Yesterday was Maryland’s primary election. It was held in June rather than September, somewhat earlier in the year than we’re used to; despite some heated campaign rhetoric and an astonishingly large amount of pre-election mail – seemingly indicative of an exciting race and interested voters – it was greeted with low turnout. When I rolled up to the polls in the morning, the electronic voting system wasn’t working; the beleaguered election judges had to instruct me, and the other two (!) people there, on using the provisional – a.k.a. paper – ballots. (And they did a great job; all respect to election judges!)

I enjoy voting in all its forms, but there’s something unsatisfying about simply filling in a little circle with a golf pencil. We have a variety of election and voting materials in the collections here, and when I got in to work I pulled up the catalog record for this fine item: A stack of paper ballots from the Montgomery County Democratic Primary of May 6, 1940.

stack o' ballots

The ballots measure 5″ x 3″ when folded (the stack is 2″ tall) and they’re printed with “Democratic Primary – Official Ballot for Montgomery County Election, May 6th, 1940. [printed signature] Donald Bowie, Jr., President of the Board of Supervisors of Elections for Montgomery County.” Each was initialed by the judge, in this case an as-yet unidentified M.R.L.

1940 ballot front

There’s not much to the ballot, option-wise – the only question asked is about the Democratic nomination for the Senate – but the voter indicated his or her choice with a nice definitive X (so satisfying!) before placing the folded ballot into the designated box.  It looks like they were stuck onto a spike during the counting process; at some point this set of ballots was wired together and, deliberately or inadvertently, saved for posterity. Unfortunately this is one of those items donated to us many decades ago, when my earnest volunteer predecessors were, ah, somewhat inconsistent in their recording. I do not know who donated them, or why this particular group of 200-odd ballots are wired together.


The 1940 Maryland primary was in some ways similar to the one that just occurred. There were a few contentious races, with members of the same party sniping at each other about policies and experience. There was also a rather low turnout, with just over half of Maryland’s 800,000 registered voters stepping out to the polls. The Montgomery County House of Representatives Democratic candidate ran unopposed (perhaps that’s why only the Senate appears on the ballot? Queen Anne’s County voters, for example, had more questions to answer that May), and the Senate race was really between Howard Bruce and the incumbent, George L. Radcliffe, with your man Vincent F. Gierttoski a barely-mentioned third. In the month leading up to the election, Bruce argued that Radcliffe was too quiet, “chid[ing] him for making only one speech in the Upper House in five and a half years” (Washington Post, May 7, 1940), and the candidates jostled for endorsements from their Democratic colleagues in the state and national legislature. The Washington Post ended a May 6 article on the “lackadaisical” campaign with this tidbit:

A comical note was struck in Rockville, seat of Montgomery County. When Bruce headquarters put up a large banner reading ‘Democratic Headquarters,’ the Radcliffe followers next door posted a sign reading ‘Democratic Headquarters – Main Entrance.’

In the end, although Montgomery County Democrats gave Bruce a narrow margin here, Radcliffe won the statewide nomination and went on to serve his second term in the Senate. He lost the nomination in 1946, and retired from politics.

Interestingly, the 1940 election may have been the last time Montgomery County voters used these simple paper ballots. A photo series by Marjory Collins, now in the Library of Congress (FSA/OWI collections), shows Olney voters in the 1942 general election; in the picture below, a voter is being shown how to use an automatic voting machine (the actual voting went on behind the curtains at left, don’t worry).



Our collections don’t include much in the way of building remnants, other than some smallish pieces of hardware and the occasional decorative element. However, we do have this fine artifact, donated in 1980 by Mr. A.B. Chisholm of Silver Spring: the keystone or date-stone from the Silver Spring County Office Building, constructed in 1927-28.

x1487This is a trapezoidal block of concrete, measuring eleven inches high and eight inches square at the top. The front face is painted white, with metal numbers nailed on. The top, back and sides still have some cement residue. According to the donor – and, to a lesser extent, photographic evidence – this was the keystone used over the main door to the County Office Building at 8528 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. I’ve not found any close-up images of the door, but this early 1930s photograph (published in Montgomery County, Maryland: Home Community of the Nation’s Capital) of the Silver Spring Northern Suburban District Montgomery County Building shows the Georgia Avenue facade (at left), with its arched center door; there’s the faintest hint of a diagonal stripe (=our numbers?) visible across the keystone.

