The weather’s pretty steamy here in the DC area, so here’s something useful from our collections: A pair of hammock anchors.

y1300abEach little anchor measures 2.75″ long, is made of a light but sturdy metal, and is marked (faintly) “Pat. May 3 ‘81.”


These clues -and the fact that my predecessor helpfully cataloged them as “hammock anchors” –  led me to US patent #240,866, issued May 3, 1881 to Vincent P. Travers, for a “Clasp for Adjusting Hammocks, &c.”  The drawing shows a plain style of clasp; our more nautical examples are probably a later version, borrowing the anchor form (reflecting both the function and the whole ‘sailors sleep in hammocks’ notion) to make them more attractive to buyers.  (It would have worked on me; these items had not been photographed before this morning, and I was highly entertained to discover that they are literally anchors.)

patent 240866How do they work?  The patent description explains, “The attachment is a metal clasp, which has an eye or hole at one end and a hook or pair of hooks at the other end, and is intended to operate as a friction-clasp and slide on the rope that is passed through the eye and caught in the hook thereof. . . . The invention is particularly advantageous for use on hammocks, as shown in Fig. 1 [left], where the letter C represents a hammock, and B are the ropes by which it is suspended from suitable trees or other supports.”

Continued searching showed that Vincent P. Travers received many hammock-related patents, including some assigned to him by other inventors, and his patents are occasionally cited in 20th century hammock designs. He also successfully sued at least two patent infringers in the 1890s.  Mr. Travers meant business, it would seem.  At last I found this reference to the Travers Brothers twine manufacturing company in New York’s Great Industries (1885), which notes that the brothers (including our V.P.) are “the only manufacturers of [Braided Edge Mexican Hammocks] in the United States.” Click the link above to see an illustration of how one should enjoy one’s Braided Edge Mexican Hammock  – remember, ladies, you’ll need one book, two swains, and a game of lawn tennis (to distract your rivals).

Though hammocks have been around for centuries, they enjoyed a resurgence in the late 19th century and were a fashionable – and functional, in the pre-air-conditioning era – home accessory.  The 1881 Lord & Taylor (New York) catalog offered cotton and “manilla” hammocks, in sizes “full” and “children’s,” ranging from 75 cents to $3.50.  The 1886 Bloomingdale’s catalog included “cotton hammocks, ten feet long” for 98 cents, “better quality” hammocks for $1.49, and “Mexican [hammocks], white or colored,” for $1.25, as well as pillows and spreader bars for 25 cents each.  Hammocks were featured in literature (e.g., Little Women) and art (the blog “19th Century American Women” pulled together several Victorian hammock paintings), and looking through our own late 19th century photo collections, a variety of hammock styles can be seen in the yards and porches of Montgomery County suburban homes.  (And don’t forget our Rockville ladies, who were startled out of their hammock by the 1884 earthquake.)

The Almoney house, Rockville, circa 1900. Donated by Albert Brunett.

The Almoney house, Rockville, circa 1900. Donated by Albert Brunett.

The England house, near Shady Grove, 1890s. Donated by Warren Conklin.

The England house, near Shady Grove, 1890s. Donated by Warren Conklin.

Dr. Crampton's house, Somerset, circa 1895. Somerset Community Collection.

Dr. Crampton’s house, Somerset, circa 1895. Somerset Community Collection.

As for the particular hammock once anchored by the anchors, it was most likely owned and used by the Poole family.  Katherine Poole donated the anchors, along with a number of other kitchen and household tools, in 1973.  Miss Poole’s mother owned a summer home in Rockville (featured a few weeks ago), and perhaps Mrs. Poole and her daughters installed a hammock there.  Unfortunately, we have no Poole family photos that back up my theory; I’ll have to leave you with the Bennett ladies posing on their own hammock, instead.

Mary Shaw Bennett and one of her sisters-in-law, probably at the Bennett home in Spencerville, circa 1895.  By Hallowell Spencer, donated by Laurence Halstead.

Mary Shaw Bennett and one of her sisters-in-law, probably at the Bennett home in Spencerville, circa 1895. By Hallowell Spencer, donated by Laurence Halstead.


WCTU bannerThis hand-painted silk banner was created by the Spencerville Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, probably in the early 20th century. It is one of two banners donated in 1978 by the Spencerville WCTU; this one reads “MONTGOMERY COUNTY, WE SHALL WIN.”  An elaborate WCTU logo is in the center, with three sprays of leaves around the edges. Beaded fringe adorns the bottom edge, and it is hung from a metal rod with a silk, tasseled cord for display.

The National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union – it is officially “Woman’s,” not “Women’s” – was founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1874. Although temperance (abstinence from alcohol and drugs) was the WCTU’s main concern, it also agitated for women’s suffrage, labor reform, and many other issues related to the rights of women and children.  (And still does; the WCTU is an active organization.)  Local “unions”  were formed all over the country. Spencerville is a small community along Spencerville Road (naturally enough), between Sandy Spring and Burtonsville; their branch of the WCTU was most likely formed in the late 1870s. According to a brief history of the group written in the 1970s, “a Hall was built in Spencerville by and for the WCTU before anyone living can remember. It was torn down approximately forty years ago [probably during the 1930s] and the meetings carried on in the churches.” The first two Presidents, Mrs. Mary Jane Duvall and Miss Lillie B. Stabler, each served in the position for several decades, although later in the 20th century the position changed to an elected one, with short terms. Membership “reached the peak of 121” during the 1950s, and the group was still active in serving the needy in the 1970s, but this particular branch of the WCTU seems to be gone.

I’m not sure of the banner’s specific purpose; it was probably created for a parade or protest, possibly a local one (although our county’s proximity to D.C. means it’s relatively easy for local groups to carry their message to national events) since it seems to be addressed to residents of the county. It could also have been intended as inspirational decoration for the Spencerville WCTU Hall. I hope someday to track down the minutes of the group, or find reference to their participation in various events in the local newspaper.  I wish the banner said “WE SHALL WIN . . . IN 1907” or some other convenient hint, but that would make my job too easy.

p.s. For more information on the community of Spencerville, the Sandy Spring Museum’s website has a great summary and a little map.