T1025 and T2373

Today we have a pair of paper folding fans, dating from the 1890s. They are both 13” long, with paper leaves over a wood skeleton; the guard sticks are pronged, and embellished with a woven cotton cord (here’s a parts-of-fans glossary if you’re interested). The printed designs are natural/floral in theme, with a vaguely Asian air. Each was owned by a young woman from the area, carried as an accessory at parties or dances, and then saved as a souvenir.


T1025 one side

T1025 other side

In March 1894, Mary Briggs Brooke (1875-1964) of Falling Green, Olney, signed and dated her fan; she was 18 years old.

T1025 detail

“Mary Briggs Brooke March 94 -“

Though – somewhat despite the odds – it has retained its tassel and fringe for over 100 years, Miss Brooke’s fan is fairly worn and used in appearance; the paper is soft and tearing along the folds, and the ends are detached altogether (though still connected at the rivet). It’s not clear if the condition is due to a hard season of dancing and parties in 1894, or if the fan was a favorite dress-up plaything for Miss Brooke’s niece (who also lived at Falling Green for much of her life) or other younger relatives. The fan was donated to MCHS in 1964 by said niece, Mary Farquhar Green.


T2373 one side

T2373 other side

In contrast, our other fan was clearly used often by its owner (though it, too, could have been a dress-up favorite in later years). Maude Wagstaff (1883-1973) of Takoma* Park, DC, turned her paper fan into a kind of autograph book: The folds of the paper are decorated with signatures, dates, doodles, and inscriptions from friends and family members.  Dates noted across the fan include “Summer of 96,” “Summer of 1897,” “Fall of 1900,” and “Oct. 27th 1900” (or possibly 1910).  Her own name appears near one end.

T2373 Maude

T2373 dates and lighthouse

T2373 WBA poem

Again, we don’t know the specifics of Maude Wagstaff’s social life during those years – though, since she was only 13 or 14 in the summer of 1896, we can imagine her having a grand time fluttering her giant paper fan at her first ‘grown-up’ party – but in this instance we do have a photo that could relate to a summer of autograph-fan-using opportunities: here she is (on the right) with two friends, Louise Green and May Davis, at Marshall Hall, Maryland, around 1905.


In 1912, Miss Wagstaff married photographer Will Hazard; they moved to Garrett Park, and later to Takoma Park (Md). Over the years the fan was saved, and perhaps played with by her children and grandchildren; it was eventually donated to MCHS by one of those grandchildren, Patricia Barth.


In our collections we have many elaborate and costly fans, carefully preserved by owners and descendants for a variety of reasons, and representing styles and fashions that can be found with relative ease on museum, collector, and auction websites. In contrast, inexpensive souvenir-type fans were not necessarily designed for the long haul, and while our two examples survived, many did not. The value here – for the owner and her heirs – is likely to be sentimental, not monetary, and even the most precious reminder of the past can fall victim to time when it’s simply made of paper, sticks, and string.  …In other words, so far my internet searches for like items have come up short, and I’ve only able to find one other example online: an “autograph book” fan at the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.

But when in doubt, check the Sears catalog! In 1897, Sears, Roebuck & Co. was pleased to offer two sizes of “Japanese folding fans,” featuring decorated paper leaves and a “strong split stick outside,” the ends “handsomely corded.” The 13 inch version, essentially matching both of ours, sold for six cents each. (Still a bargain today, they would cost $1.65 in 2013 money.) Interestingly, although this style was “New” in 1897, the 1902 catalog’s “Complete Assortment of Fans” does not include anything along these lines; perhaps “handsome cording” was already out of fashion.

1897 Sears folding fans


*Today the Takoma neighborhood of DC leaves off the “Park,” but the 1900 census puts the Wagstaff family in “Takoma Park,” Washington, DC.


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).



Today we have some tooth extractors – or, more precisely, English pattern dental extracting forceps #24.  Made of steel, and measuring 5.75″ long, they were made by the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, and used by Dr. Steven O. Beebe of Montgomery General Hospital in the mid 20th century.