SS County Bldg from 1930s bookletAlthough the building was constructed in 1927, and appears to have been operational by late that year, the keystone is marked “1928” – perhaps an official opening was held in 1928, when its companion building in Bethesda was completed.

It’s easy to assume that Montgomery County’s suburban boom is a recent phenomenon, or that it didn’t really start until the 1930s and 1940s. But the government workers who arrived along with the New Deal were joining a suburbanization movement in progress. By 1927, the down-county area had grown so rapidly that the State Legislature created a new Suburban District, to provide a more local form of government to unincorporated areas. For practical purposes the Suburban District was split into east and west sections, with Rock Creek as the dividing line. In other words, rather than giving the population centers of Bethesda and Silver Spring their own municipal governments, we gave them each a county government outpost.

Shortly after the Bethesda building was completed, an article in the January 27, 1928 edition of the Montgomery County Sentinel proclaimed that these new county offices marked the “passage of the metropolitan area of Montgomery County from a rural to an urban community.” The article also helpfully explained the Silver Spring building’s contents:

Sentinel, Jan 27, 1928The building in the Silver Spring district is of attractive appearance, being of brick construction, with stone finish, and is one story in height. It was occupied six weeks ago and at the same time there was established in it a police station, where police are on duty for 24 hours to answer any emergency calls. Offices also have been provided in the structure for the clerk to the county commissioners, the Maryland-National [Capital] Park and Planning Commission, justice of the peace and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There is a hearing room which will accommodate about 100 persons, where the various agencies dealing with the district affairs may hold public hearings. It cost $25,000.

This useful building was in the heart of the burgeoning downtown Silver Spring area, on Georgia Avenue just south of the intersection of Colesville Road. The aerial photo below, taken circa 1940, shows your County Office Building (circled) across Georgia Avenue from the brand-new Silver Spring Shopping Center, opened in 1938. (The shopping center, embracing its parking lot at the corner of Georgia and Colesville, is still there today, but basically everything else shown here is gone. Click the photo to enlarge.)

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

MCHS Library, donated by the Lee family.

By 1931 the Silver Spring building was already too small, as the area continued to grow;  on April 4th of that year the Washington Post noted, “The building is too cramped for efficient work at present, and an enlargement of space must be provided in some manner.” Plans at that time were to either add on a second story, or sell the building and start over somewhere else. However it doesn’t appear that either action was taken for some time, if at all; the building continued to serve its various governmental functions into the 1950s. A new county office/police station was built on Sligo Avenue in 1962, and shortly after that the old building was torn down.

Our unassuming (though weighty) little keystone sent me on a delightful suburbia-research adventure this week. But there’s more to learn!  When, exactly, was the building demolished? (A 1964 aerial photo appears to show another building on that spot.) Who is/was Mr. A.B. Chisholm, and why did he acquire the keystone?  Much as I enjoy reading 1920s-50s surveys of county government and development (and no, that’s not sarcasm), those sources have not yet answered my lingering questions.  Do our readers have any insight to share?

Bonus images!

From our postcard collections, here’s a color view of the Silver Spring building, from B.S. Reynolds’ “Scenic Art Series” of the 1940s:

…And here’s the same early 1930s image as shown earlier, this time with the $30,000 Bethesda building for comparison.  (Like its friend in Silver Spring, the Bethesda building was demolished in the 1960s.)

both county bldgs

Today we have a celebratory pennant, welcoming four new Metro Red Line stations to Montgomery County:

DSC07850This 30″ red felt pennant, donated by Trish Graboske, is printed in white with the Metro logo and text: “Montgomery County Welcomes Metro Red Line   December 15, 1984   White Flint   Rockville   Twinbrook   Shady Grove”

Montgomery County is on the Washington Metro’s roughly-U-shaped Red Line, with its upper reaches in the county and the base in D.C.  (Current map here; a history of the system, and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, here.) The first station in Montgomery County – Silver Spring, on the eastern arm of the line – opened in 1978.  In 1984, the western arm was extended into the county in two increments, with stations from Tenleytown (in D.C.) to Grosvenor opening on August 25th, and the final four stations from White Flint to Shady Grove opening on December 15th.  (The eastern arm was eventually extended as well, with Forest Glen and Wheaton opening in 1990, and Glenmont in 1998.) 


