WARD'S GARAGE RECORDS, 1946-1962
by: Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., September 2001
Frank Elmo Ward (1912-1964) was born on the family tobacco farm near Thrift in southern Prince George's County, Maryland on February 2, 1912. He seldom used his real middle name preferring Elmer as opposed to Elmo. His parents were Harrison C. and Rena Roberts Ward. He attended local elementary and secondary schools graduating from Surratt Senior High School in 1929. Growing up on the farm, Ward had been adept at fixing various types of farm machinery and as automobiles became a more prominent part of the landscape he found he enjoyed working on cars. After high school, Ward worked on the family farm and eventually took a job with Mandell Chevrolet in Washington, DC. On May 26, 1933, he married Margaret Naylor Townshend (1908-1997), the daughter of Harry N. and Martha Robinson Townshend of Marston in Carroll County, Maryland. The couple had no children. They eventually purchased an acre of land from Nicholas Miller and built a house in 1936. The property was across from Hyde Field Airport and situated on the Piscataway Road between the small towns of Piscataway and Clinton (also known as Surrattsville). Ward enjoyed hunting as a leisure time activity. He also enjoyed showing off his antique car, a 1916 Overland that he had purchased from his cousin, Mamie Herbert. Ward was active in civic affairs. He was a member of Christ Episcopal Church, Clinton, where he served on the vestry and he was also a member of the Clinton Volunteer Fire Department. He participated in many Firemen's Parades throughout the state.
In 1945, Ward grew tired of his job at Mandell's and decided to go into business for himself. With the increased amount of automobile ownership and travel after World War II along with the ever increasing need to keep those vehicles running, Ward decided to become his own boss and open a full-service auto garage. He purchased one third of an acre of land, a few hundred feet from his home, near the corner of Piscataway Road and Tippett Road (Liber 808, folio 490, Prince George's County Land Records). Initially borrowing money from his former employer, Mandell's, Ward constructed his new garage and service station according to his own plans and sketches. The garage was built of cinderblock with a paint shop added to the rear at a later date. The garage opened for business on January 2, 1946 with Ward and one full-time employee, William "Billy" Tippett. Ward borrowed money from The Second National Bank of Washington in March 1946 to repay his employer for the money borrowed to construct his garage. The construction note was paid off in April 1954. The garage proximity to Hyde Field Airport as well as Andrews AFB and being situated along Piscataway Road, a major artery between the western side of the county and the town of Clinton, in the east, assured the garage a steady customer base. Also, in a community of strong family ties, being related by birth and marriage to many families in the area made him a known commodity and many of his extended family went the extra mile to patronize his garage over one that was perhaps closer to them. Ward also advertised in The Enquirer Gazette, the local county newspaper.
In addition to selling Texaco gasoline and oil products and doing general car repairs, Ward also dealt in used cars and trucks and seems to have sold new Kaiser-Fraiser cars as well. He later added a paint shop to the rear of the garage. He offered towing and wrecker services and attended used automobile auctions as far away as Fredericksburg, Virginia. Ward initially kept his own books/ledgers until July 1946. Beginning in late July, his wife Margaret, who termed the garage "the doghouse," kept the books/ledgers and "ran parts" for the business. She kept a double set of books/ledgers and the garage used outside auditing firms for accounting: first Pearson's Counting House in Washington, DC, then County Bookkeeping Service in Waldorf, Maryland. A business checking account was established at The Clinton Bank and it seems that some household expenses did on occasion come out of the business checking account. At Christmas, Ward gave out the usual promotional items to his valued customers: calendars and thermometers. His waiting room also offered the usual range of snack food, a Coca-Cola machine and Lance brand crackers and cookies. The garage was a success but Ward's increasing battle with alcoholism eventually began to take its toll on his health and ability to manage the garage. Because of his worsening illness, the garage was closed on August 1, 1962 and sold in November to Cecil and Betty Williamson. Ward died on February 2, 1964. His wife Margaret died on September 28, 1997. Both he and his wife are buried in Westminster Cemetery, Carroll County, Maryland.
Scope and Content
A very complete collection of records representative of the many small "mom and pop" service stations that sprang up during the years following WWII. The records represent a time when Americans fell headlong in love with the automobile. With their increased mobility (as well as their additional disposable income), they took to the roads. The many financial documents, ledgers, canceled checks and monthly profit and loss statements, present a day to day picture of the economics of a small local gas station/garage operation. The personal items illustrate not only facets of the man who owned the garage but also, through the documents relating to the Ward residence, a picture of home ownership prior to the second World War. Also of note is the V-mail from Ward's brother-in-law, Henry Whitehill Townshend (1912-1989) covering the years 1942-1945 during his service in the European theatre of World War II.
The collection is divided into five series. Series 1: FINANCIAL RECORDS, 1946-1962 includes canceled checks 1946-1962, monthly profit and loss statements 1946-1961, garage property financing documents 1946, bills and receipts 1952-1962, a final inventory from 1962 and a boundary survey for a neighboring property from 1962 that includes the relation of the Ward's Garage and Ward home properties relative to their neighboring properties. Series 2: GARAGE LEDGERS, 1946-1962 includes garage ledgers 1946-1962 and one ledger with no date that detail daily income and expenses month by month. Series 3: PHOTOGRAPHS, 1929-1951 includes personal photographs of Ward and his wife Margaret, the Ward residence, Ward working on a car, photographs of Ward's Garage during construction and at completion, one photograph of Ward's Garage taken in the aftermath of a wind storm, photographs of Ward's participation in two Firemen's Parades and an aerial view of Hyde Field and the Ward residence. Series 4: FORMS AND PROMOTIONAL ITEMS, 1961, n.d. includes blank forms used in the garage operation, "Estimate of Damage" sheets and blank bill heads and two of Ward's Garage promotional items, a 1961 calendar and an undated thermometer. Series 5: PERSONAL PAPERS, 1929-1965 includes Ward's 1929 High School Diploma, a bank book for his personal account, marriage, confirmation and certificates, hunting licenses, documents relating to purchasing land and building the Ward residence (10316 Piscataway Road), V-mail from Ward's brother-in-law Henry W. Townshend, 1942-1945, a Christmas card from his nephew William H. Townshend, Ward's Last Will and Testament and funeral ephemera and bills.
Donated to the National Museum of American History, Archives Center, by Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., in August 2001.
Division of Social History (Costume and Textiles Collection), NMAH. The objects in this collection consists of personal clothing from both Ward and his wife Margaret as well as cosmetics and other women's personal items from his wife.