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Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition 1897

Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition

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Quick List Info

Nashville World's Fair Poster 1897

Dates Open - May 1 to October 30, 1897. Not Open Sunday. Open 157 days.

Attendance - Paid attendance during season 1,166,692, with total including 7,642 before/after dates, plus 99,493 season tickets for total paid attendance of 1,273,827. Total attendance (free includes mostly exhibitors, concessionaires, and employees) 1,679,579 during season, plus same as above, for total of 1,786,714. Wagon gate attendance, not in above, is estimated at 100,000. Total, in season, could be estimated at 1,879,072.

International Participants - 16 Nations.

Total Cost - $1,101,246.40.

Site Acreage - 200 acres in West Side Park.

Sanction and Type - Prior to the Bureau of International Expositions. Would be considered a Recognized Expo with Special characteristics like those on the 2-3 or 7-8 years of a decade. The U.S. Congress approved an appropriation for government exhibits and buildings ($130,000), and authorized foreign exhibitors to attend, with articles duty free.

Ticket Cost - 50 cents adults, 25 cents children, 25 cents for all after 7 p.m. Per capita revenue per admission at Nashville 1897 was $0.373. The patrons spent an additional $0..112 on concessions.

Photo top center: Bird-eye view of the Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition, 1897, Henderson Lithographing Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Column Top: Poster of the Nashville 1897 Exposition, 1897, Treasury Department. Courtesy Pinterest. Column Below: Auditorium at the Tennessee Centennial, B.L. Singley/Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Nashville 1897

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History of the Event

Ticket from the Nashville 1897 World's Fair

There was so much competition within the United States for hosting World's Fairs in the 1890's that Douglas Anderson, with idea for the fair in 1892, suggested six cities vie for the right. Nashville won, joining in with Chicago, with the World's Columbian in 1893, and smaller fairs in San Francisco 1894, Atlanta 1895, and Omaha 1898 in hosting of the world during that last decade of the 1800s. It was about civic pride. It was about patriotism. But it was also difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition. So Nashville built a replica of the Parthenon to host their fine arts display. It's still there. Well, a rebuilt version of it, and it's still a very popular tourist attraction.

They drew in exhibits from sixteen nations, although most were unofficial, but did include official exhibits from Washington, and nearly all states participated. It was a fair that still tried to reconcile the wounds from the Civil War and show that southern cities had rejoined the national and international economy. There were the boyhood cabins of Abraham Lincoln, as well as one of Jefferson Davis, at the fair. There were railroad exhibits from George Pullman that had previously been exhibited at the World's Columbian. There was a separate Mexico pavilion and an amusement section called Vanity Fair. Yes, there was a lot of suxtaposition at this exposition, like many others, ticketed as the 100th anniversary of the state's founding.

Fourteen principal buildings were constructed, about fifty total. Minerals and Forestry, 526' x 124' with an annex 72' x 162'. There was an auditorium seating six thousand. A Woman's Building - 160' x 65' that included rooms such as the Chattaanooga room, Georgia room, Mount Vernon room, etc. The Commerce Building was the largest structure at 591' x 256'. That's where the foreign exhibits were located. The Parthenon had fifty-eight columns and an art display worth over $1 million. That's alot for 1897. The Erectheon was reproduced for the History Building with 4200 square feet. There was a Children's Building, Transportation Building 400' x 120' on the western border of Lake Watauga, an Agricultural Building 525' x 200', Machinery Building 375' x 138', and Negro Building.

Above photo. Ticket from the Tennessee Centennial, 1897, Fair Authority. Courtesy Pinterest. Below: Illinois Building, 1897, B.L. Singley/Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Nashville World's Fair of 1897
They didn't reach their attendance goal of two million, in some measure due to the outbreak of yellow fever in the Gulf States, which caused quarantines in some areas and scared other visitors away. In the end, the Tennessee Centennial turned a profit, some quote it as $39, although profit in World's Fair terms is in some ways difficult to assess. The subscriptions that support the fair are sometimes called revenue.

Historian's Perspective

Judy Larson - "Arrogance from Chicago reporters toward (Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston) exposition. People (press) didn't expect much at all. Southern newspapers would have cartoons, characatures with southern dialects. Charleston suffered less from the cracker image problem. Art buildings. Nashville always complaining. Nashville went overboard on patriotism idea. (Theme) Nashville celebrating statehood, was about patriotism. Nashville with the Spanish-American War, which was probably a small positive since patriotism boosted it. However, cholera outbreak caused a greater unforseen problem."

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Prior to BIE

Nashville World's Fair 1897

International Participants
Nations and Colonies

Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, China, Canada, Mexico, Chile, United States.

States and cities with their own buildings: New York, Illinois, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and cities of Memphis, Knoxville, Cincinnati, and Louisville.

Note: Above taken from the Official Report, although it is still sometimes difficult to tell whether certain nations or participants from those nations actually participated in a significant way. Take the above as a guide, not gospel.

Expo Tidbits
Eight hundred thousand people per year still visit the replica Parthenon.

Other interesting numbers from the fair: They earned $435,399.95 from ticket revenues and $131,344.14 from the concessionaires take of $620,223.65.

In a shocking turn of events, the amount Congress appropriated for the participation of the U.S. Government was not completely spent. Of the $100,000 for the exhibit and $30,000 for the bulding, only $97,917.41 was spent on the exhibit. No, we're not sure if that was of the $100,000 or the total $130,000, but its still surprising. Prominent visitors to the building included President McKinley on June 11 and 12.

The two most costly buildings constructed were the Parthenon $34,611.75 and the Commerce Building $45,238.27.

Largest attendance day was October 28 (Thomas Day) with 95,961 paid and 98,579 total visitors.

The population of Nashville and suburbs at the time was about 150,000.

The fair should have been held in 1896 to accurately reflect the Centennial of Tennessee, but was postponed until 1897 to give the fair enough time to complete construction.

Its site in West Side Park had tranportation from the city center by street car and train for 5 cents.

Nashville Tennessee Exhibition 1897 Parthenon

The Parthenon Building remained after the exhbition with Centennial Park established around it in 1902. By 1920, the original structure was beyond repair. It was rebuilt in concrete from 1902-1931 and renovated again in 1988. It currently serves as Nashville's Art Gallery with state of the art galleries, a gift shop, and office space.

Those in Charge

John W. Thomas, President of the Nashville, Chattanooga, and St. Louis Railway, was president of the exposition. Major Eugene Castner Lewis, Chairman of the Board of NC & SL railroad, was Director-General. He had orginated the idea of the Parthenon. The other officers of the exposition were V.L. Kirkman, Nashville, 1st Vice President; W.A. Henderson, Knoxville, 2nd Vice President; John Overton, Jr., Memphis, 3rd Vice President; Charles E. Currey, Secretary; W.P. Tanner, Treasurer. A.W. Wills was Commissioner-General. Robert T. Creighton was Engineer in Charge of the Buildings and Grounds.

Nashville Tennessee Exhibition 1897

Sources: Report of United States Government Exhibit (Official Report); New York Times; Fair News; History of Centennials, Expositions, and World Fairs; Historical Dictionary of World's Fairs by Alfred Heller; Official History, Portland 1905.

Photo column top: Commerce Building at the Tennessee Centennial, 1897, B.L. Singley/Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Middle: Parthenon, 1897, B.L. Singley/Keystone View Company. Courtesy Library of Congress. Bottom: Negro Building, 1897. Courtesy Pinterest.

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