Times were tough for the Commonwealth Cotton Mill; either that, or Brodie Duke’s bookkeeper had slipped up, because the Durham County sheriff was set to auction off some mill property by the railroad for $513.20 in back taxes.
Times must have been tougher for H.H. Dowdee, though. He stood to lose 76 acres on Cornwallis Road because he owed the county a whopping assessment of $8. Duke and Dowdee had plenty of company, though, because the roster of owners on the sheriff’s for-sale list filled most all of a newspaper page that morning: Thursday, Sept 3, 1914.
All in all, though, those were the Good Old Days. Elsewhere around town a century ago, the superior court wound up its term so the circuit judge could catch the noon train home. Murder suspect Louis Bradsher had his case continued, as did Charles Coplan, who was charged with going into a room at the Bell hotel with burglary on his mind.
In other amusements, the Paris movie house was showing a three-reel feature called “Jim Webb Senator” – a tale of a country politician prevailing over Washington corruption, directed by and starring the popular King Baggott.
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Those who had already seen the movie could pass the time observing workmen erecting the new five-foot by 10-foot electric sign atop the E.E. Bragg & Co. shoe store at Main and Church streets,. The name “E.E. Bragg” was 12 feet long, between two emblems of the Selz Shoes brand of Chicago.
And there were more to come, as Bragg had ordered two more electric signs from the Durham Traction Co. – that entrepreneurial outfit that, the previous Christmas, erected the city’s Slogan Sign (“Durham Renowned The World Around Health Wealth Progress Success) to promote the power of electrified advertising.
In those Good Old Days, Durham was looking forward to the county fair at Lakewood Park, which promised balloon ascensions, a high-dive act and acrobats performing on a horse and a wagon full of hay, all five days of the fair and all free. The fair would be going on day and night, with farm exhibits in the dancing pavilion, manufactured articles in the skating rink and the bowling alley turned over to poultry.
The town was also looking forward to the tobacco market’s opening on the 15th, with warehousemen expecting a full crop of buyers and a pretty good crop of local tobacco. It was hard to predict the prices, though – in the markets farther south the prices took a dive when, as a Durham forecast put it, “the countries of Europe jumped at one another’s throats and caused the world to forget that it will want to smoke.”
So the Great War, just over a month old, was making itself felt in Durham. War news took over the morning papers – German aeroplanes bombing Paris, the Russians advancing in Austria, Greece and Turkey making preparations to treat their wounded once they were drawn in.
Three years later, the Star Brick Warehouse would have been turned into quarters for Battery C, a Durham unit of the National Guard, which would go on to fight in the Argonne in 1918. Cigarette taxes would double in the years not far ahead, food get so expensive Trinity College would turn part of its campus into a vegetable patch, and Brodie Duke’s Commonwealth Cotton Mill would be going gangbusters with the wartime demand for cotton socks.
But on the Good Old Day of Sept. 3, 1914, all that was still over there, and in the ever-entrepreneurial Bull City the sharp sorts saw marketing opportunity in the times. John Sprunt Hill took out an ad in that morning’s paper for his Home Savings Bank, headlined “Neutrality.” It read:
“President Wilson has issued a message advising the people to maintain Neutrality, and not take sides with the nations now at war.
“This is good counsel.
“Now is the time for industry and saving.
“Start an account with us.”
The bank’s savings accounts were paying 4 percent interest. Those were some Good Old Days, fer sure.