Today we have two bottle cappers for your enjoyment. They are of similar vintage, but were used in the county at different times.


Bottle cappers are tidy little machines that use leverage to force a metal bottle cap onto the mouth of a glass bottle, thus sealing in the liquid contents. Similar items are made today for use in home beer brewing, and indeed the vintage versions are often associated with the Prohibition era, at least in the popular imagination. A patent search for “bottle capper” shows that these types of tools started popping up in the late 1910s – perhaps in anticipation of the Volstead Act? And while I did not find anything along these lines in 1890s-1900s household catalogs, a bottle capper was available from Montgomery Ward in 1922, and the 1927 Sears catalog (image below) offered several “bottling goods,” including two capper options.  Though hardly definitive, these few sources would seem to indicate that bottle cappers did become more, ah, useful to the average consumer once commercial liquor was unavailable. Keep reading for more on the liquor angle, at the end of this post.

1927 Sears bottling goods


Standard D Since 1923

(Special appearance by non-accessioned mid 20th century soda bottles)

From our collections, first up is this sturdy bottle capper, 17” tall, made of iron, and marked “Standard D Since 1923.” (An internet search has found a few other examples with the same mark, but so far no additional maker info or history.) It was donated in 1962 by Alice, widow of Henry H. Griffith (1862-1951), along with an assortment of farm and household tools; other than noting “used at Crow’s Content,” the Griffith family home in Laytonsville, Mrs. Griffith provided no specifics.



Next we have a lighter, steel bottle capper, 16.5” tall; it’s likely also from the 1920s or 1930s, though it has no manufacturer’s name or other helpful marks. Donated recently by Jane Sween, this capper originally came from her husband’s family in Frostburg, but was later used in 1970s Bethesda for a Girl Scout project: bottling home-made root beer. Along with the capper, Mrs. Sween also donated the box of metal and cork bottle caps – purchased from Community Paint and Hardware in Bethesda – from the same project.

no makers mark

box of bottle caps

One gross of cork-lined metal Kerr Bottle Caps – “The perfect seal for all home bottling uses.”


These two examples are of similar height and size, are based on the same general design (both can be screwed to a table or work surface, for example), and perform the same function, but they operate a little differently. The “Standard D” Laytonsville capper is all-in-one; the bar handle can be turned one way to raise the mechanism, and the other way to lower the capper onto the bottlecap and force it closed.  Our Frostburg/Bethesda capper has a removable ratchet-style handle, which can be slid onto the base at the appropriate height, then levered downward a few inches onto the bottle.  This 1929 patent for a similar mechanism explains some details.


As usual I turned to the internet to find video of the artifact in action, and ladies and gentlemen, I have found a winner: newsreel footage of a bottle-capping race, circa 1920. These “home brewers” are using machines similar to our “Standard D;” the winner capped twelve bottles in nine seconds. You must watch.

As for the original usage of both these machines, let us assume that the Griffiths and our friends in Frostburg were bottling only non-alcoholic beverages – at least until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Others, of course, were not so law-abiding. Montgomery County Police records from the 1920s – early 1930s include a number of raids on home stills and arrests for “possession of intoxicating beverages with intent to sell.” For example, here is an entry from the Takoma Park Police station log, dated August 4, 1932:

1932 police log

MCHS Library collections

Aug 4, 32. Report of raiding the home of [redacted], Hollywood Park near Colesville. There we found about 150 bottles of beer and 100 empty bottles, and about five quarts of whiskey. A six gal. crock of beer was in the making which was destroyed, and some coloring. Time 11 PM. [Officers] Snyder & Barnes & Hobbs.

Though this police report does not list all the equipment discovered in the midst of this illegal operation, our anonymous whiskey entrepreneur would have needed a way to seal all those bottles. . . it seems probable that a bottle capper was involved.


S0022 topThis small, innocuous-looking brass box has a special surprise inside: twelve spring-loaded blades, released by the lever on the top. Street-fighting weapon? No, it’s a medical device used in bloodletting, called a scarificator. WARNING: if the word “bloodletting” has caused you to wince, recoil, or cross your arms defensively, you might want to stop reading now.