Metro’s 1984 arrival was seen as a boon for Montgomery County’s commuters and shoppers, particularly as it would relieve heavy traffic on Route 355.  County and municipal governments took the opportunity to revitalize development, entice new suburban residents to the area, and improve roads and infrastructure.  The Red Line caused a few problems just as it alleviated others, however.  Metro construction threatened some historic buildings; residents of Lincoln Park, a predominately African-American neighborhood in Rockville, fought (unsuccessfully) against the closure of a main vehicular access road, which the Red Line crosses.  New traffic woes appeared – a December 16, 1984 Washington Post article suggested alternate routes to “avoid traffic congestion near the Shady Grove Metro station,” on only the second day of operations – and parking lots were quickly overcrowded.  As many current riders know, sometimes Metro travel can be a love-hate situation.

. . . But opening day, December 15, 1984, was a time for celebration, not grievances.  Fares were waived for part of the day; there was free coffee at Shady Grove, a live radio broadcast from White Flint Mall, and musical performances at Shady Grove and Rockville.  A ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Rockville station was attended by “about 300 officials, development representatives and Chamber of Commerce types,” according to an article in the Post (“A Rainbow Coalition Flocks to Red Line,” December 16, 1984).  And of course there was giveaway swag, including balloons, cardboard train conductor hats, and red felt pennants like our friend here –  which, judging from photos in the Post, were particularly popular among the children on hand.  WMATA estimated that 26,500 people tested out the four new stations on opening day.

As I read newspaper articles from 1984, looking for mention of our artifact, I found myself wondering, Why a pennant?  True, it’s always fun to wave flags around at events – these pennants were originally on sticks, inserted into the strip of white felt on the end – but why not a rectangular flag?  Perhaps because pennants, so often associated with sports, convey a sense of victory, achievement, and team spirit – all good things at the opening of a major, long-in-coming development.  Those red pennants waving on opening day proclaimed, “Hooray, Metro!”

Bonus photo: Following on the sports/team spirit pennant theme, here’s a 1913 student’s room at the Briarly Hall Military Academy, Poolesville, totally done up with school pennants:

From the 1913 school catalog, courtesy Byron Thompson.

From the 1913 school catalog, courtesy Byron Thompson.

Bonus question, first posed to me by Eileen McGuckian: There’s something slightly off about the wording on the pennant – can you spot it?

Here we have a political poster from the early 1960s, screen-printed on heavy cardboard, measuring 22″ x 28″. It reads “Elect Elaine Lady – House of Delegates – Republican Candidate. By authority of candidate.”  Based on the condition, it was probably used on the campaign trail (not simply a left-over).  It was donated by Donna Bassin in 1999, part of a large collection of mid-20th century political posters.


Elaine Lady of Chevy Chase served one term in the Maryland House of Delegates, from 1966 to 1970, representing Montgomery County’s District 1.  A real estate agent, Mrs. Lady’s campaign platforms focused on education, pollution, lower taxes, and efficient government. Before her successful election in 1966, she ran for the House as a Prince George’s County candidate in 1954, and as a Montgomery County candidate in 1962; she served as Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Appeals from 1964-66. In 1970 she ran unsuccessfully for the State Senate, and appears to have retired from politics after that. Based on the candidate photographs used in the Washington Post, this poster dates from her 1962 campaign, probably from the November general election.

Mrs. Lady was not the first woman to serve in the Maryland legislature. That honor belongs to Mary E.W. Risteau of Harford County, who was elected to the House of Delegates in 1922 (the first year it was possible for a woman to run in Maryland); she later served in the State Senate as well. Montgomery County’s first woman in the House of Delegates was Lavinia M. Engle, elected in 1930; she was followed by county residents Ruth Elizabeth Shoemaker, Genevieve H. Wells, Leona M. Rush, Kathryn J. Lawlor, Margaret C. Schweinhaut, Edna P. Cook, Alice W. Hostetler, and Louise Gore.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Lavinia M. Engle (1892-1979). Donated to MCHS by Parke Engle.