These forceps are only one of a larger set of dental instruments donated by Dr. Beebe’s family, including seven forceps of different styles and uses:

DSC06367If, like me, you tend to have your eyes squeezed shut when enduring dental work, you might think that the dentist has only one unpleasantly-pliers-like tool. Indeed, no!   There are so many options!  To illustrate, this sales website includes 118 varieties in the English pattern, and another 71 in the American pattern (differentiated by the type of hinge, as noted on the American page linked above).  Note: Please do not click the links if you are susceptible to phantom tooth pain. (If you’re really terrified of the dentist, I assume you’ve stopped reading this post altogether.)  The angle, size, and shape of the pincers informs the intended use; the #24 forceps are designed to easily extract lower molars.

s0436-2I do approve of an artifact that’s clearly labeled.  This one is stamped with the initials/logo SSW USA, and “Pat. Jan. 16 ‘94.” (The “24” mark is on the end of one of the handles.)  U.S. patent # 513,015 was granted on that date to one Woodbury Storer How, assignor to the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, for “a certain new and useful Improvement in Forceps, Pliers, &c.”, specifically a new handle design “to enable the implements to be used with greater efficiency and less discomfort to the user.”  The manufacturer, named on both the patent and the instrument itself, was founded in Philadelphia in 1844 by dentist Samuel Stockton White, and is still in business today.

DSC06352The handle is also conveniently engraved (by hand) with the name “Dr. Beebe.”  Dr. Steven O. Beebe (1902-1983) moved to the historic 1886 Mary G. Tyson house, in Sandy Spring, in 1935, and around the same time was hired as the staff dentist at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.  Here he is in the program for the hospital’s Annual Supper, 1938 (below). One source says he worked there until his 1982 retirement, though I’ve not found him on any official staff lists past 1960; do any readers remember Dr. Beebe and his work?

1938 Mont Gen staff

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?

DSC02838Here’s a wood and punched-tin foot warmer, by an unknown maker, from the mid 19th century.  It measures 9″ x 8″, and is 6″ tall. The wood frame and turned balustrade-style supports are constructed with mortise and tenon; there are no metal nails. The punched-tin sides feature a circle-and-diamond pattern, simple but decorative. A small tin bucket (now missing) would have been filled with hot coals and tucked inside; the punched holes on the top and sides allowed the heat to filter through. The top is braced with two extra pieces of wood, so you could rest your feet on it without touching the metal, and a metal handle allowed you to carry it around as necessary.


This is a fairly typical form of American foot warmer; there are plenty of similar artifacts to be found at auctions and antique stores, most with the same turned supports, but with a variety of designs punched into the tin. If foot-warmer-collecting (actual or virtual) strikes your fancy, there are many other forms to choose from, from metal or ceramic hot water bottles to carpet-covered footrests (with a cup of hot coals inside) to soapstone blocks with metal handles to heated bricks, flatirons, and even hot potatoes. Foot warmers were used in carriages, sleighs, and trains; 19th century sources also note their usefulness in (large, poorly heated) churches.

The Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House, built 1817, in an undated photo.

The Sandy Spring Friends Meeting House, built 1817, in an undated photo.

Our foot warmer was donated in 1953 by Mary Briggs Brooke (1875-1964), a Quaker who lived all her life at Falling Green in Olney. According to Miss Brooke, this foot warmer was used “in the Sandy Spring Meeting House,” probably by multiple generations of Brooke ladies. It seems likely that it was used in the carriage or sleigh to and from the Meeting House, as well as during the service itself. Thanks to yearly summaries in the Annals of Sandy Spring, we know that some 19th century winters were mild, while others were not; for examples, winter 1871-72 was described as “of unprecedented severity,” and January 1875 was “the coldest… since 1867.” On today’s roads, Falling Green and the Meeting House are about 3 ½ miles apart; my quick and probably inaccurate internet search tells me that 4 miles an hour is an acceptable average speed for a horse and buggy – so let’s say it was an hour’s drive each way in an unheated (and possibly uncovered) vehicle. You can see why a foot warmer would be a useful item!

Buggies parked at the Meeting House, in an undated photo.

Buggies parked at the Meeting House, in an undated photo.

Trend alert! Though I have no national statistics to support my anecdata, this summer I have noticed a lot of people in the DC area carrying umbrellas to ward off the sun. (I’ve also seen a lot of guys in suspenders, but that will have to wait for another post.) More and more women – and some men; after all, UV rays do not discriminate – are reclaiming the umbrella as a sunshade.

An outing on Chevy Chase Lake, ca. 1917.  The arrow points to Elsie Pitt Chaney.  Donated by Edward E. Chaney.

