Holiday Shopping 100 Years Ago

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving, but also Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. The holiday shopping season is here, and in this day and age, the options seem endless. But what about 100 years ago? Where did people do their holiday shopping back then, and what kinds of gifts did they buy?

There was of course no online shopping in 1917, nor were there big-box stores. People shopped at local establishments; places like Moses Cash Bargain Store in Jordan, Bailey Bros. Department Store in Belle Plaine, M.J. Berens & Sons in Shakopee, and Piesinger’s Drug and Jewelry Store in New Prague. Store ads in the local newspapers featured lots of gift ideas. Holiday shoppers could buy baking dishes, ice skates, and tools at the hardware store; fountain pens, fancy stationery, perfume, cigars, candy, and nuts at the drug store; and slippers, combs, handkerchiefs, ribbons, toys, and clothes at the department store. Additionally, jewelry stores offered an array of fine jewelry and watches (along with items you probably wouldn’t see today like ivory sets and vest chains), and confectionery shops sold all manner of candy and treats.

Holiday shopping ads were plastered throughout Scott County newspapers in 1917, yet the holiday season that year was a somber one. The United States was in the midst of World War I, so any celebrations were tempered by the thought of loved ones far away fighting in the war. The war affected holiday shopping and gift-giving in a few important ways. First, in keeping with the wartime spirit of saving and rationing, there was a strong emphasis on practical gifts. Shoppers were encouraged to buy items that were useful – something the recipient may have planned to purchase anyway. Ads were peppered with phrases like “sensible giving” and stores promised merchandise that was useful and necessary (while still sentimental). WWI also meant that holiday shopping ads featured gift ideas for soldiers, items like trench mirrors, cigarette cases, wrist watches, rosaries, wool socks, writing sets, and toiletry bags. The war’s influence even filtered down to children’s toys. For instance, an ad for Penner’s Confectionery in New Prague listed the following toys for sale in 1917: guns, toy soldiers, destroyers, machine guns, cannons, and torpedo boats.

Below are some examples of holiday shopping ads published in Scott County newspapers 100 years ago, in December 1917. To check out more of these ads, visit the SCHS Research Library, and be sure to check out our WWI exhibit, “The Great War in Scott County”, currently on display. Happy Holidays and happy shopping!

NP Times Dec 13 p 10Xmas Ad 4 JordanXmas Ad BP Herald p 3Xmas Ad p 4 BP HeraldXmas Ad Scott County Argus p 4




Brass Bands of Scott County

Nothing says “summertime” like an outdoor concert, and that was as true 125 years ago as it is today. Back then, the music of brass bands filled the summer air, creating a festive soundtrack for community celebrations and events. Brass bands peaked in popularity between the 1850s and early 1900s, a time when new cities and towns were springing up all over the United States. This music brought community members together and helped foster a sense of civic pride. Here in Scott County, nearly every town had its own brass band; below is a brief history of some of these bands:

  • The Valley Cornet Band of Belle Plaine was established in 1890 by Mr. E.E. Chamberlain. As of 1891, they had around 16 members. Aside from brass players, the band also consisted of a couple of drummers and a piccolo player. The band played at a variety of events, including horse races, baseball games, weddings, and parades. According to a quote in the Belle Plaine Herald in 1891, “The members all have good instruments, handsome uniforms to which they have recently added leather music pouches for every player. They are now as fine a musical organization as can be found in the Minnesota Valley and Belle Plaine can justly feel proud of them…”
  • Shakopee was home to the Shakopee Cadet Band, started in 1901 by Hubert Stans (father of Maurice Stans). Like the Valley Cornet Band, the Shakopee Cadet Band performed at local celebrations, parades, fairs, and events. One such event was a street fair in honor of James J. Hill, the railroad tycoon from St. Paul. He gave a speech, and then the band played a song. Afterwards, Hill gave Stans a $50 bill (a lot of money in those days!), which he used to treat his band members.
  • There were several brass bands in Jordan, but the most prominent was led by Al Hagie. Al Hagie was a traveling musician who ended up in Jordan thanks to the Nicolin family. The family (who owned the Nicolin Opera House among numerous other Jordan businesses) wanted to get some better musicians in town, so when Hagie came through with his group, the Nicolin family convinced him to stay. He went on to become the dominant musical figure in Jordan, starting numerous bands and orchestras over the years.
  • The New Prague Cornet Band, also known as the Bohemian Brass Band, was established in 1893 by J.W. Komarek. Like other Scott County brass bands, this band performed at various community celebrations and events. The name “Bohemian Brass Band” alludes to the band’s cultural background; New Prague was primarily settled by immigrants from Bohemia who brought their musical traditions with them. The Bohemian Brass Band existed for a long time and produced a number of talented musicians who went on to perform in other bands and orchestras including Minneapolis and St. Paul Symphony Orchestras and the U.S. Marine Band. The Bohemian Brass Band can still be seen today, in mural form on New Prague’s Main Street.

Of course, brass bands continue to perform at parades and events, so the next time you hear those lively brass melodies, remember that you are hearing music that has long been part of our county’s history.


Valley Cornet Band circa 1891
Valley Cornet Band circa 1891
Shakopee Cadet Band, 1901
Shakopee Cadet Band, 1901
Jordan Cornet Band (Al Hagie is pictured front row, third from right, next to his son)
Jordan Cornet Band (Al Hagie is pictured front row, third from right, next to his son)
Mural of Bohemian Brass Band of New Prague
Mural of Bohemian Brass Band of New Prague


Prefabricated Homes: Page and Hill’s 15 Year Stint That Ended in Disaster

The Page and Hill Company moved to Shakopee in 1942 into the old Kienzle & Merrick oven enameling plant, and began operating in late June. They planned to make and sell prefabricated homes (also known as pre-fab or kit homes). They came in many styles, all designed by architects. Most things could be altered, giving each house a unique look and many possible floor plans. These were very popular for government use (in military bases) and for civilian homes, and are still very common. You can find whole neighborhoods full of prefab homes, and still purchase new ones today! Page and Hill employed many people during their 15 years in Shakopee. They planned to start out with 125 employees and increased that number to 500 in a few months, many of which were filled by women.

