- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Henry Stauffer of Loveville has a question he’d like answered.
He was asked to clean up around a property in Morganza by its owners. Behind an old shed, Stauffer found a large road sign lying face down in the woods.
The sign offers some clues and got him wondering how old it is and where exactly it stood.
“It has piqued my curiosity beyond means,” he said recently from his Loveville farm. He cleaned the sign up as best as he could without further damaging what corrosion has already done.
The top of the diamond-shaped sign is colored red with the word, “Danger,” followed by “Leonardtown 3 M.” The rest of the sign is white with red letters reading “Standard Motor Gasoline.” At the bottom of the sign is an insignia of the Standard Oil Co.
“This is a piece of Southern Maryland history,” Stauffer said. He’s got the sign posted up on one of his sheds for now.
“Was the Standard Oil service station in Leonardtown?” he asked. “Where is the post where [the sign] was sitting on?”
He figures the sign must have been posted at some natural feature or problem with the roadway to warn of danger. Then there’s the advertisement for Standard Oil. “That’s a unique combination,” Stauffer said. “I’m really, really curious” about its origin, he said.
It could have been posted three miles north of Leonardtown in an area informally called Wathens, he speculated. Or it could have been on Hollywood Road or three miles south of Leonardtown in Redgate.
The Burch Oil headquarters in Hollywood has an collection of antique roadside memorabilia, like old gas pumps. A photo of the Standard gasoline sign was emailed to F. Elliott “Sonny” Burch, president of Burch Oil, to see if he could shed any light on it.
“I haven’t seen anything like that,” he said.
Standard Oil was broken up into 35 smaller companies in late 1911 after the Supreme Court ruled that spring that it violated antitrust laws. One of the remaining companies was Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey, The (Baltimore) Sun reported.
In this region of the United States, Standard Oil became Esso, Burch said.
The Maryland Roads Commission was created in 1908, and began drawing the routes for state roads throughout the counties. According to The Enterprise of Feb. 25, 1954, “the first car in St. Mary’s County was owned by the Holmes family.” The newspaper reproduced a photo taken in 1910 of L. Locke Holmes, Bob I’Anson and Kenneth Rich in a 1908 Ford.
The state road from Mechanicsville to Leonardtown was constructed in 1910 and 1911 with crushed stone and oil in some sections and concrete bridges, according to accounts in the St. Mary’s Beacon newspaper.
By June 1911, the Beacon reported that Leonardtown “is fast becoming quite a popular resort for autos. We are glad to see them come.”
The Aug. 3, 1911 edition of the Beacon noted, “J.D. Cashner of Patuxent [the Hollywood area] has purchased an automobile.”
Gov. Austin Crothers was invited to a farmers meeting in Leonardtown in September 1911 and was photographed in The (Baltimore) Sun with the caption “The passing of ox teams in St. Mary’s,” celebrating the “magnificent state road” from Mechanicsville to Leonardtown. “This road, just completed, marks the passing of the ox team, which has been a necessary means of travel and which must now give way to the draft horses, the roadster and the gasoline engine.”
Burch said the Esso company became Exxon and there was an Exxon station at the old Leonardtown wharf. A 1928 Sanborn Fire Insurance map of Leonardtown shows a Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey depot at the wharf.
Al Gough, Leonardtown historian, looked at the Standard Oil road sign as well, but no immediate answers came to mind.
The Route 5 bridge over McIntosh Road was known for generations as the Plank Bridge, which needed frequent repairs. That spot would have been an area of traveling danger, but it’s about one mile away from Leonardtown, too close for the sign’s marking, Gough said. The sign may have been farther north, perhaps at the merging of the road to Budds Creek from Route 5, he speculated.