Embracing the commercial

Published 6:16 am Saturday, December 15, 2018

The impetus for our recent History Happy Hour Program was the above ad from the Mower County Transcript, which printed on Dec. 2, 1903.

We wanted to tell the story of Christmas in Austin in the early 1900s, and it seemed Mr. Chas. L. West had embraced the commercial nature of the holiday. In researching holiday traditions from that era, we learned how Christmas in America grew, as well as how retailers in Austin sold their wares.

Mower County Historical Society Curator Jaimie Timm talked about the history of Christmas traditions, including the sending of cards and decorating trees. Following the Civil War, families began transitioning from creating homemade tree ornaments and gifts to purchasing manufactured ones. The wrapping of gifts grew in popularity as people wanted to add an element of anticipation for the recipient of the gift. Once people realized the danger of using fire on a live tree, the use of electric lights replaced candles. Many a home was damaged because of tree fires at Christmas time. Visit the Mower County Historical Society to view their large collection of historic Christmas post cards.

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In Austin, the Charles L. West store was originally known as the Hall and West Dry Goods Store. In 1873, Mr. Reuben O. Hall and his son in law Mr. C. L. West partnered to open Hall & West Dry Goods and Carpet House on Main St. The address eventually became known as Woolworths and is now the site of the Coffee House on Main as well as other businesses. Mr. Hall retired in 1901, leading Charles to change the name of the store.

Another research partner, Wendy Larson, discovered that Reuben Hall had served as Sheriff, a school board member, Alderman, an officer of the cemetery association, a master mason and a member of St. Bernard Commandery of the Knights Templar, and a lifetime member of the Mower Co. Agriculture Society. Like his father-in-law, Charles West also served his community. He was mayor, alderman, city treasurer and a Commander in the Knights Templar. In addition, West became involved in state politics and served in a variety of positions to four Minnesota governors.

These active and involved businessmen left their mark on Austin and on Christmas, but so did their wives. I will tell you about them in next week’s column.

Austin Wedding & Event Showcase

Noon to 3 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20

$5 per person