Two prefabricated homes (419 and 427 Seventh Avenue W.) that were constructed in 1948 are listed as historic properties today.

Within a few months of opening, the employees voted in a union and presented an employment contract to the company. The contract was not accepted, and this resulted in the declaration of a possible strike. The company was unable to accept more contracts (for 500 houses and several thousand grain bins) until the proposed strike was delayed for negotiations. A settlement was finally reached in late October 1942. Another labor dispute over the wages for skilled, unskilled, and common work caused a strike in 1948, halting the production of two houses a day that the plant was producing.

Nearly one decade later, in 1957, a fire swept through the plant. This caused a total of $500,000 ($4.4 million dollars today) worth of damages and destroyed a city block-sized area. The company either did not have the ability to recuperate after the major loss or did not want to rebuild, and decided on the permanent closure of the Shakopee plant.

The fire that caused the end of the Page and Hill Company in Shakopee was documented by LeRoy Lebens, who photographed the fire during its progress. These are photos of the fire.


Photo Treasures from the Lebens Collection – Shakopee Businesses

Over his long career in photography,  Shakopee native Leroy Lebens seems to have documented a little bit of everything in Scott County: weddings, construction, floods, graduations, sports, wildlife, and concerts to name a few.  He also happened to track the growth and development of many Shakopee businesses and institutions. This week we are taking a closer look at a few of these photographs of Shakopee businesses from his collection we have housed at Scott County Historical Society. Spanning well over thirty years, these ten pictures feature places you can still visit and some of which have long been closed. This is just a small sampling of what we have found so far. Take a quick trip down memory lane with us!

Shown: Wampachs, Midland Glass, Shakopee Motors, Rahr Malting, Betty Lu’s, Abeln’s Bar, Mill Pond, St. Paul House, St. Francis Hospital, and First National Bank.

Keep It or Pitch It?

Spring cleaning time is upon us, and with it, the eternal question: should I keep it or pitch it? Indeed, what to do with all of that stuff that somehow always piles up in the basement, attic, or garage?

Keep It or Pitch It
Keep It or Pitch It? Workshop held at the SCHS on April 6, 2017.

To that end, the SCHS recently offered a workshop at the museum titled “Keep It or Pitch It?” This workshop was designed to help people who are in the process of cleaning out a room or a home figure out what they should keep and what they should pitch.

Kathy Klehr, SCHS Executive Director, took on the “keep” portion of the workshop. According to Kathy, items are worth keeping if there is a story attached, or some sort of sentimental value. (This brings to mind Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was all the rage a few years ago, and particularly Kondo’s suggestion to keep only those items that “spark joy.”)

mixing bowl
Does your item tell a story? This one does! It was used by the Grommesch & Gerold families on their farm southwest of Marystown beginning in the early 20th century. (From the SCHS collection.)

If you are downsizing in your own home, or helping someone else to downsize, Kathy strongly recommends doing a walk-through of the home with family members in order to determine which items may have special meaning to them. Maybe one of your kids finds great sentimental value in that knick-knack you were planning to give away – better to find out now than after the fact!

Kathy also offered up some tips about how to preserve your “keep” items. (For instance, store photos in acid-free photo sleeves.) If you want to learn more about proper preservation practices, you can always contact the SCHS for advice by email at or  by phone at 952.445.0378.

Stephanie Herrick, Curator of Education, took on the “pitch” portion of the workshop. However, in honor of Earth Day coming up, Stephanie focused on alternative ways to dispose of your “pitch” items rather than tossing them in a dumpster. Her suggestions included:

  • Donate your items – There are a huge number of thrift stores in and around Scott County (Goodwill, CAPS Thrift Store, Bridging, etc.) that will take your donations of clothes, household items, small electronics, etc. Donations are usually tax-deductible! (And don’t forget, if you have an item that helps tell the history of Scott County, the SCHS will accept it for our collection!)
  • Sell your items – Selling your unwanted items has never been easier, now that we have the internet! and Facebook garage sale groups are great go-to websites for selling stuff.
    Wooden darning egg from the early 20th century. These were used in the process of mending fabric. (Photo courtesy of

    Repair your items – As historians, we are always thinking about life long ago. Back in the day, people didn’t have the luxury of constantly replacing items – they had to repair them! You can too, either by taking them to a local repair shop or by giving it a go on your own. Google is your friend in this regard (true story – Stephanie once fixed her car radio by Googling how to do it!).

  • Repurpose your items – Take something you don’t want and turn it into something you do want by getting creative! A few vintage suitcases stacked on top of each other can become a nightstand! Old t-shirts can be sewn together into a new quilt! The possibilities are endless! (You can also check out or if you think someone else might be able to repurpose your items.)
  • Recycle your items – We all know that paper, glass, plastic, and cardboard are recyclable, but did you know you can also recycle shoes, computers, clothes, and carpets? There are TONS of resources online – the Recycling Association of Minnesota ( is a great place to start. Also, most cities in Scott County have a city-wide clean-up day, so check out your city’s website for more information!
  • Pitch responsibly – Do NOT throw your household hazardous waste (medicines, household chemicals, paint, etc.) in the trash. Follow proper guidelines for disposing these items. Scott County residents can learn more here:

Happy Spring Cleaning!!