S0022 side

The small, curved blades pop out of the slots. Surprise!

Before the discovery and acceptance of germ theory and other modern medical theories, illnesses were frequently blamed on an imbalance of the body’s “humors.” Bleeding (venesection), an ancient and very common practice, was believed to be a way to help restore that balance. Modern-day reflections on the technique of bloodletting might make it seem haphazard at best and fatal at worst, but in fact physicians put care and thought into how much blood to let, and there were a variety of tools used, more than just the trusty leech and handy lancet. (This short video created by the Rose Melnick Medical Museum details the 19th century methodology of bloodletting, including some of the other tools.) The scarificator, invented in the late 17th century, allowed the doctor to create a series of shallow cuts – the depth could be changed by altering the spring mechanism inside the device – and thus control the amount of blood released. Ours is not operable, but this site details the spring mechanism inside, and this video from the Canada Science and Technology Museum demonstrates the mechanism.

 The scarificator was a common tool for 18th and 19th century physicians, until venesection began to lose favor in the late 19th century.  (Here’s an article about venesection during the American Civil War.) Many examples, some quite attractively designed and engraved, can be found in museums and antique shops in the U.S. and Europe. Our particular piece is fairly plain, with only a simple “V” on one side – perhaps indicating the maker? – and in the standard cube-like form, executed in brass and measuring 1.75″ tall. Based on the style and material, it likely dates from the mid 19th century.

Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, 1873. Courtesy Elizabeth Barrett Prettyman Guay.

Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, 1873. Courtesy Elizabeth Barrett Prettyman Guay.

In this instance, it’s the scarificator’s provenance that is of interest rather than its design: it is one of only a few items in our collection used by Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (1830-1903), a Rockville physician whose one-room office is now our Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine. Dr. Stonestreet graduated from the University of Maryland medical school in 1852, after several years apprenticeship with Dr. William B. Magruder of Brookeville, and he practiced in the Rockville area until his death (while on his way to a housecall) in 1903; he never retired. Though his office survived the test of time, most of Dr. Stonestreet’s medical tools did not.  A few pieces, including this one, were inherited by his grandson Dr. William A. Linthicum (another Rockville physician), who donated them to us after his grandfather’s namesake museum was created in the 1970s. The scarificator is often on exhibit in the Stonestreet Museum.

If you’d like to learn more, visit Dr. Stonestreet’s “office hours,” held on the second Sunday of each month at the museum. This month, February 9, 2014, interpretive docent Clarence Hickey will present a special program on Civil War medicine. 12-4 p.m., included with museum admission.

Fun fact: According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, 17% of U.S. adults “report some degree of hearing loss.”  And the other 83%  have likely experienced some hearing difficulties upon occasion, perhaps at a crowded restaurant or noisy event.  Today’s artifact is dedicated to those sufferers (i.e., all of us): a conversation tube, circa 1900.


Assisted listening devices have been around for a long time; for example, the first description of an ear trumpet dates from the early 17th century.  The ear trumpet – essentially a short funnel or trumpet held to the ear – is designed to collect and amplify sound waves, in a general sense; a conversation tube works on the same principle, but facilitates one-on-one interaction.

Three varieties of hearing aids, from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.

Three varieties of hearing aids, from the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.


The conversation tube creates a direct line from the hearer, who inserts the earpiece into his or her ear, and the speaker, who talks into the horn on the other end.  A long length of tube allows for a polite and comfortable distance between individuals: much more pleasant than having to shout directly into an ear trumpet from only a few inches away.  (Another fun fact: Conversation tubes are similar in design and function to monaural stethoscopes, but stethoscopes are usually shorter, as doctors don’t typically need to stand three feet away from their patients.  For more information on the differences between the forms, check out this helpful article.)


The trumpet at one end…


…and the earpiece at the other.