Once elected, serving in the legislature was not always easy. This 2009 article on Prince George’s County’s Pauline H. Menes, who also entered the House in 1966, quotes Menes: “It was made fairly clear to the few women who were here that we were not expected to accomplish very much, that we were not expected to stay very long.” (In fact, as of a few years ago Menes was the longest-serving state legislator in the U.S.)  Women were not appointed to leadership roles; there wasn’t even a ladies rest room near the chambers.  (There’s a good story about the rest room problem in the article linked above.)  It was sometimes a struggle simply to have their voices heard and taken seriously. 

Want to learn more? Visit the Women Legislators of Maryland site, or the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.

In my position as Director of Collections (i.e., curator), I have a lot of keys.  There are nine on my ‘everyday’ key ring, and another dozen or so that come into play upon occasion.  My favorite are two enormous iron keys on my ‘special occasion’ key ring – these two don’t actually do anything, but theoretically go to one or more interior doors in the Beall-Dawson House. Useless they may be, but they add a level of, shall we say, gravitas to the proceedings.

My prop keys resemble the pair shown above, which were once far from useless.  These are ward keys, made of iron; the larger key is 4 5/8″ long. The smaller key appears to have been painted or otherwise coated in a brass color, though it’s mostly worn off.  According to the donors, Misses Virginia and Martha Royer, these keys to the Montgomery County Courthouse belonged to their grandfather,  Sheriff John H. Kelchner. 

Mr. Kelchner (1838-1903) moved to Rockville with his family around 1880, and was soon an active member of the community.  In addition to owning and operating the Montgomery House Hotel and livery stable, he served two terms as County Sheriff in the early 1880s, was elected to the town council in 1888, and was a founding stockholder of the Farmers’ Banking & Trust Co., incorporated in 1900.

How Sheriff Kelchner managed to hold on to his keys is unclear.  The donors’ information said the keys were “to the Courthouse,” not the separate Jail, so maybe these locks weren’t quite as important as, say, the ones on the cell doors.  Or maybe the locks were changed every time a new sheriff was elected.  At any rate, Kelchner’s Courthouse – a brick building erected in 1840 – was torn down in 1891 and replaced by the Red Brick Courthouse (still standing in downtown Rockville); at that point the keys became simply keepsakes, passed down to his granddaughters.

Above: the 1840 Courthouse, shown circa 1870, from the Albert Bouic collection.  For more info on the history of the county’s various courthouse (fun fact: one of Rockville’s early names was the somewhat unimaginative “Montgomery Court House”), check out the City’s historic walking tour, the National Register listing, or Rockville: Portrait of a City (2001) by Eileen McGuckian.  Plus here’s a brief article on the history of keys (which, like so many “easy” blog topics, is rather more complicated than I have conveyed here).

Since we’ve been skewing a little modern lately, here’s a piece from the early 19th century: the seal of the Orphan’s Court, used by the Montgomery County Register of Wills in the 1810s. The engraved metal die measures 2 inches by 1 ¼ inches, and with the wooden handle the whole thing measures 3 ½ inches tall. There are no makers marks (other than the engraving on the die, of course) but the wood and the metal both show signs of wear. When impressed in wax or stamped on paper, the seal reads “Montgomery County Orphans Court,” with the emblem of two clasped hands, the scales of justice, and a hanging sword.

As explained on the Maryland state website, “‘Orphans’ Court’ is simply the historical name for a court that handles wills and estates. . . In 1777 the Maryland General Assembly formally established an Orphans’ Court and Register of Wills in each county and the City of Baltimore. The structure still operates today.” The Register of Wills was and is responsible for, essentially, the paperwork of the Orphans Court, and as such the court’s official seal falls under his or her jurisdiction:

Laws of Maryland 1786-1800:November 1798. Chap. CI.
12. The orphans court in each county shall keep a seal for the said court, and for the office of register of wills; and each orphans court that hath not already a seal, shall provide the same at the expense of the county, and the said seal shall be fixed to all certificates of the court, or of the register, and to every process and writ of every kind issued from the court. . . .

