywork. At any rate, she seems to have had some skill with the needle.

Dr. and Mrs. Stonestreet (center) with their daughters, ca. 1885. MCHS collections.

Poor Mrs. Stonestreet. I hope she doesn’t know that many people who visit her husband’s museum are, well, kind of mean about her photo. We don’t know what she looked like around 1860 – and, hey, try giving birth to eight children over a span of 25 years and see how chipper and youthful you look! – but we do know that she had at least one fashionable dress. Did she care about clothes? Did she love to read? Was she interested in her husband’s career, or did she prefer not to hear about it? We don’t know. Much as I love artifacts, even I admit that there’s only so much a pair of white lace sleeves can tell us.

Wide lace sleeves? These ladies show off the look in "Godey's Lady's Book," June 1855.

This fabulous object is a framed hair wreath, from the Holland family of Brookeville. The shadowbox frame measures two feet wide and two and a half feet high. It was donated in 1979 by Mrs. S.E.W. Friel, Jr. (née Margery Holland). Intended to celebrate a wedding or anniversary between the 1830s and 1880s, the wreath was probably made by one or more ladies of the Holland family.

Hair work was a Victorian craft, part of that era’s interest in elaborate fancywork. Women with the patience, time and skill made rings, brooches, bracelets, pendants, and pictures out of the hair of friends and relatives both alive and deceased (or bought from a catalog, when personal supplies ran short). Small pieces might combine locks from the maker’s parents or children; large wreaths, like ours, were usually made up of hair from one’s extended network of friends and relations. These formal pictures and wreaths would have been displayed in the parlor or other public room as an expression of pride in the maker’s skill, not just a memento or memorial. It’s often thought that these pieces (large or small) were made only for mourning, but they were also made to celebrate happy events, or simply compiled over time as a record of family and friends.

Detail photo by David Guiney, 2010.

The family story passed down to Mrs. Friel was that the wreath was made for the 1834 marriage of her great-grandparents, Ellen Claggett (1808-1877) and Grafton Holland (1800-1855). In a letter to MCHS, the donor said, “As I remember it – the center part was made of family hair, and the outer horseshoe part of hair of friends of the family.” Without wishing to cast doubt upon the family’s memories, the 1834 date might be a little too early. Most examples of this size with known provenance date to the 1860s-1880s; Grafton and Ellen’s son, James Claggett Holland (1837-1915), was married in 1866, which is a better fit. Or, perhaps even more likely, the wreath was made for the senior Hollands over a period of many years, or to celebrate an anniversary of that 1834 marriage.

By all accounts, hair work is a delicate, persnickety craft that requires deft fingers and a lot of patience; not just anyone could do it. Who made ours? Mrs. Friel did not have any suggestions, but I have a theory. At the 1880 Rockville Fair, a Miss H. Holland was awarded the prize for “Best Hair Work.” I am absolutely ready to believe that this is Grafton and Ellen’s daughter, Hannah Holland (1849-1883). Mrs. Friel also donated to MCHS a collection of quilts made by Grafton’s sisters and/or his daughter Hannah. Research on the quilts suggests that the Holland sisters, Sarah, Ann and Mercy, passed their quilting knowledge (and fabric stash) on to their niece. Perhaps one or more of them also enjoyed the fashionable craft of hair work, and taught that to Hannah as well. Based on the skill shown in their quilts, and on probably-Hannah’s fair prize, I’m willing to ascribe this work of art to one or more of the Holland ladies, until other evidence arises.

The Holland wreath hangs in the Getty Bedroom in the Beall-Dawson House, if you would like to come examine it yourself. When giving a tour, I always point it out – alas, many adults react in the same way most of the fourth grade students do: “Ewwww.” (It’s just hair, people!) This is yet another one of my favorite pieces in the museum, because like Mr. Poole’s piano stool, it has such a definite and specific story. For not-so-different reasons, the Holland family treasured it as part of their history – Mrs. Friel donated it in part because, she said, it was “much valued by [her] father, W. Grafton Holland, when he was alive.”

Grafton and Ellen Holland's tombstone, St. Mark's Episcopal Cemetery, near Brookeville

Want some more hair work? There are plenty of wreaths to be found on the internet, both for sale and in museum collections. Here are various links to museum examples, as well as some proof that though hair work is a Victorian craft, it’s not a vanished one.

Helen Louise Allen Textile Collection

Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database

The Victorian Hair Work Society, including a page on their headquarters, Leila’s Hair Museum in Missouri.

It’s Fair time again in Montgomery County! If you have plans to go, I encourage you to make your way up to the very top of the Fairgrounds to the Old Timers’ Building, where you’ll see many fabulous objects similar to the fabulous ones I’ve featured on this blog. (An imaginary prize to those of you who spot/recognize a fireless cooker!) These objects do not come from museums; instead they are contributed each year by Montgomery County residents from their own collections. (Yes, I do covet many of these items, but no, I do not lurk at the entrance handing out my card.) The Old Timers’ Building is also the home of: antique cars, tractors, and fire engines; the fruit, vegetable and flower competition; various demonstrations throughout the day; and a small exhibit by the Montgomery County Historical Society. Then your walk back to the parking lot is downhill, and takes you past the cheese place, the ice cream place, Old McDonald’s Barn, the bunny barn… it’s well worth the trek through the Fairgrounds!

Oh, right, I’m supposed to be talking about our own artifacts. Here are two agricultural implements, whose friends and relations you might see at the Old Timers’ display.

This handmade apple picker comes from The Briers, the Jones family’s home outside of Olney. I think it’s fairly easy to envision how it works: pull the apple off with the ‘claws’ at the top, and it falls into the lacrosse-stick-like basket. Made of metal wires twisted into a basket shape and attached to an unfinished stick (still has its bark and all, though well-worn with use), it’s 4 feet long from end to end. It dates from the 19th century, but could have been used up until the day (in 1962) that it was donated by Mrs. Josiah Waters Jones.

This double-pronged iron ice hook (6 inches from point to point) was originally attached to an 8 or 10 foot pole; today it is on a much shorter replacement handle. The donor, William Nicholson, is the one who rescued the iron hook and gave it a new handle; according to his information, this was used in “the late 1910s or early 1920s to haul blocks of ice from ponds to Rockville ice houses” – specifically, ponds located about where today I-270 crosses Falls Road. Those of you familiar with the area, please envision hauling heavy blocks of ice from the Falls Road interchange to, say, the Rockville town center. (Now go thank your freezer’s ice-maker.) The replacement pole is a finished handle, stamped “Wire Hrd & Lbr” for Wire Hardware & Lumber, a Rockville landmark for many years; to learn more about the business and the building, check out Peerless Rockville’s history.