Our example consists of three feet of coiled-metal tube, covered with black wool, and a hard-rubber (complete with mold lines) earpiece and trumpet.  Though rather subdued in appearance, some thought was put into the design, with a decorative scroll-like shape to the trumpet and earpiece.  (For fancier versions, including some made of expensive materials, check out this online collection.)  After all, this wasn’t a tool to be hidden away and used in private; its very nature required the presence of at least one other person, who might judge you on your plebeian and unattractive listening device.


This piece has no maker’s marks, and came from a collection of antique and vintage medical tools accumulated by Dr. Gilcin Meadors of Damascus and Frederick; thus, it has no known provenance or specific history.  Though it resembles some earlier examples, such as this 1860 version with wood trumpet and gutta-percha earpiece, ours is likely closer to 1900 in age.  Like last week’s fur coat, it matches descriptions found in vintage Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs, such as this one from 1902:

These tubes are adapted to more obstinate cases of deafness, are very finely constructed throughout, lined with a peculiar spiral wire, which, although admitting of a great flexibility, keeps the tube fully distended in any position. . . . No. 20R412 Conversation Tube, highest grade, flexible mohair, tapered tube, 3 feet in length, hard rubber mountings. . . . Price: $1.65.”  (The BLS inflation calculator does not go beyond 1913, but this calculator says $1.65 in 1902 would be $43.09 in 2012.)

1902 Sears conversation tubes

From the 1902 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog.


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

If you’ve visited the Beall-Dawson House, you may have noticed that our special exhibits are given a relatively small space in which to exist.  You may also have noticed – though we try to disguise this fact – that our exhibit cases, panels, and other physical structures are limited, and somewhat restricting.  For our new exhibit (opening today!), we have far more gadgets, gizmos and clothing examples related to laundry than even I, queen of cram-as-much-in-there-as-possible, could fit. That’s where the blog comes in!  The first Wednesday of each month while the exhibit is up, I’ll highlight something laundry-related that could use a little extra storytelling, or that didn’t make it into the display at all.

DSC04115First up is this wooden washing machine, “The Complete Washer,” from the 1870s through the late 19th century. It measures ten inches high and two feet wide (at the bottom edge), and consists of one large upper and two small lower rollers, operated with a metal hand crank.  There are metal coils in the sides, to allow the top roller some play when clothes are passed through, and grooves cut into the bottom edge to help it fit securely into the washtub.  Each end is stenciled, “”The Complete Washer. Price $6.00.  Made by F.F. Adams, Erie, Pa.  Patented May 28, 1872.” (The paint has rubbed off somewhat, but here’s a clearer example in the Memorial Hall Museum collection.) That would be U.S. patent #127,204, granted on that date to George S. Walker and Frank F. Adams, inventors of an “improvement in washing-machines.” (Click the patent link to see a nice little cross-section of the machine in a washtub.)


Though to modern eyes it looks more like (and is often cataloged as) a clothes wringer, details from contemporary descriptions show that it was indeed a washing machine, in the sense that the roller action was designed to clean fabric.  Rather than rubbing soapy fabric over a washboard by hand, you could run it through the ridged rollers a few (or many) times.  The patent description notes that the new system of grooved rollers “adds to the cleansing power of the machine,” and an 1890 advertisement claims, “It will fit any kind of tub and will do all kinds of washing with a savings of more than half the time and labor over the old rubbing process.”


The Complete Washer was donated in the 1960s by Roger Brooke Farquhar, Jr., and although he did not supply us with a specific history, based on his donation track record we can presume that this handy machine was used at Rock Spring, his parents’ farm in Norbeck.  In our collections we also have his mother’s diaries, so we know that whenever possible, Carrie Farquhar – like so many other 19th century women who could afford it – hired someone else to do the laundry.  In the late 1880s, for example, Carrie names several African American women in the Norbeck area who either came to Rock Spring every Monday or received delivery of the Farquhar washing at their own home, including Lizzie King, Eliza Brown, Ida Williams, and Alice Snowden.  Carrie also mentions some weeks when circumstances required that she woman up and take on the dreaded washday herself.