Maryland Constitution, Article IV
Part I General Provisions
Section 1. The Judicial power of this State is vested in a Court of Appeals, such intermediate courts of appeal as the General Assembly may create by law, Circuit Courts, Orphans’ Courts, and a District Court. These Courts shall be Courts of Record, and each shall have a seal to be used in the authentication of all process issuing from it (amended by Chapter 10, Acts of 1966, ratified Nov. 1966; Chapter 789, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Chapter 681, Acts of 1977, ratified Nov. 7, 1978; Chapter 523, Acts of 1980, ratified Nov. 4, 1980).

According to the donor, Judge Ella R. Plummer, the seal was found along with “some papers . . . in the tower of the old Court House Building” (the 1891 Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville) at an unknown date, probably sometime in the 1950s. The donor, or perhaps one of my predecessors, assigned the seal specifically to Solomon Holland, who served as Register of Wills from 1808 until his death in 1839. The “some papers” are almost certainly the collection of Orphans Court summonses in our archives; the poor condition of some pieces could well mean they’d been forgotten in the courthouse tower for a century or so.

Over thirty of these documents (including the one above) are dated December 16, 1817 – so I guess we know what Mr. Holland was doing on that particular day. Each summons “commands” the Sheriff to bring someone to the Orphans Court “on the second Tuesday in February” to, basically, explain his or herself and then (presumably) pay up. Each is signed by Solomon Holland, Regr., and stamped (no ink or wax, just an impression on the paper) with our seal here.

Interestingly, another set of summonses from Holland’s files dates from 1838; those are stamped with a round, rather than oval, seal. The image is slightly different as well, as now there is a single hand holding the scales (see below). Our particular seal, then, was used at least in the 1810s, but changed to a new one by the late 1830s.

My favorite part of this artifact is the fact that it’s been repaired; a close look shows that the metal die is wedged onto the handle with blue paper. Probably it was used so much that the wooden handle wore down, and the die kept falling off the handle; someone made a quick fix. Another fun thing is that researching Mr. Holland brought up some other familiar faces (plus this entertaining Act “authorizing Solomon Holland, late collector of Montgomery County, to complete his collection,” from 1805 – have I mentioned lately how much I love the internet?) Holland served as one of the original commissioners of the Rockville Academy along with Upton Beall, whose home is one of our museums; the Holland home on S. Washington Street was later owned by the family of Dr. Stonestreet, whose office is our other museum; and to top it all off, a portrait of Solomon’s granddaughter, Laura Williams Holland Talbott, hangs on the wall outside my office door.

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.

I’ll let the donor, Rev. Alexander Livesay, describe today’s artifact:

“Turn of the century oak office chair with arms recently refinished and in perfect condition. This chair was moved from the old Red Brick Montgomery Courthouse by the Welfare Department when it moved to the new county office building. In 1967 the chair was all apart lying in a heap on the floor in an office at the County Office Building. I had it glued together in August of that year–in the month of October 1975 it was refinished. Since I’m leaving the county service [in 1977, the year of donation], it should not be lost to the citizens of Montgomery County; therefore, I give it to the Historical Society.”

Rev. Livesay was an Episcopal minister at a number of churches in the DC area; he also served as the Montgomery County Department of Social Services Community Development Director from 1962-63 and 1967-1977, which is how he ended up caring for the chair.

The chair’s journey, described briefly by the donor, reflects – on a small scale – the history of our local government agencies and office buildings. The Montgomery County Welfare Board* was formed in response to the Great Depression in 1934, picking up the efforts of earlier, private organizations. Like many county agencies, the newly-formed Welfare Board had an office in the 1891 Red Brick Courthouse in Rockville where a trained executive, two case workers, and seven relief aides worked (when they weren’t out in the field). Judging from this 1935 photo of the Welfare staff (donated by Gladys Benson, who is pictured ninth from the left), the agency grew rapidly.

By the early 1950s county government offices were spread out among a number of buildings, including both the 1891 and 1931 courthouses; a new County Office Building** at the corner of Jefferson Street and Maryland Avenue opened in 1953, and the Welfare Board moved in soon thereafter. The building was already too small by the 1960s, and it was expanded in 1963 and 1967. In 1964, when plans were being made for that second addition, a newspaper article mentioned that the health and welfare offices were among those to be moved to the new wing. Perhaps the chair just wasn’t built to withstand that many office moves, and that’s why Rev. Livesay, starting his second go-round with the Department in 1967, discovered it “in a heap on the floor.” (I love that description; it makes it sound like the chair just gave up, or fainted, or something.) Otherwise, I’m not sure how a fairly solid piece of furniture ends up in pieces; I hate to think that someone took out their anger on the poor unsuspecting chair.