The umbrella/sunshade/parasol is an ancient idea, but it fell out of fashion in 20th century America. “Umbrella” (from Italian, 16th century) and “parasol” (from French, early 17th century) both originally referred to sunshades. In early 18th century France and England, carrying an umbrella was mildly embarrassing because it signaled to the world that you couldn’t afford a closed carriage. However, Anne Wood Murray of the Smithsonian (Antiques, 1961) surveyed American newspapers from the second half of the 18th century, and found multiple advertisements for the sale and repair of stylish, expensive umbrellas. By the 19th century, American and European women were often seen carrying parasols (as they were now called) in the latest styles.

Two ladies remain cheerful (and shaded) while they wait for their broken-down car to be repaired, near present-day White Flint, circa 1915.  Photo by Lewis Reed, donated by the Reed family.

Carriage parasols, designed for sitting decoratively in an open vehicle, were typically festive and tiny; some had folding handles (for convenient storage) or tilting tops (to better shade your face as you traveled). Walking parasols were a little sturdier, with longer ferrules (the bit at the top of the awning), sticks and handles. There were even “full-dress parasols” for particularly formal occasions. “Umbrella” came to mean the larger, more serviceable rain guards that we think of today, though of course they could still do double-duty as sunshades.

These gentlemen – watching the harness racing at the Rockville fairgrounds, circa 1910 – would probably have called their plain, manly sunshades “umbrellas.” 

Like many artifacts, parasols and umbrellas can be dated by changes in style, shape, material, and technology. For example, steel ribs were introduced in the 1840s, replacing the earlier and more expensive whalebone. Fringed edges were popular in the 1840s and ‘50s; a pagoda-like shade was stylish in the early 1860s; knob-shaped handles were all the rage in the 1880s.

Sisters Kathryn, Eleanor and Clara Beall of Olney, 1894.  Donated by Katherine Beall Adams.

Parasols lasted into the early 20th century, but then faded away, leaving only their rain-shielding cousins behind. Why?  In 1961, Anne M. Buck, Keeper of the Gallery of English Costume at Platt Hall (UK), blamed the fact that “today women turn their bare heads and faces to the sun like worshipers.” In 2012-today, though, we’ve moved back toward a view of sun exposure as a bad thing – though we’re protecting our skin for health, rather than aesthetic, reasons. So let’s bring back the parasol! And I don’t mean simply trotting out our department store umbrellas on a sunny day.  Think of the boost to the economy if elaborately decorative sunshades were a major market, not just a craft-show novelty.

The Library holdings include many photos of Montgomery County residents holding parasols and umbrellas; I’ve added in a few here. There are several pieces in the artifact collections as well, but unfortunately most of the parasols were donated in poor condition. (The umbrellas have fared a little better, being somewhat sturdier.) A slightly different problem is the fact that most of them are unrelated to Montgomery County, as for many years we accepted items like ones that county residents may have owned and used. And anyway, this post is getting kind of long and involved. So rather than tossing in all our cute but broken parasols, here’s a link to the turkey parasol featured last year plus a bonus one, below: Circa 1850, specific history unknown, donated by Barbara Smith. It has a silk cover, steel ribs and frame, and carved wooden handle. The ferrule has a little carved ring, and the entire thing is only a little over two feet long. The decorative rings and the short length mean this was a carriage parasol; for strolling or walking, a longer stick and a stout ferrule made a useful pseudo-cane when the sun wasn’t too strong.

In short (too late!) parasols are pretty fantastic, and we should all make an effort to bring them back into fashion. I can’t help but end this post with links to many, many more fabulous parasols in other museum collections (below), and a quote from one of my favorite novelists, Elizabeth Peters, whose Victorian heroine Amelia Peabody made good use of her own walking parasol:
“My parasol proved useful in pushing through [the crowd]; I had to apply the ferrule quite sharply to the backs of several gentlemen before they would move.” From Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters, 1975

Parasols at the Metropolitan Museum, NYC

Parasols at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Parasols at the Victoria & Albert, London

Parasols at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art

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.

While looking for something else in our Library special collections yesterday, I came across a mid-19th century notebook in the Farquhar collection.  I could tell it was from the Farquhars – beyond the archival location info, of course – because it has one of Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr.’s typed notes pasted to the cover:

Roger Brooke Farquhar, Sr. grew up at “Olney” (the house, that is, which was conveniently located in what later became the town of Olney) and as a young adult moved to the farm “Lonesome Hollow,” between Olney and Rockville.  Thanks to his son RBF Jr. we have a large archival collection of diaries, letters, photos and other materials that tell the personal story of his family. 

Inside this particular volume, as promised, are poems and literary excerpts written by a variety of hands.  I glanced through and was struck by the following page, annotated in pencil by RBF Jr.* (Click the photo to enlarge.)