Research on the Complete Washer brought up the question: If this was indeed owned by the Farquhar family, how did they acquire the machine?  An article on F.F. Adams & Co., manufacturers of wooden ware*, in “The Metal Worker: A Weekly Journal of the Stove, Tin, Plumbing, and House Furnishing Trades,” Vol. IV, No. 13 (1875) says that “these goods have been sold entirely through canvassing agents, in the same manner as sewing machines.”  A May 1890 advertisement in the woman’s magazine “Farm & Vineyard” (page 3) offered the “thoroughly tested” Complete Washer as a premium to any woman who recruited two new subscribers.   Did Carrie see a similar ad, and send in her friends’ names?  Did she buy it from a door to door salesman, or someone who set up shop in nearby Rockville or Sandy Spring?  Did she or her husband Roger make an impulse purchase from a storefront in Washington or Baltimore?

Laundry exhibit status: The Complete Washer did not make into the exhibit, though we have a more traditional clothes wringer on display, and several excerpts from Carrie Farquhar’s diary are also on view.

* FYI, the other specialities of F.F. Adams & Co. were “wringers, extension ladders, step ladders, clothes horses, towel rollers and kindred articles, to which they have lately added hardwood wainscoting.”  All but the washing machines were “sold through the trade.”

Today we have a pair of andirons, made of either cast or wrought iron (more on that in a bit), of known provenance but uncertain date.


These fellows are utilitarian, but not plain. Their public side, so to speak, consists of a Doric column topped by a grim little face; the feet are curved brackets, ornamented with a bit of scrollwork.


Though they look rather primitive, much of that likely stems from the fact that they have seen decades of hard use, and are worn, pitted, and a bit rusty.  They are relatively modest in size, measuring only a foot tall.  If they seem a little laid-back in these photos, that’s because they are; the shank (log support bar) on each is broken short.

The andirons came to us from sisters Martha and Katherine Poole, who first placed them on loan with the Society in 1950.  The Misses Poole attributed them to their great-grandfather on their mother’s side, Elisha Riggs (1810-1883) of Triadelphia.  (Being one of several gentlemen by that name, Mr. Riggs often went by “Elisha Riggs of T,” i.e., “son of Thomas.”)  Elisha and his wife Avolina Warfield Riggs lived at “Rockland” – not to be confused with Benjamin Hallowell’s Olney home of the same name, nor the Allnutt farm “Rocklands” outside Poolesville – near what is now Triadelphia Reservoir but was originally a small mill town. Here’s the house in the mid 1930s, in a snapshot donated, and probably taken, by the Poole sisters:

(If you’d like to place the house in your mental geography, the Riggs residence can be seen here, just below the town of Triadelphia, in G.M. Hopkins’ 1879 Atlas of Montgomery County; click the image to enlarge.  Note that in an earlier post, about the Riggs’ daughter Eva, I took a shortcut and said they were from Laytonsville; sorry about that.)

1879 Hopkins atlas Triadelphia

An early MCHS cataloger, perhaps mindful of Mr. Riggs’ timeline, gave the andirons a “circa 1850″ date.  After looking online for examples of other fanciful (if sturdy) iron andirons, some of which are dated to the mid-late 18th century, I wonder if our pair shouldn’t be pushed back a generation to Elisha’s father Thomas Riggs of Brookeville?  On the other hand, the Poole sisters were dedicated amateur historians; I suspect that if they thought the andirons could be assigned to an earlier relative, they would have done so.

The material is another clue that could confirm a circa 1850 date.  Many 18th century examples are of wrought iron, which is sturdier than cast iron.  I think, though I’m certainly not an expert in metal-working, that these andirons are cast iron, made in a mold.  Cast iron was a popular material in 19th century America; it is relatively brittle, which could account for this pair’s exceedingly shortened back ends.  Their lack of height also hints at a mid 19th century date, as fireplaces generally became smaller over time.

