Sometimes, you need a little break from reality. Where better to turn than a ripping adventure novel? Here are a few from our collections.

Robinson CrusoeA large (8×12) illustrated edition of The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner, as Related by Himself, by Daniel Defoe, published by McLoughlin Brothers, 1897.  The flyleaf is inscribed “Mary Elinor England, from Aunt Mattie.” Mary England (later Ward) was born near Shady Grove in 1901, and moved with her family to Rockville around 1917. The book was donated by her son, who may have (probably?) read it himself as a child.

x20120310-4A nice little undated edition of Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb, published by W.B. Conkey around 1910.  The inside cover is inscribed “Eugenia Warfield, Gaithersburg, Md.” It belonged either to Eugenia H. Warfield (1873-1963) or her daughter Eugenia Elizabeth Warfield (born 1907); the Warfields lived in Laytonsville, but the younger Eugenia probably attended high school in Gaithersburg, and the donor (Eugenia Elizabeth’s nephew) believed that all the books in this donation related to schoolwork.

x20080706And last but not least, a personal favorite: The Prisoner of Zenda, Being the History of Three Months in the Life of an English Gentleman, by Anthony Hope, published by Grosset & Dunlap in 1898. This edition features “four full-page illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson,” including the frontspiece.  (If you don’t know anything about this book, it’s worth clicking on the title link to check out the plot summary – you’ll either want to run out and read it, or will be glad to know to avoid it.)  The flyleaf is inscribed “Maria Waters. 1912.” Miss Waters (1895-1970) of Germantown also owned the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, From the Memoirs of Fritz von Tarlenheim, in a 1923 movie tie-in edition. I always wonder: did she wait ten years to read the sequel? (Both books were first published in the 1890s.) Or was the 1923 book a replacement for an earlier volume that she loaned out, or lost?  Both books were donated by Maria’s great-niece.

Part 1 of “What are you reading?” included the readers’ notes and reflections on various works; in these cases, we have their novels, but not their opinions.  Yet all three books (and Rupert of Hentzau, not shown here) are far from pristine; they have loose pages, rubbed corners, broken spines, and other hallmarks of a well-used book. In addition, all were saved through at least two generations.  I think it’s safe to assume that they were read many times (or at least, read once, but hard) and were enjoyed enough that they were kept, to savor again.


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!

As the majority of our American readers are aware, it is H-O-T outside.  If you’re reading this on a computer then hopefully you are doing so from the privilege of an air-conditioned building, perhaps with a frozen or refrigerated drink at hand.  Isn’t electricity a nice thing?  Nonetheless, it might be refreshing to head out to an ice house right about now, chip a few pieces off a big block of ice, and get some relief the old-fashioned way. . . No? You’d rather stay in your air-conditioned office?  Well, okay then.  Instead, let’s remember our ice-house-reliant ancestors, to feel even better about our electrical advantages.

Last week I linked to a picture of a Montgomery County dairy house, but didn’t really explain it.  Before refrigerators, you had to find other ways to preserve your food for any length of time; keeping ice on hand throughout the year was helpful.  Once a body of water (often a deliberately-made “ice pond”) was sufficiently frozen in the winter, horse-drawn ice-scorers or plows marked the surface into blocks, which were then cut out with saws.  A variety of tools (such as this ice hook from Rockville) were used to transport the heavy blocks to an ice house, designed to keep the blocks frozen throughout the summer.  Like dairy houses, ice houses were dug into the ground to keep the temperature low; the double-thick walls were often filled with sawdust for further insulation, and the blocks themselves were packed in sawdust or straw.   When you wanted some ice for drinks or to make ice cream, you wouldn’t pull out a whole block; ice picks, chisels, hatchets and shavers were used to get just what you needed.

Someone at Falling Green, an estate outside Olney (featured here before) – perhaps tired of losing or forgetting one half of the equation – made his or her own combination tool.  This wooden mallet has a removable ice pick that fits into the handle.  (It’s hard to tell scale in this image; when put together, the whole thing is 14 inches long.)  Need some ice? Just head out to the ice house with this handy all-in-one implement, pull out the pick, and hammer off a few chips.  The unfinished wood is worn, especially on the head of the mallet, showing that this tool was as useful as it seems.