An office chair with "Bank of England arms" in the 1908 Sears, Roebuck & Co catalog

As for the chair itself, it is oak, nicely (re)finished, with a few discreet repairs and metal braces. The design is a variation on the Bank of England armchair, a popular office chair in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These chairs were made in both swivel and straight styles; some have padded seats, others are comfortably contoured saddle seats; most are backed with a row of flat spindles, but a few have central splats, whether pierced or plain. An internet search for “Bank of England armchair” brings up a wide variety of these chairs, both vintage and modern. Although I have not found a photo of this particular style in use in the county offices, below are some similar Bank of England chairs in contemporary Red Brick Courthouse photos.

Rev. Livesay saw some potential in this chair, broken as it was. He does not say specifically, but I assume that he used it in his own office after having it repaired and refinished. Recognizing it as a relic – one of a few – that was saved from the removal of the county offices from the Courthouse, he wanted it to be preserved, not just put to use. (And maybe he was afraid that his replacement would completely refurnish the office, and the chair was once again headed for the furniture graveyard.) The Historical Society has not always been so attuned to artifacts from the relatively recent past; I’m thankful that both Rev. Livesay and my curatorial predecessors had a care for its future.

*In 1967 the name was changed to the Department of Public Welfare, and in 1968 to the Department of Social Services.

**The building was dedicated in honor of Councilwoman Stella Werner in 1983.

Photos!  First, the County Commissioner’s Office (in the Red Brick Courthouse), 1913 – donated by Sumner Wood. (Eugene Cissel, at left, is seated in a swivel Bank of England style chair.)  Second, Henry Clinton Allnutt, Register of Wills from 1897 to 1923, in the Oprhans Court – donated by Ellen Allnutt Elgin.  Click on either of the photos to get a larger version, if you want to admire all the lovely furniture and office accessories, including the chairs of course.

As I took photos of today’s artifact, one of my colleagues fed me a straight line: “Is that a seat belt or a belt?” I’m so glad you asked. It’s both! This is a seat belt covered in a needlepointed sleeve, worn as a belt by State Senator S. Frank Shore (D – District 17, Montgomery County) in the mid 1980s as he worked to pass a mandatory seat belt law in Maryland.

Senator Shore, who donated the belt in 2005, described it as a “seat belt worn for years during the Seat Belt debates! This was made by Delegate Kay Bienen (Prince George’s County) who needle pointed the belt in Maryland Colors.” Shore’s biography on the Maryland State Archives website notes that he “believes his most significant contribution as a Maryland Senator was ‘fighting for twelve years to get Maryland’s seat belt law!’”An article in the Washington Post on January 27, 1985, includes a photo of Senator Shore showing off his belt; an article on January 31st of that year, after a version of the bill had been “killed” by a House committee, notes that Shore “for weeks has constantly worn a seat belt around the State House to advertise his position.”

Anyone recognize the car manufacturer?

Maryland’s first seat belt safety law became effective on July 1st, 1986; the work of Shore and his colleagues had finally paid off. In 1997 a stronger law, making non-compliance a primary offense, was enacted. (Click here for some national statistics on seat belt laws.) It can be difficult, from an artifact collections standpoint, to get at those aspects of history – like political debates – that do not necessarily generate much material culture. Last week a scrapbook was donated to us, filled with articles, photos etc. related to Montgomery County’s efforts on behalf of the seat belt law – and there was Senator Shore on the first page, proudly showing off his belt. That’s the kind of thing that makes a curator think, “if only we had that belt.” But we already do! It was very kind of the Senator, and Delegate Bienen, to create an artifact related to a major political debate that is not a yard sign or bumper sticker (not that I have anything against yard signs or bumper stickers) and even kinder of Senator Shore to think of us as its proper home.

From the recently donated scrapbook of Montgomery County's involvement in the seat belt safety campaign. Third from left: Senator Shore (and his belt).

