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The Showman of Moscow

Updated: Apr 1, 2020


By: EmilieRae Smith

Moscow was a growing and bustling town in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were multiple businesses arising in downtown during the first decade of the twentieth century. These buildings, modeled after Roman architecture[1], are now part of Moscow’s historic district. Commercial businesses started popping up as early as 1881. Businesses really took off, however, after brick became more accessible.

One of these prominent businesses on Main Street was Williamson’s. Nathaniel Williamson was an Irish immigrant who originally set up shop on the 400 block of South Main in 1904. He called his store The Greater Boston. His store featured flashy signage and advertisements from the Great Boston Horse Show and Great Fall Fairs,[2] which was uncommon during this time to have advertisements from events happening in the Eastern United States. In 1913, he leased the McConnell-McGuire building, which he turned into a department store selling furniture and clothes for men, women and children. It was stocked with imported European fabrics and was said to be the best merchandise in the new western states by the Williamson’s advertisements.

Nathaniel Williamson held contests during Christmas and had annual fairs for advertisement. The annual White Fair was advertised as “the most powerful, most meritorious of any similar occurrence in the inland empire.”[3] These White Fairs featured sales for his store and prizes to be won. The fairs drew in people from all over the Palouse and ran consecutively for fifteen years, proving to be a success every time. The other tradition Williamson started was during Christmas time. Every year, he’d put up a giant Christmas tree in the McConnell-McGuire building and hold a contest for people to guess how tall the tree was. There were prizes as well as big community gatherings.

Williamson’s was in business during the years leading up to World War I and the very beginning of it. In its catalogs, there was wartime propaganda for why the United States was going to join the war against Germany. At the beginning of Williamson’s catalogs, political poems were printed about the strong and valiant United States and their efforts to take down the German enemy.

As Williamson’s prepared to close his business, he advertised grand sales to liquidate his inventory.  In one of their final catalogs, Williamson’s listed all they did to help the Moscow community. For example during the first fifteen years of their business, they paid $769,800 in taxes, rent, salaries, insurance and donations to Moscow.[4]

The Williamson building is now part of Moscow’s historic district. These buildings hold stories within their walls of a new town that was just starting to gain their sense of community. They had traditions, such as the White Fair, the annual Christmas tree contest and the Williamson Fall Fair. The Fall Fair was made into the County Fair in September we all know and love. Williamson’s brought in people from across the Palouse and Latah County, making Moscow a central business location. Although, Williamson’s is no longer a store, its values of helping and bringing the community together still live on.


[1]    National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.

[2]    National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.

[3]    1910 White Fair Poster

[4]    Williamson Catalog 1918

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