I haven’t found any photos of the Falling Green ice house or ice pond, but here’s a picture of the pond at Pleasant Fields (Neelsville), doing double-duty as a fishing hole for William Waters and his sister Maria, circa 1901.  Almost as refreshing as a block of ice!

Ice pick/mallet donated by Miss Mary Farquhar Green; Pleasant Fields photo donated by Marian Waters Jacobs.

During the postcard’s heyday, 1900s-1910s, an astonishing variety of holiday cards was published and sent. Where we would send greeting cards (or an email) today, friends and family in the 1910s sent a postcard. And not just for Christmas, Valentine’s Day or birthdays; there were cards for Thanksgiving, New Year’s, St. Patrick’s Day, Independence Day, Easter, and even Groundhog Day.

Holiday postcards are not always quite as interesting – in terms of random snippets of history – as more everyday greetings are, because the message is often restricted to something like “thinking of you this holiday season.”  (Although there is entertainment value in those greetings of the past; when’s the last time someone sent you their “Hearty best wishes,” or hopes for “A Joyous Eastertide”?)

Some of the Easter cards in our collection are fairly standard, containing, along with the holiday greetings, complaints about not getting a real letter (or apologies for not sending one); updates on the sender’s family; best wishes for the recipient’s health and happiness. A few were sent to young children, and include cute messages about the Easter Bunny and/or egg hunts. The card below, sent to Billy Hazard of Garrett Park in 1916, assures the almost-three year old that “the bunny will be real good to you.” The Easter bunny tradition is an old one, and it’s fun to see the evidence of that from nearly 100 years ago.

Yesterday, my coworkers Jennie and Taylor had a lucky find at a local antique store: an Easter postcard with a particularly fabulous message. In 1908, an unidentified J.E. of Richmond Va. sent this card to her friend Miss Bertie Higgins of Rockville, with the message,

“Hello, Bert, how are you? I suppose you will come out in a ‘six footer’ Sunday. Mine is a Merry Widow but not six feet from brim to brim, because, you see it would be all hat and no girl. Happy Easter to you all.”

It’s a joke about their Easter “bonnets” (in this case, giant wide-brimmed hats)! How great is that? We’re finishing up a “Year of the Hat” exhibit series, you see, and the recurring popularity of wide-brimmed hats has been featured many times. (On this blog, as well – here’s a “Merry Widow” style being sold by Miss Darby of Gaithersburg.) Another example of how satisfying it is to find a primary source, even a minor one, that shows some truth within your research. Now if only it was a photo postcard (however pretty this angel-themed Easter card, below, may be), showing Roberta Higgins (age 21) and her unknown friend, it would be perfect.

Credits: Billy Hazard’s card donated by the Barth family; Bertie Higgins’ card, MCHS purchase.  Other cards: “Easter Greetings,” with rabbits and a giant “river scene”-featuring egg, sent to Mrs. Charles Waters of Germantown in 1910 “with much love from Cousin P.J. Jones,” donated by Charles T. Jacobs.    “A Joyous Eastertide,” ca. 1915, wishing Mr. Raleigh Chinn in Brookeville “a happy Eastertide” from Cousin Rose, donated by Jane Chinn Sween. 

P.S. Happy Passover, too!

I have a particular fondness for “groundbreaking” and ribbon-cutting photos.  Everyone always looks so happy!  Sadly, we do not have any ceremonial groundbreaking shovels in our collections, but we do have this pair of scissors, used in 1954 to “open” a section of what we now know as Interstate 270. 

These sterling silver-handled scissors – ten inches long – were made by the Vosscut Co., Germany, and sold by Samuel Kirk & Son.  The scissors are conveniently engraved with an historical summary: “Governor Theodore R. McKeldin / Washington National Pike Fourth Section / Dedicated September 15, 1954.”  We were pretty excited to get this donation in October 1954, so even without that handy inscription, we can learn a lot from our own organizational archives.

Interstate 270 started out as the Washington National Pike, intended to connect Frederick and Rockville.  Surveying was done immediately after the war (remember the surveying plumb bob?) and ground was broken in 1950.  The “fourth section” dedicated with these scissors consisted of a 3.7 mile stretch from Clarksburg (Rt 121) to Germantown (Rt 118); since the “dual highway” was built from north to south, travelers from Frederick had to take 118 to what is now Rt 355 in order to continue to Rockville and points south.