The circled bit is the final stanza of “A Psalm of Life” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with an underlined “me” in place of “us.”  The “M.P.C.” who copied this bit may be, as RBF Jr suggested, Mary Coffin, a Sandy Spring teacher – she married Willie Brooke in 1871.  RBF Jr circled the lines and added, “Remember!!!!  RBF Sr to RBF Jr to RBF III.” 

It’s not clear whether RBF Sr. specifically pointed his son toward this piece of poetic advice, or if RBF Jr. found it years later and took it to heart.  What is clear is that RBF Jr. saw this passage as fatherly advice, which he wanted to share with his own son and namesake.  So many different personalities – the original poet, Mary the teacher, the three Rogers – intersect in just this one snippet of a page.  When the words on the page make their own connections across the generations, old papers turn from “archival material” into a real, physical story.

*I recognize his handwriting, as he was one of the Society’s curatorial volunteers in the 1950s; his shaky writing and firm pencil are often found on our early paperwork.  Roger has helped us out with Father’s Day posts before; see his adorable tiny hand-ax


Last week we featured an artifact from The Briers, an estate in Olney. The Briers – originally called Silent Retreat – was built in 1854, and was situated off Route 108 (see map at bottom of post). The owner, Josiah Waters Jones, Sr. (1810-1896), was a prosperous farmer; the 1860 census shows that his real estate at that time was worth $10,000 and his personal property worth $20,000. He did not marry until 1864, so the 1860 census shows him alone in his household.

Except that he wasn’t alone. The 1860 Slave Schedule, enumerated separately, shows that Jones claimed ownership of thirteen people, and that his estate included two “slave houses.” This brings us to today’s artifact: a small wooden bench, believed to have been “used by slaves at the Briers as substitute for chairs at the kitchen or cabin table.” (Quoted from our original 1960s catalog card.)  It was donated in 1962 by Mrs. JW (Margaret) Jones, Jr., and can be seen in the Beall-Dawson House in our upstairs slave quarters room.

The seat top measures 8″ x 40″, and the bench is 14″ tall. One leg is a turned and finished piece, and the other three are unfinished, still covered in bark; presumably one kind was a replacement for the other, though it’s not clear which is which. The construction is simple, but it is sturdy and made with some care.  The center of the top is worn smooth, though there are some cut-marks that look like it was used as a cutting board or work surface; it has suffered water damage, chips and scratches, and other signs that this is a utilitarian piece of furniture over 150 years old.

The 1860 Slave Schedule does not, with few exceptions, provide names; instead, only the person’s age, sex and “color” are noted. Mr. Jones’ list includes black females aged 70, 34, 16, and 3, and black males aged 68, 45, 40, 33, 24, 16, 14 and 1. The 13th individual is listed as a 60 year old mulatto male, marked as a “fugitive from the state.”

Fortunately there are other sources to help us give identities to at least a few of these unnamed individuals, some or all of whom may have used this bench. (Indeed, one of them probably made it). Though a name is only part of a person’s story and identity, it can be an important part – and it was a part often denied to enslaved people, at least in the records left by whites.  Using names whenever possible can help to make history human and knowable on a very basic level.  (For a fantastic example of work being done in this area, visit the Virginia Historical Society’s “Unknown No Longer” project.)

In 1867, Maryland commenced a “Slave Census” which listed, by owner (now ex-), those individuals enslaved in 1864 at the time of Maryland’s emancipation. From this, we see that in 1864 The Briers was home to: David Dorsey, 60; Edward Williams, 49; George Thomas, 35; Peter J. Williams, 32; Thomas Williams, 30; Tilghman Debtor, 19; Samuel Debtor, 17; Mary [no surname given], 17; Martha Debtor, 12; Elias Debtor, 8; and Anne Debtor, 2. Tilghman and Samuel Debtor are noted as having enlisted in the Union Army, for which Mr. Jones received $100 compensation each. David Dorsey is, perhaps, the “capable slave Uncle Dave, blacksmith and wheelwright” described by historian Roger Brooke Farquhar in the early 1960s. (For anyone playing along at home with their own copy of Farquhar’s book, Old Homes and History, please note that The Briers is filed under T for “The.”) In the 1870 census, Martha and Elias Detter (Debtor) are “domestic servants” in the Jones household, while David Dorsey and Edward Williams, “farm laborers,” live in their own households in the Olney area.  I have not been able to trace the other people in the County records.

