Saturday, August 07, 2021

Lucas County at Creston's 1891 Blue Grass Exposition

Jane Briley, who knows much of what there is to know about Union County history, was over from Creston yesterday to spend the afternoon at the museum with a visiting delegation of D.A.R. members and their families --- and we got to talking about the Blue Grass Palace.

The palace, which took its name from a variety of grass that made southwest Iowa the best grazing land in the nation as the 19th century neared its end, was the product of an 18-county consortium, including Lucas --- The Bluegrass League. It had taken its inspiration from Sioux City's 1887 Corn Palace and would help to inspire Ottumwa's Coal Palace (1890-1892) and Forest City's Flax Palace (1892-93).

The Blue Grass Palace had three glory years --- 1889-1891 --- and Creston and its palace drew thousands of tourists to late summer expositions during those years. The 1891 event was held Aug. 20-29 and special excursion rates were available on the C.B.&Q. for those Lucas Countyans who wished to head over early in the morning and return home during the evening.

I've written about the inaugural year of the palace and related events in a 2019 post entitled "All aboard for Creston & the Blue Grass Palace" that you'll find here.

Anyhow, Jane mentioned a book entitled "Iowa Leaves" that contained a description of the palace and its exhibits, published during 1891 by Clara Belle (Robinson) Rouse, a writer and artist who was living in Creston during those years with her large family because husband Clarence was home-based there as a C.B.&Q. conductor.

The book is available in its entirety via Google "Books" if you'd like to read it yourself. Although organized in a somewhat confusing manner it contains a lot of Iowa and regional history as well as information about Sioux City's Corn Palace, Ottumwa's Coal Palace and, of course, the Blue Grass Palace.

I've transcribed here the chapter that describes Lucas County's 1891 exhibit. It's ever so slightly over the top, but keep in mind that Clara was not in the business of discouraging words. 


The next county which claims our attention in the blue grass carnival is that of Lucas, situated between Monroe and Clarke, in the second tier from the Missouri line, with Marion and Warren on the north, while Wayne joins lands with her on the south, forming a separating line between the coal palace regions of southeastern Iowa and the blue grass regions of the southwest portion of our great state.

Lucas county is noted for its deep, fertile soil, which never wears out, and for its great mineral resources, there being at the present time 13 coal mines in operation in the county. The principal ones are at Cleveland, on the main line of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, which affords them excellent facilities for the shipping of coal. The products of these mines are shipped to western Iowa and Nebraska, the coal being of excellent quality for steam and domestic purposes. The White Breast Coal company has 5,000 acres of land between Lucas and Chariton, on the main line of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad.

The next largest mine is at Zero, on the main line of the "Q," the products of which are mostly shipped to Nebraska. There are quite a number of smaller mines in the vicinity of Chariton, all doing a good coal business. The soil in Lucas county yields unusually large returns to the farmers of their section, abundant crops being grown here every year.

The exhibit in the palace is arranged on pyramid steps, covered with cream colored muslin, on which are skillfully arranged flowers, fruits, grasses, vegetables and grain and all varieties of seed. What elegant corn they grow in Lucas! is a common remark heard every day in the palace; we find it to be of excellent quality and quantity, both on the stalk and in jars, while numerous large, round, filled ears occupy conspicuous place throughout the whole exhibit. The displays of oats and wheat denote prolific growth, while elegant samples of barley, millet and flax are shown. The quantity and quality of timothy, blue grass and clover seed are very fine and Lucas is certainly very rich in her landscape, luxuriant meadows and pasture lands. The  display of fruits is a subject of much conversation among visitors to this elegant booth and Lucas can certainly boast of fine orchards and vineyards. The small fruits  put up in glass jars by the ladies of Lucas are a surprise. Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants, gooseberries and an excellent line of homemade jellies.

What a magnificent fruit production is this placed before the admiring eyes of thousands in the blue grass palace. A veritable "garden patch" is represented here, filled with all the different varieties of well-matured vegetables grown in this latitude, and speaks volumes for the fertility of Lucas county soil. Cabbages, carrots, beets, turnips, onions, egg plants, potatoes, squashes, pumpkins, peppers; in fact, everything in the vegetable line are seen in this booth.

The public schools of Chariton occupy the entire west side with an elegant display of  school work, which tells a splendid story of the interest manifested by the pupils of this city in their public school work. No city in the state can boast of better educational facilities than Chariton, county seat of Lucas county.

The next prominent feature in this booth is the dairy interests of Lucas, represented by firkins of pure rich butter and a number of elegant cheeses. From this industry Lucas reaps immense profits every year, being looked after by an intelligent and wealthy class.

The sample of native wood on exhibition from timber along the banks of her creeks and rivers indicates cheap fuel in this line also, as well as in coal. Sandstone and coal form another interesting and valuable exhibit in this booth,  which speaks of cheap building material in her section.

The beautiful decoration of the ceiling in this booth is made of grasses and grains and green corn on the stalk, artistically arranged, while several pieces of aesthetic fancy work adorn the side walls. Handsome photographs of fine county buildings, city and farm residences occupy prominent places here and there throughout this elegant boudoir. Lucas is certainly rich in landed possessions and she has not been at all backward in bringing together a most excellent showing of the products of her soil, placing them before the great king of the blue grass regions and a multitude of invited guests.

Chariton, the county seat of Lucas county, is beautifully located on the main line of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad, or Blue Grass route, and contains 4,000 inhabitants and is one of the best towns in the state of Iowa.

The business portion of the city is solidly built of fine brick blocks, while the streets are broad and attractive --- pleasing to the eye of all  visitors who may be sojourning in the city. Numerous classes of business are established here and merchants are active in supplying the wants of a large and wealthy country tributary.

The residence portion of the city contains some very elegant homes and tasty cottages, while fine, commodious school buildings are seen in every ward.

Chariton dotes on her churches, which are a source of great pride to all her people; therefore, all denominations of the Christian religion find a peasant and permanent home in this city.

The citizens of Chariton are an aristocratic and hospitable class of people and are adepts in the art of entertaining strangers who may be sojourning the their city, while the farmers throughout the country surrounding here are an honest, zealous class who till the soil, being sure of good crops every year, raise stock for the market, make butter and cheese, improve their homes, train and educate their children, taking at all times great pride in their churches.

The Chicago, Burlington & Quincy railroad passes through the heart of the city from east to west, while a handsome brick depot with limestone trimmings is a leading ornament to Chariton. Hutchison & Abel, hotel men of fame, run the elegant hotel in connection with the deport, where the traveler may have the pleasure of sitting down to the very best meals served on the continent. the delicious viands served by Hutchison & Abel cannot fail to please the taste of the most fastidious epicurean, being served in the most perfect and satisfactory manner at all times. These noted gentlemen also control the depot hotels at Ottumwa, Burlington and Red Oak, Iowa, where meals are served in the same elegant style as at Chariton.

A line of road branches out from Chariton north to Des Moines and one south to St. Joseph, Mo., both through a fine agricultural country. Lucas is a great stock country and hundreds of cars of the same are shipped yearly to other markets, always finding ready sale. Abundance of fresh water and rich blue grass pastures make her one of the finest grazing countries in the west. The lay of the  land is such in Lucas that elegant crops are grown here every year and the farmer liberally rewarded for his labor; therefore, she is a favored spot in the noted blue grass regions of southwestern Iowa. Her people are a prosperous and happy race and when a stranger from less favored regions comes west in search of permanent homes we can only say: Pass not by, but stop in Lucas and look carefully through her section and note her many excellent and natural advantages.

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