That brings us to the confusing road numbers.  Route 355 was, at that time, Route 240.  The Washington National Pike became New US 240, and 355 became Old US 240/US 355.  By the 1960s, (new) 240 was called 70-S, and by the late 1970s, it was I-270.  This adds a little excitement to researching places along the 270/355 corridor: when it says “Route 240,” which one does it mean?  (Interested in more road/route/transportation history? Visit our library!  Lots of interesting things await you!)

Back to our scissors.  According to newspaper reports, several state dignitaries were on hand to watch the Governor ceremonially sever the black and gold ribbons.  (Alas, I have not yet found any photographs of the momentous dedication of the Fourth Section, and the bits of ribbon that were originally tied to the scissors were gone by the time I took this job.)  For road and/or construction buffs, I also offer the following bit of info from the Washington Post, September 15: “Contracts have been awarded by the Commission for the construction of bridges, interchanges and roadway to carry the highway as far as Rockville. These new sections should be open to the public in 1955, the Commission said. The 3.7-mile section to be opened Wednesday was built by the Williams Construction Company at its low bid of $1,632,193. Work began last October 1.”

The following month, Governor McKeldin donated the scissors to the Historical Society in a special ceremony (held, for no discernible reason, in Kensington).  Mrs. Helen P. Weedon, MCHS Program Chairman, received the scissors on our behalf.  In our archives, we have her handwritten speech accepting the scissors, and then another speech for reporting to Society members at the next meeting.  There are also numerous clippings from local papers, saved in our scrapbooks, that tout the Governor’s generous donation.  (One newspaper does add, as a rather pointed aside, that McKeldin was “campaigning for reelection in the suburban areas;”  he was in a heated race against Democrat H.C. Byrd.   I guess donating a pair of ceremonial scissors was an easy way to gain some good PR.)

But wait, the story does not end there!  Further perusal of our archives brought to light this additional chapter.  In November 1970, the Historical Society renovated the old 1940s garage next to the Beall-Dawson House to serve as a small museum and library.  At the opening ceremony, according to our newsletter, “[Rockville’s] Mayor Tuchtan cut the ribbon with silver scissors used by Governor McKeldin at the opening of the 4th Section of National Pike – and they still work!”  Yay, they work… wait, you aren’t supposed to use/wear/play with the accessioned collections!  Oh well, those were the days.  The scissors do not appear to have come to any harm, and perhaps they enjoyed their (presumably last) moment of action. 

From our scrapbooks: A Sentinel photo, October 15, 1970.  You can’t see the scissors (though you can make out the cut ribbons) – I offer this instead for any of our regular patrons who don’t remember the pre-renovation days of the Library.  Yes, that is our library.

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend a taping of Maryland Public Television’s “Chesapeake Collectibles.”  MPT invited local historical societies to meet-n-greet with the people bringing in artifacts for appraisal; we got to see many a fabulous object stroll by on its way to potential televised fame. In a few instances, one of us was moved to run over to the owner and ask questions. Partway through the day I spotted a familiar set of not-quite-tennis-racket-shaped blades in the crowd, and I dashed over to ask excitedly, “Is that a fly fan?”

Fortunately the owner knew what it was – and also fortunately, I was right – otherwise an awkward conversation might have ensued. Instead I got to see a friend of one of our more seemingly idiosyncratic artifacts, the [New and] Improved 20th Century Fly Fan.

This mechanical device was intended to sit on a table, gently rotating its blades and thus deterring flies. The height of the blades is adjustable, and they can be set parallel to the table or, as our photos show, at an angle “when space is limited” (this is “an important advantage peculiar to this Fan only”). The stamped-tin-covered iron base is sturdy, but has a nice small footprint for sitting amidst the dishes on the dining table. When fully extended, the fan’s ‘wingspan’ is a full four feet. It works like a clock; the example I spotted at MPT had a separate winding key, although ours advertises itself as “Complete In Itself” (the key is built into the gear shaft). Wind it up, and the fabric-covered blades spin slowly in the opposite direction.