For many years we displayed these andirons in the large cooking hearth in the Beall-Dawson House, where they looked a little overwhelmed, if stoic.  Right now we have them in the much more appropriately-sized fireplace in the slaves’ quarters upstairs.  To give you a sense of what the back ends of this pair would have looked like, here’s a bonus picture: a very similar pair (minus the facial expressions), now in our cooking hearth, donated by Mrs. Vaudia Edmonston.


Here’s another peculiar curling iron, designed to achieve a specific style: A Marcel waver from the late 1920s.

In 1987, Alice Harmon donated a set of hairstyling objects used by her mother: an electric curling iron (patented 1927), a large box of metal hair or “bobby” pins, a small paper packet of same, and this Marcel waver, complete with box and instructions. (She also donated a photograph, to illustrate the end result of all these tools, but more on that in a moment.) Mrs. Harmon’s mother, Edith D. Stultz Anderson Smith, was born around 1898, and moved to Bethesda from Frederick County in 1927. She first married a Mr. Anderson, and had two daughters; her second husband (married 1924), L. Emory Smith, was an assistant lineman for the Capitol Traction streetcar company. We don’t know very much else about her – except that she was, at least for a time, interested in fashionable hairstyles.

The Marcel wave, theoretically named for its French inventor, showed up occasionally in the late 19th century but really hit its stride in the 1920s and 1930s, along with short, bobbed hairstyles for women. If you’ve ever glanced through a fashion magazine from the 1925-1935 era – or watched a Busby Berkeley musical – you’ve seen a Marcel wave. It resembles a finger wave, but purists (okay, the Wikipedia page authors) claim that a true Marcel wave is achieved only with a curling iron, not your fingers. Though you could use a plain, straight single-barreled iron, a curved double-barrel like this one was more effective, especially if you wanted multiple waves.

Our waver was sold by Sears, Roebuck & Co. and is probably an electric “Challenge Waver,” now missing its electrical cord (they were detachable). The instructions, shown above, explain how to use different irons and wavers to create variations on the Marcel wave. I should have just gone ahead and dated this post to 1927, since that is the year Mrs. Smith moved to Bethesda, the year her other curling iron was patented, and, conveniently, the year of my Sears catalog which features all these irons and wavers and more. Oh, so many hairstyling tools! Here’s a close-up of the Challenge Waver (only 98 cents); I’ve included the full catalog pages of its friends at the bottom of the post.

As for the photograph of Mrs. Smith: At some point the photo went missing, but I discovered this unidentified image in a box of miscellaneous “style reference” photos collected by previous textile volunteers. This fashionable young woman is certainly rocking the Marcel look, and I want to think it is Edith herself; unfortunately, Mrs. Harmon (the donor and Edith’s daughter) has since died, so I haven’t been able to confirm or deny. Do any of my readers remember Edith D. Smith of Arlington Road, Bethesda?

October is American Archives Month, declared by the Society of American Archivists as “an opportunity to raise awareness about the value of archives and archivists.” Before you rush out to celebrate by visiting, and perhaps donating time and money to, the archival repository of your choice, take a moment to read today’s blog highlighting one of the many fabulous items in the Historical Society’s archives.

The Sween Research Library’s archival collections include an incredible variety of resources: diaries, letters, audio recordings, research notes, directories, minute books, theater programs, yearbooks, land deeds, diplomas, insurance records, newspapers both big and small . . . . The list goes on. I originally planned to put several brief examples on today’s blog, but everything I chose seemed so blog-worthy that I decided to stick with one, and save the rest for future posts. So without further ado, here is Hiram Grady’s account ledger for the years 1903-1906.

Mr. Grady (1841-1911) was a coachmaker and wheelwright. He worked in the eastern part of the county until the mid 1880s, when he settled in Rockville. The 1900 census shows Hiram Grady, Wheelwright, living in the town of Rockville with his second wife Harriet (1853-1903), daughter Olive, and granddaughter Mary Gandy.

