• Glinda Coleman

Commerce in Great Falls 100 years ago

Sydney J. Harris, the syndicated newspaper columnist from Chicago, used to write a periodic feature called “Things I Learned En Route to Looking Up Other Things.” So here is something I came across while looking up “other things” and I found it to be quite interesting.


In a special section of The Chester News, dated Aug. 1, 1923, there was a headline about a spectacular event:


Two Big Bargain Days in Great Falls August, 3rd-4th


Merchants of Great Falls Cooperate for Greatest Bargain Event in the History of the Town.



The special section was called The Great Falls Tribune and was a six-page full size addition to the regular Chester News. I’m not sure if this was done more than one year but it was a big event in 1923.


The sub headline goes on to read: “Thousands of Bargains to be Offered to People of the Community – Big Advertisements in this Issue Tell of Wonderful Goods and Prices Offered.”


In 1923, there were at least a dozen retail establishments in Great Falls, as well as other businesses and services. In addition to the advertisements there were some news stories, some tidbits about people in the community, a few obituaries and church news.


The majority of the publication, however, was advertisements of what would be offered during “Dollar Days” in Great Falls.



There was an ad for Republic Cotton Mills Department Store featuring such items as $1.50 Men’s Shirts, extra good madras, stripes for only $1.00- and .75-Men’s Blue Chambray work shirts, good values 2 for $1.00. For the ladies there were, .35 Dress Gingham, full 32 inches, extra fine combed gingham check, stripes and solid, 4 for $1.00. And $1.00 off all Ladies’ shoes from $4.00 and up. They also included Luzianne Coffee, canned North Carolina apples and Baker Coconut anywhere from 5 lbs. to 10 cans, all for $1.00.



The advertisements other than Republic Mills Department Store included Republic Pharmacy which had a free giveaway of phonograph records and record albums with every $3 purchase. They were the headquarters for High Boy Ice Cream and Good Drinks!


During “Dollar Days” the Republic Theatre, “The Home of Good Pictures” was running a special offer on Friday for any seat in the house, adults 15 cents and children 5 cents. The feature was “Queen of Sheba” – a ten reel Super Spectacular Production of Ancient Judea.

“The Greatest Biblical Story Ever Picturized – at the cheapest admission ever offered in the state.”



A little research on “Queen of Sheba” shows that it was actually a 9-reel silent drama, produced by Fox Studios, about King Solomon and Queen of Sheba’s ill-fated romance starring Betty Blythe as the Queen and Fritz Leiber, Sr. as King Solomon. The average silent reel was about 11 minutes, so this flick was a little more than an hour and a half long. The complete film probably no longer exists because of a 1937 fire at the Fox film vault in New Jersey but there is a 17-second fragment discovered in 2011. One of the notable things about this film was the risqué costumes, which is evidenced by the few stills that exist. This was before there was a great deal of strict censorship or the film code era which came about in around 1930. The ad said there were continuous performances at Republic Theatre from 2:30 until 11:00 p.m.


Other ads include Clark-Plyler Furniture Co., H.J. Francis Department Store and Sam’s Place, Sam Kilgo, Proprietor; and Ehrlich’s 5 and 10c Store.



There were several ads for the Dearborn Inn Hotel restaurant, one for Sanitary Café, Pete Bratsos, proprietor; and one for the Great Falls Candy Kitchen which featured a complete line of candies, a fine line of fruits , cigars, etc.



These are just a few of the advertisements and bargains that were to be had at the Great Falls Spectacular. The newspaper encourage everyone in the surrounding area to head to the town on that Friday and Saturday.


This newspaper was accessed through Louise Pettus Archives and Special Collections at Winthrop University’s Digital Commons. It is a glimpse of what Great Falls was like almost 100 years ago.


I could not find any kind of story or follow up as to whether the “Dollar Days” was a success or not, but it seemed to be a well-planned, coordinated event designed to focus on the business of Great Falls in 1923.


Just something I found “enroute to looking up other things.”


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