Our fly fan still has most of its paper label on the bottom (see photo above). It was made by the National Enameling and Stamping Company of Baltimore, sometime after 1893 (the most recent patent date). Donated by Charles Jacobs, it probably came from either his or his wife’s family, used in Gaithersburg, Browningsville, Germantown or similar.

I haven’t been able to ascertain how common these devices were. A few examples pop up on internet auction sites, once you know what to look for, but the fly fan isn’t one of those ‘iconic’ pieces that you can find in any antique shop. If you hadn’t seen one in action when growing up, you might never understand its purpose (if it weren’t for the handy paper label, of course). Ours seemed pleased to be brought out for photography this morning. I gave the winding key a few tentative turns (curator’s privilege); nothing happened, so I gave it a bit of a nudge and, well, “sprang to life” might be pushing it, but it went into (slow) action and then kept right on going for rather a long time, as if determined to be of use once more.

Video Alert!  To watch the fan do its stuff, go to our Facebook page. I crave your pardon for the poor videography, but at least the first 30 seconds show our fly fan in action. And indeed, there were no flies.


We have many, many, many postcards and greeting cards in our collections.  A good portion of this abundance conveys greetings and wishes for the New Year.  In the spirit of the holiday, I pass those greetings on to you, blog readers!  (Okay, they’re second-hand, but no less sincere.)

This small card (not a postcard) has no additional messages, but the tattered, battered year/boat that is 1876 is being rescued by the fine seaworthy vessel of 1877.  No further message needed! 

These merry revelers were sent in December, 1915 to Miss Agnes Lynch of DC, from her friend Undine in Cleveland.  Judging from the handwriting (and the content), Undine is about 10 years old.  She hopes that Santa Claus brought Agnes some nice things, and reports that she herself received a rocking chair and a sled.

We have two copies of this bird-centric postcard.  The one shown here was sent in January 1909 to Mrs. Lynch of Hagerstown, and the other to Mr. Charlie Waters of Germantown in February 1910.  (Oh, they’re not from the same person, by the way – just a coincidence, or evidence of good marketing by the German postcard company who printed it.)

A hand-delivered (alas, no postmark, but probably 1910-1915) postcard from Anna S. Hoyle to Miss M.E.L. Waters (Maria Waters, daughter of Charlie Waters above) of Germantown.  No message, just Miss Waters’ address, and the sender’s signature.

I’ll finish up with this card, which has no postmark, address, message or signature – I just like the message.  Happy New Year, everyone!

(1877 card donated by Claire Pumphrey; Lynch family postcards donated by Joyce Candland; Waters family postcards, and the final unmarked card, donated by Charles Jacobs.)

Mr. FishDon’t worry, this fish doesn’t sing or flap its tail.  Our friend here was caught by Carroll Brown of Germantown sometime in the mid 20th century, long before animatronic fish became a fad.

Mr. Fish was part of a large donation of household and farm tools from the Brown family.  Carroll Brown was a farm manager, who worked in Forest Glen in the 1910s and moved with his young family to Germantown in the 1920s.  Brown managed the Pleasant Fields farm for Charles C. Waters, and later the Londonderry farm for Mr. Hoskinson (both are in the Neelsville area, near the intersection of Routes 355 and 27).  The Brown family did not live on site; they had their own home off West Old Baltimore Road. 

According to the donor, Frances Brown Brosius, her father Carroll began taking regular fishing expeditions after her mother died in the late 1940s.  With friends, he went to the Patuxent River once a week, and the Atlantic Ocean once a month.  For whatever reason (there is no plaque or marker on our fish), this specimen was considered exciting or important enough to be preserved; one of Mr. Brown’s friends, “the local minister” (according to Mrs. Brosius), did some taxidermy work and mounted the fish.

I do not know enough about fish to be able to tell you whether this guy came from the Patuxent or the Atlantic.  He’s not in wonderful shape, and was not taxidermied in the way professionals do today, with repainting to capture the original c0lors; he’s just a fish on a 16″ board (no offense to you, Mr. Fish).  He’s certainly not a fancy fiberglass replica. (I looked up “taxidermy fish” on the internet just now; why am I always surprised at the number of websites devoted to things I normally never think about?)  Nonetheless he tells a nice story about the life of a man from Germantown, even if he is a little worn-looking.