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1897 Tennessee
Centennial Exposition
 In
1897, Tennessee held a six-month
celebration to mark the one-hundredth
anniversary of statehood. The Tennessee
Centennial Exposition was held in
Nashville from May 1 until October 30,
1897, although the state’s actual
centennial occurred in 1896.
Sights & Attractions
Animal Show
Caboret du Neant
Camera Obscura
Centennial Club House
Chinese Village and Beauty Show
Colorado Gold Mine
Cuban-Spanish Village
Cyclorama of Gettysburg
Edison’s Mirage
Electric Carousel
Electric Scenic Theater
Giant Air Balloon
Giant See-Saw
Haunted Swing
Japanese Village
Log Cabin Homes of Davis and Lincoln
Money Illusion
Moorish Palace
Mystic Maze
Old Plantation
Ostrich Farm
Palace of Illusions
Pompey's Pillar
Red Men’s Teepee
Rialto Bridge
Shoot the Chute
Shooting Gallery
Statue of Virtue
Streets of Cairo
Train Exhibit Shed
Vaudeville Theater
Venetian Canal
The Visage
Whaleback Seawave
X-Ray Machines
Administration Building: In the Administration Building the offices of the Director of Works and
the Engineers are located. Here also are domiciled the Director General, Director of Affairs, and
their assistants. The structure has wide, shaded verandas, from which a most satisfactory view of
the Park can be had. It is located in the little grove back of the Children's Building, and is a
beautiful little structure.
Agriculture Building: The products of the field will be displayed in what many will consider the
gem of the Exposition group of buildings. It is in Renaissance style of architecture, and the
dimensions are five hundred by two hundred feet. It has a central dome rising to a height of one
hundred feet, while six minor domes balance and lend an indescribable charm to the whole. The
four entrances lead under triumphal arches, embellished with carving and surmounted by statuary.
The domes are partly constructed of opaque glass, which, with the plentiful supply of windows,
pour a flood of light on the exhibits. The location of the building on the grounds is such that its
classical lines and fine proportions may be seen to splendid advantage from all directions. The
Agriculture Building is admirably adapted for a magnificent electrical display, and the management
has made the most of it, showing not only the full power of electric lighting, but of electrical
Alabama Building: "Here We Rest" is the motto over the inviting entrance of the Alabama
Building, and it is an invitation often accepted. The building is a beautiful structure of Alabama
pine, finished inside and out with that beautiful product of the State, and stands in a conspicuous
position at the head of Capitol Avenue. It looks cool on the warmest days, and the ample porches,
broad hall, and cozy, cool reception room remind one forcibly of an old-time Southern home. The
furnishings are neat and plain, of the most restful character, with an abundance of comfortable
seats. The building itself is a striking exhibit of the capabilities of pine in the line of finishing up a
modern home. As Tennessee's nearest neighbor on the South, Alabama showed a strong
friendliness from the first towards the Exposition, and not only sent displays of her resources to
the exhibit buildings for the world to see, but provided a home for Alabama visitors to the
Exposition, and for their friends. There have been many pleasant parties there, many
acquaintances renewed and many friendships formed.
Auditorium: where all festivals, congresses and meetings will be held during the
Exposition, has a seating capacity for six thousand people. It is Colonial in design and
Ionic in treatment, and has a square tower one hundred and forty feet high, from
which a magnificent view of the Exposition and of the country for miles around is
obtained. Four airy porticos facing the points of the compass furnish a pleasant
promenade and a delightful resting place. It was in the Auditorium where, on June 1,
1896, the preliminary inaugural exercises were held, and where distinguished
Tennesseans reviewed the history of Tennessee for the past one hundred years. Here
tardy praise was eloquently paid to the pioneers of the Volunteer State.
Children’s Building: The first suggestion of a Centennial was so promptly met by
the young children of the State, that a special building for their use was at once
decided upon. Under the direction of wise and systematic leadership, the little ones
went to work at once, and, as a result, they succeeded in raising a sufficient sum of
money to pay for erecting their building. The design for the Children's Building is
chaste, and the interior arrangement is admirably suited for their needs. It was the
intention of the management to make the Children's Building, and the well-shaded
plot surrounding it, a paradise for the future Knights and Ladies of Tennessee, and
this intention has been fully realized. The suggestion for the chimes in the Auditorium
tower also came first from the children.
Cincinnati Building: The first building on the south side of Capitol Avenue after
crossing the Rialto is the comfortable and inviting rendezvous erected by the people
of Cincinnati. The building is one-story in height, and of pure white staff. Plain and
simple in design and arrangement, its chief attraction is the broad piazza with which
the entire building is surrounded, supported 03' massive-looking pillars. The building
proper contains but one large room, known as the reception hall. It is twenty by thirty
feet in dimension. On the one side of this reception hall is the ladies' room, and on
the opposite a room for gentlemen. The piazzas vary in width from ten feet at the
front and rear entrances to twenty feet at the ends of the building, where they are
circular in form.