While inventorying some of our library’s duplicate books yesterday, I came across a few items that I found particularly entertaining, including the promotional book shown at left (I’ll get to that one at the end). Some readers may be familiar with my fondness for/mild obsession with the 1930s, which certainly helped these things catch my eye, but their usefulness is more than just era-specific (or, rather, more than just my-favorite-decade specific). Each presents a highly detailed snapshot of life in Montgomery County at a time when suburban development was just starting to kick in, and our demographics, economics and politics were entering a modern era.

This “Inventory of the County and Town Archives of Maryland” was prepared in 1939 by the Historical Records Survey (Baltimore), Division of Women’s and Professional Projects, Works Progress Administration. Basically, it summarizes the contents and location of county and town records, giving modern readers a glimpse at the scope of our government’s activities at the time. An introduction on our “Governmental Organization and Records System” includes helpful flow charts of various responsibilities, as well as floor plans (with rooms labeled, including bathrooms!) of county offices and courthouses. The rest of the book is wonderfully specific. For example, in the Attendance Officer section the origin, salary and duties of the job are described, followed by detailed record information such as: “Annual Reports (Principals’ and Teachers’), 1912 –. 2 file drawers, 17 file boxes (2 file drawers, 1932 – labeled by district nos.; 17 file boxes, 1912-31, dated by year).” Need to find one of those reports? “The attendance officer’s records, unless otherwise indicated, are kept in his office in the Montgomery County [now Richard Montgomery] High School.” Of course that doesn’t help today, but I love the image of Mr. Attendance Officer in his office at the high school, surrounded by file drawers and boxes.

Next, the “Annual Report of Receipts and Disbursements for Fiscal Period July 1, 1935 to June 30, 1936.” You’ll be happy to know that the County took in $4,446,501.35 and only spent $4,443,355.77. (And doesn’t our government wish it only cost $4.5 million to run the county today!) The list of disbursements is extremely specific – it looks like every check the county wrote that year – some examples:

Under the Board of Health Fund 1935 heading: Dr. V.L. Ellicott, Health Officer, was paid a salary of $2,299.92; one of the County Nurses, Martha Keys, made $1,025.76.

Under the Election Fund 1935: Mrs. Clara C. Holmes, Supervisor of Elections, was paid $600. Mary Somervell, a clerk, was paid $120. F. Byrne Austin received $59 for “hauling and erecting booths, etc.”

The Pension Fund is many pages long, and lists everyone in the county who received payments described variously as Pension, Old Age Relief, Old Age Pension, Ill Health Pension, Blind Pension, Widows Pension, Cripple Pension, Mothers Aid Pension, and Feeble Mind Pension, plus some bills for groceries, supplies, milk, and other items presumably distributed by the Welfare Board.

One of my favorite items can be found under the Police Fund 1935 heading: “Steinbergs Dept Store [a Rockville shop], Uniforms & Equipment – Shoes, Bodmer & Moxley, $10.00.” Earlier in the list the salaries for Roy Bodmer, Sergeant, and Floyd Moxley, Desk Clerk, are given. I’m glad they got shoes!

Well I could go on and on (ask my colleague Beth, she’ll tell you) about this great document, so let’s go back to the promotional pamphlet pictured at the top. There’s no publication date, but the photos and text put it at mid 1930s, the height of Montgomery County’s suburban growth during the New Deal. Washington was filled with new federal employees, and the surrounding counties wanted in on the economy-stimulating action. Hey, federal employees! Move to Montgomery County and spend some money! This book, published by Greater Montgomery County Inc., sings the praises of our fair county as the “Home Community of the Nation’s Capital,” filled with attractive homes, verdant lawns, top-ranked schools, abundant country clubs, etc. etc. (Seriously, there’s a two-page spread devoted to our country clubs.) This was hardly a new song, but the volume had increased, as it were. At any rate, this is one of my favorite things in our library, and I’ve used it in many an exhibit. I just love the cover, with its clear message: Wife and Son are safely and comfortably ensconced in their Maryland home, gazing fondly at the just-close-enough city where Husband works, awaiting the moment he can return home . . . and play a round of golf.

'We're awesome, and you should move here.'