Western History & Genealogy Blog

The Department Store Experience, 1917

Interior view of the Daniels and Fisher store, circa 1902. X-22884
Daniels & Fisher building, 1911. By Louis Charles McClure. MCC-1564
Displays of dinnerware, silver, crystal, flowers, and lamps at Daniels & Fisher store, circa 1902. X-22888
Daniels & Fisher French Room, March 1903. X-22800
Page from Jessie Thompson's autograph book, 1881. WH1870

Does the stress of holiday shopping make you long for a stroll through an early 20th-century department store?

Teenager Elizabeth Thompson wrote about her visit to Denver’s legendary Daniels & Fisher Department Store in an English class composition dated March 12, 1917. Elizabeth’s mother, Lucy May “Jessie” Thompson (1867-1941) worked as a seamstress at the store for more than 20 years.

Wrote Elizabeth:

I had the pleasure of going through one of our most complete dry goods stores in our city Saturday. The main building is six stories high, with a tower of twenty-three stories. It is of white brick. It has a wonderful clock that may be seen from quite a distance. This clock is useful as well as ornamental as it winds itself and also turns on the electric lights in the building at a certain hour. It is run by electricity and strikes the hour which may be heard for blocks away. On one side of the building is an electric flag to show their patriotism and on a flag pole on top of the tower three hundred and seventy-five feet from the sidewalk waves another American flag.

The entry room is very attractive. There are two large doors into the room. The room is of Colorado marble. There are two elevators and we entered one of them. In making the ascent, we learned that the first four floors are completely filled with dry goods.

On the fifth floor there are tea rooms. The decorations of the men’s dining room are of light blue. The general dining room is of light yellow with white pillars. On these pillars are light yellow lights. In back of this room is the place where all of the cooking is done. On Saturday, they make from 1,000 to 1,500 loaves of bread besides cooking for the home cook foods department in the basement as well as for their lunch room.

On the sixth floor are mailing and office rooms. On the ninth, there are manicure parlors. On the twelfth is Hopkin’s studio [photographer]. On the fourteenth is a private dining room. On the fifteenth, there is a school room. The pupils are girls employed by this store. They are promoted according to their ability. The school is in session from nine to twelve. Miss Vernard is their teacher. The pupils are taught as in other schools but they also learn the art of becoming good sales ladies.

Next we reached the tower. This is where one may look over the city and the surrounding country and see the Arapaho Peaks fifty miles to the north and Pikes Peak seventy-five miles south. Tourists are frequent visitors to this tower and it is there that souvenirs are sold.

The Jessie Thompson papers (WH1870) contain many unique items, including an autograph book dated 1881 (with lovely examples of cursive penmanship and painted illustrations), fragile volumes of Godey’s Lady’s Book from the 1860s, and a run of correspondence between Jessie Thompson and her nephew, Jesse R. Link (1896-1964), when Link was stationed at Camp Lewis (Washington) and Camp Travis (Texas) during World War I.

More photographs of the Daniels & Fisher Department Store can be found in the DPL Digital Collections. In addition to the Jessie Thompson papers, DPL’s Western History and Genealogy Department is pleased to house the Daniels & Fisher records (WH12).