December 20, 2020

Christmas Shopping in 1897 Prescott

The Christmas of 1897 was a bright one for Prescott. “It is only two days until Christmas, yet the very air breathes of the coming event,” the Journal-Miner noted.

After a nationwide economic slowdown, the economy was finally rebounding. The Postal Service reported that money orders “evidently intended as Christmas presents, [indicated] a tremendous increase… These conditions are accepted as a pronounced indication of the return of better times and improved financial affairs,” the paper reported.

Yet, there was something else that had recently transformed the downtown business district into a virtual box of consumer eye candy.

“The widespread availability of plate glass in the late 1800s allowed shop owners to build large windows spanning the full length of their shops for the display of merchandise.” It was 1872 when the first full-length store windows were installed at the M Goldwater & Bros. store. (Prior to that, Prescott store windows were the same ones found in houses.) Not to be outdone, Bashford-Burmister had their giant windows in place a mere four weeks later. By 1897, many of the downtown businesses followed suit—and it was effective.

“At Cook's jewelry store,” the paper related, “silver and gold and precious stones, [displayed] in magnificent array, shine out through the windows invitingly to passersby, causing them to a halt, investigate and buy.”  

So transformed were the retail shops, that the newspaper decided to describe the sights in detail; even graciously including businesses that did not advertise regularly in the periodical.

“M Goldwater & Brothers’ store is a veritable headquarters for the jolly-old, white-whiskered Kris Kringle, and the place is transformed into a bower of beauty by delicate hands that do the bidding of excellent taste.”

"Wooster’s Bazaar teems with the very gifts that please…and the necessity for extra clerks indicate that music, musical instruments, books, notions and novelties are in demand." 

"The ladies of Prescott would consider Christmas purchases incomplete without a visit to Mrs. Blaine’s millinery parlors, were many of the novelties pleasing to the fair sex how to be found."  The New York store had "some of the prettiest novelties in town to be found there." 

“H Lemon, the jeweler, seems to have a special contract with Santa Claus in the distribution of substantial holiday presents.” 

Other stores were filled to the brim and busy as bees:

“Harry Brisley's Christmas counter is a drawing card that keeps the clerks on the bounce all day long.” 

“The before-Christmas rush at Effron Bros., has filled every department of this establishment with business activity. 

“Numerous customers throng WW Ross’s store and the clerks are busy tying up packages that make rapid transit to well remembered friends.” 

Clerks at EA Kastners (courtesy John Parsons)
Clerks at EA Kastners (courtesy John Parsons)

“Mark, Davison and Company are also in the rush of supplying holiday demands.” 

“The Barclay-Berryman Mercantile Co. are busy loading up holiday goods in large quantities for outlying districts to bring Christmas cheer to rural homes.” 

Food Galore:

“Gregory and Smith's display of fruits, nuts and candies, is the site calculated to sharpen the appetite for the good and sweet things of life.” 

"Ed Shumate… will have all he can do to supply the demands for oysters, candies, nuts, etc." 

“Christmas without a supply of fine California fruits would be a failure, but that is fully met at G Brajevich’s California Fruit & Confectionery store.”

“At Shephard & Kastner’s, the entrance to the palace of delicacies is decorated with palms—significant of Christmas tide.”

If one would rather eat Christmas dinner at a restaurant, there was ample opportunity:

“The menu at the Burke hotel has been specially prepared for the occasion,” the paper announced. “The Sherman House, noted for its cuisine excellence, will be up to its usual standard. The Brinkmeyer, Prescott, Congress, Johnson House and Home Kitchen are each consulting the best culinary arts for the Christmas celebration.”

Prairie Chicken pinnated grouse
One eating establishment had already decided on its Christmas menu, and and was not the traditional fare of today: “The Comet CafĂ© will have a fine Christmas dinner where possum and prairie chicken will be the sacrifice to holiday hunger.” (Today, being served possum would sacrifice many’s holiday hunger!)

“Tom and Jerry, the inseparable companions, who enjoy the conviviality of Christmas time, will take in the town, and no doubt can be seen at the Cabinet, Palace, Golden Eagle, Kearney’s, Headquarters and the Comet.” (“Tom and Jerry” was the name of a victorian Christmas libation that was similar to eggnog, but served warm.)

Although there was no official contest for the best window display that year, it would have undoubtedly gone to RH Burmister’s.

“The bottom of the window is covered with nuts forming the words ‘Merry Christmas.’ Tiers of circular shelves are arranged on the sides, on which are exhibited the most tempting delicacies… The background to these is in colors of various kinds surmounted by vines. At the top of the space, and well back from the glass, is a cluster of electric light globes of various colors. By an ingenious invention of his own, propelled by a small electric motor underneath, these are turned on and off automatically.” This self-made, innovative device would turn on different portions of the lights, and then all of them, before automatically turning them off at 10pm after the store had closed.

“The lights were turned on last evening for the first time and the window attracted a large crowd around it all evening,” the paper reported.

Interior of Brisley Drug Store c 1897

“The streets are lined with people today," the paper described, "and pedestrians with bundles under their arms plainly indicate that tomorrow is Christmas.” As the last purchases were being made, “nature…spread the white mantle of charity over the mountain, valley and plains as a carpet over which, with noiseless speed, old Santa Claus and his reindeer's, sleigh laden with presents and toys for the girls and boys, will go the rounds on this mystic night leaving his train that which opens wide in wonderment childhood's eyes on Christmas morning.”

For Prescott, 1897 would be a delightful and rare white Christmas...


Looking for a particular SUBJECT in Prescott AZ History?


Drew's book is now available!

Available in paperback and Kindle!


Paperback: $21.99

Kindle ebook $12.99 

CLICK HERE for Amazon (PB or Kindle)


Also available at:

Western Heritage Center, 156.5 Montezuma (Whiskey Row)


And everywhere Prescott history books are sold!


Follow #PrescottAZHistory in one of the following social media to be sure you get the latest article!

Want more Prescott history? Join the "Celebrating Historic Prescott" group.
(Daily pics and featured articles.)
Drew Desmond is on Facebook (For the latest article and posts about Drew's writing.)

Follow the Prescott AZ History Blog on Twitter @PrescottAZHist
(Daily pic featured at 7 am & 7 pm and featured articles.)

Prescott AZ History is on Pinterest
(For the latest article.)

Follow PrescottAZHistory on Instagram


Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/29/1897; Pg. 1, Col. 5.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/22/1897; Pg. 2, Col. 1.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/29/1897; Pg. 3, Col. 3.

Weekly Journal-Miner, 12/15/1897; Pg. 2, Col. 7.

No comments:

Post a Comment