The account ledger includes an index of names in the front; each customer has his or her own page, listing goods and services by date, as well as notations on payment. (Some account books in our collection are organized alphabetically; this one is not.) Around 200 people and organizations are included, most from the Rockville area; the customer list includes men and women, doctors and dentists, reverends and merchants, farm owners and farm workers, even the Montgomery County Commissioners (precursor to the County Council) and the Rockville Cemetery Association. Just like today, almost everyone had a vehicle that occasionally needed expert attention.

The ledger shows that Mr. Grady’s work encompassed more than making and repairing vehicles. His invoice letterhead (conveniently tucked inside the book) notes that painting and trimming will be “promptly attended to” along with repairs. On July 17th, 1905, the Rockville Mayor and Town Council paid $2.50 for a “frame for grind stone” (well, technically they received said merchandise on the 17th; they paid, in cash, on the 21st); other services include sharpening and repairing blades, such as saws, grain cradles, and even lawn mowers. Grady’s credit system seems lenient; several pages note an “amount carried over” from the previous year, and often months go by before a client settles up his or her bill.

Here are two contrasting customer pages – below, our own John Dawson (who lived in the Beall-Dawson House, our museum), noted in the 1900 census as a farmer; and above, Ed Brown, “Colored,” who may be one of two African-American gentlemen of that name in the Rockville area, both listed in the 1900 census as farm laborers. (Click on the images to enlarge and read!)

Mr. Brown paid $2.00 for a “pair [of] shafts” – that is, the long poles that connect a vehicle to the horse(s). They were ordered or delivered in December 1905, and paid for in cash four months later. Compared to many of the other pages, this is a pretty short list; perhaps Brown usually patronized a different shop, or perhaps he could take care of most of his repairs himself.

Mr. Dawson’s page is more complex, with a variety of wagon and buggy parts plus some saw-sharpening. Payment over the two years occurred in small amounts and, interestingly, was made in both cash and corn – one barrel (bbl.) on January 30, 1905, and two barrels on March 31, 1906. At the bottom of the page is noted “[Remainder] Transferred to other book page 56.” As a farmer (as opposed to Mr. Brown, who worked on someone else’s farm), Dawson was in charge of a variety of equipment as well as his own family’s vehicle(s); like many other customers, he appears to have kept a running tab with this frequently-patronized business.

Other fun things to learn through this ledger: Here’s an “exploded” carriage diagram, showing some of the basic parts refered to throughout Mr. Grady’s notes.  Curious about the price comparisons between 1905 and 2012? Unfortunately the Consumer Price Index calculations don’t work for dates before 1913, but some less formal sources are available, and they can make these ‘old-timey’ account entries more immediate; for example, the Town Council’s super-cheap-sounding $2.50 purchase would be around $60 in today’s money.

Mr. Grady’s ledger is but one example of the goodies to be found in our archives; I’ve featured many before, and there are more to come. So don’t forget about the MCHS Archives when you’re doing your local history research.  We are small but mighty!

This battered, but mostly intact, reaping knife or scythe was donated in 1964 by Marjory Hendricks. Ms. Hendricks described it as an “important relic . . . a sickle which I dug up near the Spring at Normandy Farm” in Potomac, and informed us that the Smithsonian dated it to “1712 or 1716.”  It is made of iron, hand-forged and riveted together; the remains of a wooden handle are attached with two long iron wires (and one modern screw).

In 1931, Marjory Hendricks purchased some land on Falls Road and opened the Normandy Farm Restaurant. (Now known as Normandie Farm, the restaurant is a Potomac landmark.) Ms. Hendricks lived in a cottage on the property and kept a large vegetable garden; presumably the knife was found in the course of cultivation or yardwork, and she took it with her when she sold the restaurant in 1958.

So what was there in 1712-1716? Whose reaping knife was lost or forgotten on the grounds? Some histories of the restaurant say the land was “originally” a country club, which is not technically accurate. In this instance*, we need to go back to at least the beginning of the 18th century. According to the land grant maps in our Library – meticulously researched by volunteers Sheila Cochran, Eleanor Cook, Mary Charlotte Crook, and Florence Howard – Normandie Farm sits on part of a 600 acre land grant called “The Outlett,” surveyed in 1715 for William Offutt (d. 1734). Click the map below to enlarge it (and to read my tiny caption).

