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

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

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

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

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


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!

Postcards are an (almost) endless source of information, from the image on the front to the text on the back. Often the publisher is the least interesting part – to a local historian, at least – but occasionally the publisher, printer or photographer is a local individual or business, and one’s Montgomery County history radar is engaged.

Above: Front and back of “Brookville Road, Chevy Chase, Md., Publ. by Mrs. M.E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked April 21, 1912, and addressed to Miss K. Beham, Roxbury, Ct.: “Hector said you wanted to hear from me.  Hope all are well.  Jessie.  222 Ontario Wash. DC.”

While going through our postcard collection here at MCHS, I noticed many cards – particularly from the down-county area – published by Mrs. Minnie E. Brooke of Chevy Chase. Intrigued, I did a little research in our library . . . couldn’t find much, other than the census records . . . finally pinned her down as Mrs. Minnehaha [awesome!] “Minnie” Etheridge Brooke, wife of Wentworth Brooke and at one point owner of the Brooke Farm* restaurant in Chevy Chase. I then went to the internet for additional info . . .

. . . And discovered that Minnie and her postcard business are well-known, and are featured on not one but two local websites: The Chevy Chase Historical Society has a great online exhibit on Minnie and her many social projects and business ventures, and this site takes more of a postcard-collector view.  (Be sure to click at least one of those to check out Minnie’s portrait.)  So much for my groundbreaking research. No matter! Minnie Brooke’s story is pretty great, and it fits in with the theme of Women’s History Month, so I will blog onward.

Mrs. Brooke was born in North Carolina, and married Wentworth Brooke in 1896. The census gives only a glimpse (if that) of Minnie’s work as a suffragist, club manager, restaurateur, hotelier and postcard publisher; in fact, her occupation is noted as “none” in the 1900 and 1910 censuses, and the 1930 census lists both husband and wife as “salesmen.” (Neither Minnie nor Wentworth appears in the 1920 census, confusingly enough.) No hint here that this entrepreneurial woman managed the Cosmos Club in DC; ran several successful restaurants and tea rooms in the DC area, including the Brooke Farm Inn (sometimes called Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room) on Brookville Road; belonged to the National Woman’s Party, helped organize the 1913 suffrage parade in DC, and often stood on the side of Pennsylvania Avenue espousing the suffrage cause; started a mini-publishing industry with her penny postcards; and eventually operated a souvenir shop in DC. (She died in 1938.) Thus are the limitations of my beloved census revealed.  But of course, any record that lists the majority of female residents as having “no occupation” (which is often demonstrably false, even discounting the work performed in the household) should be viewed with some skepticism.

The Chevy Chase Historical Society’s online exhibit has even more information on Minnie, and on the postcard craze she hoped to cash in on; they also have many of her Chevy Chase cards visible, as does the other site linked above. Her cards focus on the down-county area (Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Great Falls) and the District of Columbia. Currently it’s unknown if she took the photos herself, or purchased images from other photographers. The cards included here from our collections show Brookville Road in Chevy Chase (donated by Joseph Valachovic), and Rock Creek Park in DC (donated by the Dwyer family).

Above: Front and back of “View of Rock Creek Park, Washington D.C., Publ. by Minnie E. Brooke, Chevy Chase, Md.”  Postmarked October 26, 1907, and addressed to Mrs. D.J. Dwyer, Unity, Montg. Co., Maryland: “Dear Aunt Susie.  Aunt Ida was down three days last week.  Isn’t this beautiful weather.  Hope you are well. Love to Uncle Dave and a share for yourself.  Jennie.”

*The Brooke Farm restaurant, also known as Mrs. Brooke’s Tea Room and Brook Farm, was owned by Minnie Brooke from the 1890s into the 1920s; it was operated under the same name(s) by other owners later in the century, and the cottage-like building is now home to La Ferme Restaurant.

We have a lot of postcards in our collections.  Those that features local scenes are accessible in our research library, as part of our photograph resources.  I love postcards, and while I appreciate the photos on the front, it’s the messages on the back that are the best part: little snippets of life; some clear, some cryptic, almost always entertaining.  (And yes,  I will be one of the people enjoying archived Twitter accounts at the Library of Congress in 50 years.)

Here’s a great card. First, the more obviously ‘useful’ aspect:  This photographic card shows High View House Hotel, Burdette, Md.  Montgomery County was home to many summer resorts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enticing D.C. residents out of the sultry city and into the fresh air of the countryside; many of these hotels were down-county, but the Metropolitan Line railroad meant that up-county communities could get in on the game as well.  In 1887, Somerset T. Williams built a 22 room hotel in Burdette, outside Boyds (a stop on the Line).  He named it High View thanks to its, well, high view over Ten Mile Creek.  It was also known as the Burdette Hotel.  (The building is still standing, I believe; it is a private residence.)  This photo shows a small crowd of people (and possibly one or more dogs) sitting on the porch; doesn’t it look nice and shady?  I’d stay there.

Now for the fun part.  The card is addressed to Miss Wottie King, Germantown, and postmarked Boyds, September 9, 1909.  The message reads: “Dear Wottie – come down with Norman when he brings my skirt, for I want to see you.  Mabel.”

Fantastic!  Who are Mabel and Wottie?  Is Mabel staying at the hotel, or does she live near it?  Did she meet Wottie at the hotel, or do they know each other some other way? Who is Norman, and why does he have Mabel’s skirt?  We may never know (at least not about the skirt), but it’s fun to try and find out.  I get a teenager vibe from this, perhaps wrongly.  I’ve started poking around the census looking for Wottie and Mabel, with no definitive results as yet though I may have found a pair of 14 year olds who fit the bill.  Anyone have an idea what name “Wottie” might be short for?