- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Second of two articles
By JASON BABCOCK
By 1914, motor vehicles were still expensive for largely rural areas like St. Mary’s County, but their numbers and presence continued to rise.
All of a sudden, there were multiple advertisements for cars in the St. Mary’s Beacon newspaper. An agent in Mechanicsville, C.P. Herbert, advertised a new Maxwell, 25-horsepower roadster for $725.
The Matthews-Howard Implement Co. in La Plata advertised the Ford, the universal car, starting at $500. A Chevrolet roadster at another dealer in La Plata started at $750.
Those who could afford them would often join the Automobile Club of Maryland, which lobbied the state against intrusive laws on motoring.
The (Baltimore) Sun declared on March 24, 1914, the “state has auto fever.” In 1911, the Maryland Commissioner of Motor Vehicles said there were 8,500 automobile licenses issued that year. The number increased to 10,800 in 1912 and to 14,900 in 1913.
In the spring of 1914, the state set the maximum speed limit at 35 miles per hour, up from 25 mph. Breaking that maximum could result in a fine of $25 to $100 and suspension of a driver’s license for three months.
A reader wrote the Beacon in its May 28, 1914, edition of news from Sandgates: “The road from Sandgates to Oakville will soon be completed, the autos are already coming down to the beach last week.”
The editor of the paper, Aloysius King, noted some 30 motorists from Washington, D.C., came to visit Leonardtown on Sunday, May 24, 1914. Leonardtown was becoming frequent host to motorists from the city.
Meanwhile, work on the state road progressed south of Leonardtown on the way to Chingville. The road was graded south down to the county alms house, where Leonardtown Middle School is today.
By January 1915, The Sun reported there were 20,200 “machines in use” in Maryland.
“It is no longer a luxury, but a necessity,” the writer said. “And the horse, which a decade ago was considered the indispensable adjunct to business and to home life, is passing into the discard as a means of locomotion too slow, too undependable and — strange as it may seem — too expensive for the demands of today.”
Harry Roe, the state’s commissioner of motor vehicles, noted that 1,000 women were licensed to drive by then. “And I want to say that, contrary to general belief, the women are the ones who have fewest accidents,” he said. Women were still five years away from being able to vote at this point.
In March 1915, Roe laid out “another drastic rule,” according to The Sun — outlawing any drinking and driving.
Roe had already put the burden of proof on the driver after a motor vehicle accident. The driver had to show he or she was not careless.
He pledged to stop “reckless driving superinduced by strong drink” and to do so he said he would use his authority under state law to revoke one’s license. “To accomplish my purpose it will be necessary for me to refuse to distinguish between people who drink little and those who drink much,” he said.
“I have concluded … that the indulgence in liquor to any extent whatsoever — even if the accused takes no more than one drink — will be sufficient cause” to revoke an operator’s license.
The Beacon, in response, advised its readers that “Roe issued a very terse and emphatic order to cut out booze or quit driving autos.”
A car accident occurred in 1915 when a vehicle from Washington was motoring through St. Mary’s to meet with President Woodrow Wilson aboard his yacht at Piney Point on the way back to the nation’s capital.
On May 19, Capt. William Luckett was to pilot the Mayflower upon reaching Piney Point to return Wilson to Washington. Just outside the Leonardtown town limits then (at today’s intersection of Route 5 and Route 245), Luckett drove into a ditch going 20 mph. The vehicle overturned, injuring his wife and friend. Luckett took a laceration to the head. The women were taken to St. Mary’s Hospital.
Luckett hired men to drive him by car to Piney Point “where he awaited the arrival of the Mayflower to pilot her to this city,” reported The Washington Post.
Leonardtown continued to be a destination for city visitors as the Beacon reported more than 150 motorists during the last weekend in June 1915.
The proliferation of motor vehicles continued in Maryland and in St. Mary’s and by the end of 1915 all the State Roads Commission’s network of modernized roads was completed.
On Nov. 20, 1915, President Wilson took an unannounced day trip all the way down to Point Lookout, where locals greeted him on his way back at Ridge and Leonardtown.
As Europe was fighting in The Great War, later to be called World War I, the Beacon noted on Jan. 6, 1916, “The price of gasoline has again advanced. Hard luck for the motor enthusiastics.”
In May 1916, blacksmith Adam T. Wible, columnist for both The Enterprise and the Beacon, wrote, “Sunday evening, five autos passed one buggy. Five years ago, five buggies passed one auto. Time changes all things!”
St. Mary’s had its second fatal motor vehicle accident on Sept. 10, 1916. Guy Suit, 17, was killed while riding his bicycle in Mechanicsville when he was hit by a vehicle occupied by Charles Fox, his family and their driver on the way to Leonardtown from Baltimore. Though it was found to be an accident, The Enterprise reported that Fox sent $300 to the boy’s mother in Chaptico.