William left “The Outlett” to his son Edward, describing it in his will as “All that tract of land called the Outlett beginning at a White Oak on a small branch that runneth into the Branch called the Pyny Branch [apparently now Watt’s Branch, not the modern Piney Branch] the said Branch falling into Potomack against an Island formerly laid out for Walter Evans containing 600 acres.” (Got that? This is why the land grant research by our volunteers is so fantastic; I don’t have to figure out what all this means.) Edward Offutt (ca. 1698-1749) in turn subdivided “The Outlett,” leaving 200 acres to his son William and “all remaining portion” to his wife “during life, then to son Nathaniel and heirs forever, 259 acres of that ‘Outlett’ then the remaining of that ‘Outlett’ to Ruth and Mary, daughters, in equal shares. . . Ruth and her husband to have the piece on which [they] now dwell.”

Okay, so the awesomely complicated legal language doesn’t really have much to do with the knife itself, but it does give us clues as to what was happening on the land. Both William and Edward are described as “planters,” so there was cultivation going on somewhere. William Offutt’s primary residence was in Upper Marlboro, but Edward may have lived on “The Outlett,” as it is the only property referenced in his will. The last bit of Edward’s will quoted above seems to indicate that, even if Edward lived elsewhere, his daughter Ruth and her husband did live here.  “The Outlett” wasn’t just sitting there untouched.

Dr. Adams, the MCHS curator in 1964, hedged his bets and called this a “reaping knife” rather than Ms. Hendricks’s “sickle.” Grass and grain cutting tools have a very long history, and the hand tools used today have not varied too much from the ancient forms; “sickle” generally describes a more curved blade, while scythes and knives have a straighter blade at a right-ish angle to the handle. Our artifact resembles the tobacco and corn knives that can be found in collections of farm implement afficionados (and are still used by the Forest Service).  This piece has no maker’s marks (at least not any that remain visible). Ms. Hendricks did not provide us with any material from the Smithsonian, so the reasoning behind the “1712-1716” date is unknown; not being an expert on early American tools, however, I am happy to let it stand until proven otherwise.

Agriculture in 18th century Maryland centered around tobacco, with a gradual switch to wheat. I haven’t yet found anything to specify what was being grown on “The Outlett” – Edward’s inventory might give some clues – but the presence of a reaping knife of such early vintage would seem to indicate that at least some of the land was cultivated, probably with tobacco.  So our corn/tobacco reaping knife fits into that story. It is important to remember, however, that farm ownership and farm work are not the same. Father and son were not necessarily wielding Ye Olde Reaper themselves. William and Edward were, like many of their peers, slave owners; one or more these enslaved African Americans were the likely users of this knife – but we know much less about them. William’s will, written in 1732, mentions only one specific person (“the Youngest Negro I shall be possessed of at the time of my Decease” was willed to Edward, along with the real estate); perhaps other people were included in “the Rest Residue and Remainder of my Estate both Real & Personal.” Edward’s will, written in 1749, names Charles, Hercules, Pegg, Sue, Jack, James, Gulloby and Butcher.

I would be remiss if I did not include the perspective of a historical archaeologist. We can’t really fault Ms. Hendricks, who found this knife by accident on her own property, for not starting up a full-scale scientific survey. And, yes, through legal records and comparison to other, better-documented tools we can guess at some of its story; it’s an interesting piece. However, had this artifact been uncovered during an archaeological dig, with its context and provenience intact, we would almost certainly know more about its history and use.  Archaeologists don’t simply dig to get the artifacts out of the ground; they also study the surrounding soil, which tells you more than you might think.

To learn more about archaeology in Montgomery County, visit the websites of Montgomery Parks – Archaeology or the Archaeological Society of Maryland Mid-Potomac Chapter.

*Ms. Hendricks also donated to us an “Indian stone ax,” likewise “dug up near the Spring.”  To talk about that piece – perhaps in a future post – we’ll have to go back even further past the “original” country club!

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.