Harmon’s Histories: Mercantile press of 1877

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By Jim Harmon/for MISSOULA CURRENT

As the many stakeholders in the increasingly warm Missoula Mercantile battle continue to launch verbal sorties at one another, it’s instructive to go back in time – to 1877 – to have a sense of how this building was viewed at its inception.

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Jim Harmon

R. A. Eddy, A. B. Hammond and E. L. Bonner, who formed Eddy, Hammond & Company (originally E. L. Bonner & Co.), competed for business with locals like Worden & Co., and regional notables including Greenhood, Bohm & Co. and T. J. Demers.

On May 4, 1877, Eddy, Hammond & Company launched a heavy advertising campaign in the local newspaper coinciding with construction of their new building, “The successive arrival of more goods will soon render our stock complete in all departments, and our prices so low that all customers will be pleased. We invite all to come often and examine the new goods.”

It was a big deal in Missoula. Along with the advertising, the newspaper chronicled the construction progress:

May 8, 1877 – The walls are up nearly to the tops of the windows, and it already begins to show that it will be one of the finest store rooms in the territory.

May 11, 1877 — Messrs. Murphy and Myers, stone masons from Helena, came down on Saturday’s coach, and commenced putting up the stone wall for Eddy, Hammond & Co.’s new building the first of the week.

May 18, 1877 — The walls for the Eddy, Hammond & Co.’s new stone store are nearly up to the level of the first floor. The building is 30′ x 85′, and if a second story is added — a matter which is still undecided, but is quite probable — we have the masons’ word for it that it will be the finest building in the territory.

June 15, 1877 — The new building is looming up rapidly, and it will be ready for the roof and another week at the present rate of upward tendency.

July 13, 1877 — Visitors to town say it will be the most commodious and best arranged business house in the territory.

The new store featured sugar and coffee by the pound, pickles by the barrel, cigars by the box and whisky by the gallon. They had harnesses, bridles and whips, carpet and wallpaper and ladies’ trimmed hats. Of course they also “guarantee(d) satisfaction, or goods (were) returned at our expense.”

There was probably a ribbon-cutting or grand opening for the new building. But the weekly newspaper updates stopped abruptly in August of 1877. Just as today, the news cycle had changed: something about the Nez Perce and Fort Fizzle.

Jim Harmon is a retired journalist whose 50-year career included nearly three decades at KECI-TV, Missoula in roles ranging from news anchor to weather forecaster. In retirement, Jim is a landscape gardener and history buff who’s spent years reading historical micro-film newspapers. You can read his weekly history column at the Missoula Current.