Sunday, December 03, 2017

Iowa shows off at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair

This model of the Iowa Capitol had pride of place in the main pavilion of the Iowa Building at the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893.

Iowa's Columbian Commission, charged with celebrating its home state in a grand manner at the granddaddy of all world fairs to date, asked the Iowa Legislature to appropriate $300,000 back in 1890 --- when the World's Columbian Exhibition (aka Chicago World's Fair) was only three years away.

Intended to mark the now somewhat controversial arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas, the fair would occupy some 600 acres along the Lake Michigan shoreline and commissioners --- including Chariton's Smith Henderson Mallory --- thought that figure sounded about right.

The Legislature disagreed, however --- and appropriated $125,000 instead. And so it fell to Mallory, semi-retired after building a fortune as a railroad contractor and, in 1892, named to chair the Commission's Executive Committee, to figure out how to cut corners but still ensure that Iowa could hold its head high.

Iowa is the Tall Corn State, of course, and here is the display celebrating that fact in the main pavilion of the Iowa Building.

These small photographs, pasted onto a jumbo cardboard scrapbook page and labeled not long after they were taken, illustrate the result. The page is in the Lucas County Historical Society collection although the balance of the scrapbook has vanished. The photographer may have been Mallory's daughter, Jessie Mallory Thayer, a camera enthusiast. One of the images on the page --- a depiction of the exterior --- is a drawing; the rest appear to be original images trimmed to fit on the page.

The Mallorys rented a house in Chicago during 1892 and made it --- rather that the Ilion, their Chariton mansion --- headquarters from late that year through the fair's May-October, 1893 run. Smith was tasked with developing the Iowa Building, serving as its superintendent during the fair and making sure his state was represented by displays in other buildings on the grounds.

A pyramid of coal, considered to be Iowa's great natural resource of the late 19th century, also had pride of place in the main pavilion of the Iowa Building.

By pulling strings and benefitting from a degree of good fortune, the Iowa Commission secured use of a vast pavilion along the Lake Michigan shore constructed in 1888 and known as "The Shelter." Supposedly, the design of this early events venue had been inspired by the Chateau de Josselin in Brittany. It was adapted at a cost of roughly $6,000 to serve as the main exhibition hall.

This illustration (not on the scrapbook page) shows the original building on the site, "The Shelter" adapted for use as an exhibit hall for the Iowa Building, in the foreground.

The Cedar Rapids architectural firm of Josselyn & Taylor designed a rather grand two-story addition, designed to harmonize with the original pavilion and to double its size. Cost of that addition was $27,000, but part of the agreement involved in securing use of The Shelter was that the addition would be torn down and modifications to the original structure reversed when the fair ended.

This illustration, found in the scrapbook, shows the addition that formed the other half of the Iowa Building --- torn down when the fair ended.

Inside, there were many wonders --- including the grand model of Iowa's capitol building at the top here. Also on display were models of the Ottumwa Coal Palace, the Creston Bluegrass Palace, the Sioux City Corn Palace and the Forest City Flax Palace.

Iowa also had displays in other buildings on the fair grounds. This is the Iowa Pomological Exhibit in the Horticultural Building. Iowa was a major producer and exporter of fruit, most notably apples, during the 1890s.

After the fair was over, the addition was demolished and the andirons used in the big fireplace of the central hall in it were removed and brought home to Chariton. You still can see them looking considerably too big for their britches in the fireplace at the Chariton Free Public Library.

And here's Iowa's mineral exhibit in the Mining Building.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing this wonderful photo scrapbook - I've been doing some research about the Mines and Mining Building exhibits and was happy to see these photographs. The background on budget and design decisions was interesting too. I loved knowing that materials from the Fair made it into the local library - if looking a little out of place. Thanks for taking the time to show us this treasure! --B. Morgan, AMNH Research Library