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.

April is both National Poetry Month and National Financial Literacy Month, and I was torn – but ultimately I decided to go with the money. (Maybe next year, Poetry.)  Here is an Olivetti Summa Quanta 20 printing calculator, purchased in D.C. in 1972 and used in Silver Spring.

We have four mid-20th century adding machines – or mechanical printing calculators – in our collections. One, a Victor Champion (like this one) from the 1950s, has no known history; the other three, including this Olivetti, were donated by Allen Hillman of Silver Spring. Mr. Hillman, a CPA, worked for Sinrod & Tash in D.C. until 1967, when he left to start his own accounting firm; his first office was on 16th Street, and he later moved to Colesville Road in Silver Spring. The machines he donated show the course of his early career: an electric Remington Rand from the 1940s, purchased used by the donor from Sinrod & Tash when he started his own firm, and in use until 1973; a hand-cranked Olivetti Summa 15, in a traveling case, bought new in 1958 and used at his home until 1975; and this Olivetti Summa Quanta 20.

According to Mr. Hillman, when the Summa Quanta 20 came out, “everybody bought one.” He got this one in 1972 from Leon Office Machine Co at 623 H St NW, and used it in his Silver Spring office until 1980, when he – like many of his colleagues – switched to a new, just-introduced electronic calculator. 

Olivetti is an Italian company, founded in 1908. Our electric (but not electronic) Summa Quanta 20, made in Argentina, has a green metal cover and a reddish-brown plastic base. It still has its cord and plug, as well as a gray vinyl dust cover. According to the donor, part of the appeal was that it was “portable;” while it’s not exactly a hand-held machine it is, at only 11″ long and 5″ tall, rather smaller and lighter than the other machines in our collection.

Vintage adding machines, or mechanical printing calculators, come in many different varieties and perform different functions; woe to the ignorant person who thinks a calculator is a calculator is a calculator. Fortunately, there are collectors and fans out there who are happy to share their collections online. Though I personally have never thought much about mechanical adding machines – I grew up with electronic calculators, and had never seen a hand-crank machine until Mr. Hillman’s donation – I can understand their appeal. Like typewriters, they are interesting on several levels: as aesthetic objects, reflecting the design sensibilities of their time; as historical artifacts, telling the story of changing technologies and changing economies; and as functioning machines, still valid and useful even in our digital age. Just don’t ask me to actually use one.

Want to see some more machines? These websites – here, here, and here – have both technical information, for those of you interested in the mechanics, and photos, for those who want to admire the design.  Wikipedia also has a fairly thorough history of mechanical vs. electronic calculators, here. These sites are only a sampling; if you enjoy them, I encourage you to while away an hour or so with your preferred internet search engine and a few keywords. 

Edited: to correct the name of Mr. Hillman’s first CPA firm. 4/25/12

**NOTE!!** Next week’s blog will be a day late, as I’ll be at the American Association of Museums conference in Minneapolis.  Your monthly dose of postcard history will arrive on Thursday the 3rd!

This beech and applewood carpentry plane – more specifically, an adjustable-fence plow plane – was owned by William E. Pumphrey (1816-1887), a Rockville carpenter and undertaker.

There are planes to level planks, cut beads and chair rails and crown molding, and join boards together. Plow planes like this one are used to cut grooves in wood boards and panels, a necessary part of the tongue-and-groove join. The main block, or stock, is 13.5″ long and has the iron bit – held in place with a wood wedge – and the toat (handle); the fence (held on with long wooden screws) is on the side. The iron bit protrudes out the bottom to cut a groove in the board. The distance of the fence from the stock can be adjusted, to accommodate different board widths. Here is a photo of the profile (minus the iron bit), plus my approximation of how it would work.  Actual carpenters, feel free to comment on whether I came close.

This plane was donated in the 1950s by J.E. Douglas of Rockville, who appears to have been a collector and relatively uninterested in the tool’s specific history. Fortunately for us, 19th century carpenters were no different than people today who worry about losing their favorite, broken-in, and/or expensive tools: they put their names on things. Many of the planes in our collection have owner’s names stamped or carved into the sides. This plane, in addition to the now nearly illegible manufacturer (someone in New York), has the name “W.E. Pumphrey” stamped onto both ends.

William E. Pumphrey is listed in the 1850, 1860 and 1870 Rockville censuses as a carpenter. In the 1880 census, his occupation is “undertaker.” The switch was not an uncommon one, as carpenters had the necessary skills to make coffins; many undertakers were also carpenters and/or cabinetmakers, and the change probably shows the trend of Pumphrey’s existing business. One of his sons, William Reuben Pumphrey (1846-1928), added embalming and other necessary functions to the practice, which eventually evolved into the Robert A. Pumphrey Funeral Home, a long-time county establishment, and still family owned. According to their website, William E. began making coffins in 1854. Was this particular plane used to make coffins? It’s difficult to say for sure, but it seems entirely possible; after all, you can buy metal-free tongue-and-groove coffins today. (I checked. Isn’t the internet a wonderful place?)

William E. Pumphrey, donated by Elizabeth Owen.  MCHS Library.

Carpentry tools might not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think “elaborate and decorative items.” A plane is a plane, right? Not so! (I suspect I’m preaching to the choir for some of you.) Many are made of expensive wood, carefully finished, with elegant shapes and extra decorative touches. Pumphrey’s plane would function just as well with plain knobs on the screws, but it has fancy finials and carved ends. The handle is ergonomic – the 19th century version, anyway – and shows a nice curve. A well-made tool lasts longer, but also tells the world that you use, and are worth, the best. Likewise, a well-made tool is something to be repaired, not replaced; Pumphrey (or a later user) added a twist of sturdy wire to one of the wooden washers when it split. Some of the planes in our collections have multiple owner names, added as the tool changed hands; this one has only the one, but it seems possible that it was used by later Pumphreys or their employees after William E.’s 1887 death.

As you probably know, this past Monday (March 12, 2012) marked the 100th anniversary of the Girl Scouts of America.  In modest commemoration of the date, here are a few things from our collections related to local troops.

This handkerchief belonged to Kathleen Sisk of Takoma Park, Md., who was a member of a D.C. troop in the late 1940s.  The colorfully printed fabric measures 11.5″ square.  The symbols around the edges correspond to badges, and appear to include everything from art to boatcraft to skiing.  (Unfortunately, we don’t have any GSA handbooks earlier than the 1970s in our collections; anyone have insight into the official badge names?)  We also have Kathleen’s green beret, which was later handed down to her younger sister Ann (who was not a Girl Scout) and the insignia was removed.  Both items were donated by Kathleen’s daughter, along with a few artifacts from the daughter’s own 1970s troop in Silver Spring.  (I love continuity!)

This snapshot, donated by Jean Case, shows members of Girl Scout Troop 59 (Rockville) participating in the 1953 Rockville Memorial Day Parade (and looking very pleased to do so).

And finally, here’s a Girl Scout pocketknife, donated by an MCHS member who led Troop 47 (Flower Valley) in the 1970s.  The knife was used by both of her daughters on camping trips.  I particularly like the fact that the can opener blade is marked “CAN OPENER” – apparently the uses of the other blades were self-evident. 

Looking for more on the history of the Girl Scouts?  Here’s the official GSA overview.  Want to get involved in local scouting?  Here’s the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital.  Want to really get involved in hyper-local scouting?  Volunteer at the Historical Society!  We have history programs for Brownies and Girl Scouts, and as much fun as it is for us to lead those tours, we can always use volunteers. 

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.)