As for the building(s) in which this bench was used, no photos of cabins or “slave houses” at The Briers exist that I’m aware of. Farquhar states that “Josiah Waters Jones, Sr., built in 1853 before the brick house was built, a stone slave quarters.”  The Briers gave way to suburbia in 1962; the house and all the remaining outbuildings were torn down.  It was not entirely forgotten, however.  Streets in the new neighborhood of Olney Mill were named after Montgomery County estates, including “Briars Road” (they spelled it wrong, but oh well), and according to a photo feature in the Washington Star (Jan 10, 1966), the “historic-looking” but entirely fake mill at the entrance to Olney Mill “has been built of stone salvaged from slave quarters, stables and a blacksmith shop found on the Briers.”

Since evidence suggests that at least one cabin was built of stone, The Briers’ quarters may have looked something like this one, at Mt. Carmel in Dickerson.  1936 photo from the HABS collection, Library of Congress.

Interested in the unique challenges of 19th century African-American genealogy? Our own Sween Research Library has many resources, in the form of both printed works and knowledgeable staff and volunteers.  Help can also be found through our Genealogy Club. Other online resources include www.ancestry.com (a membership-based site), www.mdslavery.net, and www.familysearch.org

Above: a detail from G.M. Hopkins’ 1879 Atlas of Montgomery County (with my notes), showing the intersection of the Washington & Brookeville Turnpike (Route 97) and the Laytonsville-Sandy Spring Road (Route 108). For further locational assistance, the “Chas. H. Brooke residence” at the top is Falling Green, currently the home of the Olney Boys & Girls Club.

Here we have one of those once-commonplace, now-mysterious household tools: a fluting iron. This little (9” tall) machine was used to make and launder clothing, specifically fluted trimmings, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A wide variety of fluting irons, or fluters, was manufactured.  Some were ‘rocker’ style; others, like this one, operated with a crank.  All were improvements over the earlier method of pressing pleats into fabric, which involved wrapping each individual crease by hand around a goffering iron.  Ladies’ and children’s clothing of the late 19th century featured a lot of pleated (also known as fluted or plaited) trim, probably the impetus for the invention of an easier way to create and care for your ruffles and ruches.

Our model here was invented by a Mrs. Susan R. Knox, patented by her on November 20, 1866, and manufactured by H. Sauerbier & Son, Newark, NJ.  In case you forget those facts, they’re written on the base.  The machine is iron, with brass rollers and a wooden handle.  Here is a description of the device, taken from her patent (“Improvement in Fluting Machines,” No. 59,913):

“This invention relates to a machine having a pair of corrugated rollers, between which the fabric or material to be fluted is drawn by the rotation of said rollers, the fluting effect, as well as the simultaneous rotation of the rollers in opposite directions, being caused by the intermeshing of the corrugations of one roller with the corresponding grooves of the other.  These rollers are made hollow in order to heat them by the introduction of heating-irons or otherwise, and thus render the fabric more susceptible to the fluting action of the rollers.”

The machine was donated to the Historical Society in 1962 by Mrs. Josiah Waters (Margaret Elgar Sherman) Jones.  Though no specific stories were shared about this artifact, many of the pieces donated by Mrs. Jones were from her husband’s family’s home, The Briers, in Olney, and this fluting iron was likely used there.

Bonus!  Here’s another fluting machine from our collections.  This one is, sadly, missing its bottom roller, but it has a decorative paint job and a few extra ‘conveniences’ (a table clamp that swivels up and out of the way; a lever to keep the top roller from flipping up by mistake) so I thought I’d throw it in.  This one is a Crown, patented in 1875 and manufactured by the American Machine Company of Philadelphia; a similar model can be found in the 1902 Sears, Roebuck catalog, for $3.25 (including “four heaters and a pair of tongs”).  It was donated to us in 1962 (a good – indeed, the only – year for fluters here at MCHS) by Mrs. Henry H. Griffith.  Again, nothing specific was shared about this item, but much of Mrs. Griffith’s donation came from her husband’s family’s home, Crows Content in Laytonsville.

Above: “side plaiting” trim at the hem of Isabella Snowden Stabler’s wedding gown, worn in Sandy Spring in 1884.  For more examples, try an internet image search for 1870s or 1880s fashion plates.  This site has photos of many other fluting machines, both crank-operated and rockers.

The inspiration for today’s post: Our copier decided to try a little fluting-machine action of its own, crimping all our papers. (It’s fixed now, don’t worry.)