Thursday, November 20, 2008

New Orleans 1885: Exposition Grounds.....

The site chosen for the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition was 249 undeveloped acres in the western portion of New Orleans, approximately four miles from the business district. In the years prior to the Civil War, the property had been the location of two plantations, which eventually merged into one. The city acquired the property in 1874, as the site for a future public park. The acreage was named Upper City Park, and then re-named Audubon Park after the close of the exposition. Accessible by water, and several streetcar lines, the exposition grounds were bounded on the south by the Mississippi River, and on the north by St. Charles Avenue. East of the grounds was located 100-foot wide Exposition Boulevard, and on the west was Park Avenue. Within this vast area wild grasses grew, interspersed with several groves and avenues of Live Oaks. Two avenues of these oaks had been located on one of the former plantations, owned by Pierre Foucher. Prior to 1825, a smaller portion of Foucher's property had formed the second plantation, owned by Etienne Bore. The exposition's planners decided to place an immense wooden building at the center of the site, to house all of the major exhibits. The structure, named the Main Building, contained the exposition's Machinery Hall, exhibits from foreign nations, displays from numerous United States manufacturers, agricultural implements, and the immense Music Hall. Soon found to be inadequate to house all the intended displays, a second large wooden structure was constructed at the site's north-east corner, and officially named the United States and States Exhibits Building. Unofficially, it was known as the Government & States Building, since it contained exhibits from the United States government, as well as displays from the various States and Territories of the U.S. Additionally, the building also housed the Educational, Women's, and Colored People's exhibits. Across from the Main Building's south-east entrance was located the fireproof Art Hall, constructed of iron and situated on a lengthy avenue of Live Oaks. At the south end of the avenue of oaks was located Horticultural Hall, built entirely of wood & glass. Besides these four major structures, several secondary buildings were also constructed. At the site's extreme south-east corner was located the Mexican National Headquarters, housing the Mexican Band and a detachment of the Mexican military, as well as offices for Mexican officials. An octagon-shaped iron structure was also constructed by the Mexican government, near the south-east corner of the Main Building, to contain a large mineral exhibit. West of this structure was located the iron Factories and Mills Building, constructed as an annex to Machinery Hall. Immediately adjacent to this building was constructed the long and narrow Saw Mill & Woodworking Machinery Building. Located behind the Main Building was the Boiler House, containing fifteen large boilers which produced steam to power the exposition's engines, located in Machinery Hall. North of the Main Building was located the Wagon Building, and the large cross-shaped Grand Rapids Furniture Building. At the north-west portion of the grounds were located six large buildings to display livestock, with an adjacent half-mile long race course. Additionally, interspersed throughout the grounds, were restaurants, lemonade stands, coffee houses, small buildings for individual exhibits, and several model greenhouses. Directly in front of the Main Building, an avenue led to the exposition's main entrance, located on Exposition Boulevard. Four additional entrances also gave access to the at St. Charles Avenue; one east of the Government & States Building; another east of Horticultural Hall; and the last at a large wharf constructed along the Mississippi River. The site's major walkways were constructed of asphalt, with shallow drainage-ditches at each side, filled with crushed-shell. Due to New Orleans' high water-table, drainage of the exposition grounds was a major concern, and drainage ditches a necessity. A drainage canal was also constructed, and water pumped from the site via a powerful drainage-pump near St. Charles Avenue. Although incomplete for several weeks after the opening of the exposition, the majority of the grounds were eventually landscaped with lawns, shrubs, small trees, and beds of flowers. A Mexican Garden, containing many large specimens of cactus and other native plants, was situated near the Mexican National Headquarters. The area around Horticultural Hall was landscaped with numerous varieties of plants from around the world. Several lakes also dotted the site. The largest lake, located south of the Government & States Building, was Lake Rubio, named after the wife of President Porfirio Diaz of Mexico. On a large island, at the center of the lake, stood a 100-foot high stand-pipe, which also served as a fountain. Water was pumped to the top, which then gravity-flowed from the stand-pipe to the various decorative fountains located on the site, as well as to restaurants and lavatories. A second large lake, named Lake Brilliant, was located south of the Main Building, and west of Horticultural Hall. Additionally, two smaller un-named lakes were located on the west of the Mexican National Headquarters, and another north-east of Horticultural Hall. The New Orleans exposition was also the first major World's Fair to be illuminated entirely by electricity, and several 115-foot high, iron-framed, electric arc-light towers were built to provide night lighting of the grounds. The world's most powerful arc-light, of 100,000 candle-power, was situated atop the stand-pipe, located on the island in Lake Rubio.

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