Winter in 1884 Jamestown

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

Winter is a tough season for people and businesses. This had to be particularly true back in the 1880s.

The Jan. 18, 1884, edition of the Jamestown Alert had a couple of announcements relating to the Jamestown winter business climate.

First, the Alert announced it was downsizing for the winter to a five-column daily. This reduced the amount of news it had to produce for the paper.

The editor warned its advertisers that it would continue its policy of running only paid ads rather than filling the paper with ads from businesses that were behind in their payments.

The paper also included a brief article concerning local businesses closing at 7:30 in the evening. The paper claimed this was to give “to give the clerks and employees the winter evenings for recreation and amusement.”


Still, I would imagine if business had been good, the stores would have remained open during the winter evenings .

Winter travel had to be difficult in the horse-powered era. I’m sure the farmers of the area made far fewer trips to town during the cold and snow of winter than they did during the summer.

That is not to say there weren’t big things happening in Jamestown even during the cold winter of 1884.

Two wells being dug near Jamestown showed signs of coal about 50 feet below the surface. The editors of the Alert anticipated a booming coal mining industry in Jamestown’s future.

This idea didn’t pan out so well.

The Alert also spent considerable ink bragging about its new steam engine used to operate the printing press. The paper claimed to be the only one in the Dakota Territory, other than the Fargo Republican, completely operated by steam power. It even invited the public to stop by and view the steam-powered printing press in operation.

Winter entertainment may have been lacking if watching a printing press was a spectator sport.

The offices of the city of Jamestown were also getting telephone service that winter. The Jamestown Alert noted that the city clerk could now be reached by phone if anyone had questions about city government.


“He can stand such inquires up to about 100 per day,” the writer of The Jamestown Alert said in the article. “But above that number you should stop your ears before your answer comes back. As likely as not he will tell you to go to Hel-ena, and it may not be convenient for you to go.”

Evidently the city clerk was a travel agent as well as a public administrator during the winter.

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