Commerce Building: What was known at the World's Fair as the
Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building has been appropriately
designated in the Tennessee Centennial group as the Commerce
Building, and in it are exhibited the products of the Liberal Arts. It is
the largest and most commodious, as it is one of the most striking of
all the Exposition structures. It is 591 feet long and 256 feet wide.
The interior is divided into aisles and a nave, the former being 25
feet and the latter 45 feet high. The central pavilion is two stories in
height, the second story forming a gallery on either side, 141 x 160
feet, overlooking the nave, and is reached by four broad stairways,
one at each end of the four corners. The general style is based on
the Corinthian and Ionic orders of the Graeco-Roman. Over the
central pavilion a dome rises to a height of 175 feet.
Education & Hygiene Building: In recent years the more
progressive governments of Europe have been brought to see, as
great educators of the people, the value of hygienic expositions held
within their respective domains. A separate Department of Hygiene
has been created, the coequal of any of the other thirteen grand
sub- divisions of the Exposition, and for its use a beautifully
designed, quadrangular building, Renaissance in style, has been
erected near the center of the grounds, which will be used also by
the Education Department.
History Building: In lieu of the main porch at the northwest angle on the north side,
and in lieu of the caryatides porch on the south side, shown in the original, rooms or
wings having the same projection and occupying the same area as the main porch on
the north side of the Erechtheon, but treated in a subordinate way, are used on the
north and south sides of the History Building, giving it, in plan, the form, nearly, of a
Greek cross. There are porches at the east and west ends of the building, as in the
original, v» ith six columns of the Ionic order to each, and the intention to reproduce
accurately, so far as practicable, the dimensions and details of the original in these
two facades, has been carried out. The building contains about forty-two hundred
square feet, divided into five compartments, of which the central and largest room is
set apart for History and Antiquities, one room for the use of the Confederate
Veterans, one for the Grand Army of the Republic, one for the Colonial Dames and
Daughters of the Revolution, and one for miscellaneous purpose. Access to each of
these compartments on the interior is had through large archways sixteen feet wide
by sixteen feet high. Tile dimensions of the building on its east to west axis, including
the porches, are 107 feet by 36 feet 6 inches, and from north to south, 82 feet by 34
feet 6 inches. It is built of brick, and has a metal roof. The walls are stucco on the
exterior and plastered On the '"interior.
Illinois Building: The building erected by the State of Illinois is a miniature reproduction of the Administration Building at the World's Fair, Chicago. It is built to exactly
one-sixth the scale of the original, and is used as headquarters for Illinois visitors.
The beautiful statuary that adorned the Administration Building at Chicago, through
the kindness of the Curators of the Columbia Museum, adorns the Illinois Building at
the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. This exquisite structure has a commanding
position at the end of Capitol Avenue, and is in full view of the Hialto and the
Knights of Pythias Pavilion: The pavilion was part of the Centennial complex and
after the Exposition came to an end it was purchased and moved to Williamson
County. The house has Colonial Revival detailing and a prominent central projecting
Knoxville Building: the Cincinnati Building's vis-a-vis on Capitol Avenue, and is
designed not only as headquarters for Knoxville visitors, but also to contain many
choice exhibits of the products of East Tennessee. This building has two stories, and
is in the Romanesque style of architecture. The imposing entrance is adorned- with
beautiful panel and relief work, and a Corinthian cornice extends around the building.
The observatories at each corner, in addition to being attractive, add to the utility of
the design, and will be useful during military displays.
Louisville Building: adjoins that erected by the State of New York, situated on the
north side of Capitol Avenue. It is in the Colonial style of architecture, and its
dimensions are sixty feet across the front and fifty feet deep. A wide veranda, the roof
of which is supported by heavy pillars, extends around both sides of the building and
in front. The corners of the veranda are open, so that a splendid promenade is
afforded. Over the front of the building is emblazoned the word, " Kentucky," out of
compliment to the State, and beneath this, over the main entrance, are the words,
"Louisville Building." The front of the building is beautifully carved. The interior of the
building is divided into a large reception room, twenty-five feet square, and toilet
rooms for ladies and gentlemen. To the rear of the room is placed the
Superintendent's desk. Four large French windows, extending 4 rom floor to ceiling,
afford openings on both sides of the building to the veranda. Doors open both front
and back, so that during the Exposition drafts can be created in both directions, thus
insuring comfort during the summer weather. Here is dispensed the hospitality for
which Kentucky is famous the world over.
Machinery Building: Utility and beauty are happily united in the Machinery Building, thus
satisfying at once the artistic tastes and the practical demands of a utilitarian age. Solidity and
force, combined with the most subtle and delicate outlines and proportions, rendered the
Parthenon the most perfect Doric type, while in modern art the famous Propylaeum at Munich
ranks high as the most scholarly example in the revival of Greek Doric. In the Machinery Building,
which contains the evidences and instruments of the material greatness of to-day, the author
offers a design which, with the Parthenon as a prototype and the Propylaeum as a component
part, will satisfy in outline and detail the most fastidious tastes in architectural art. In order that the
building may be pleasant on warm days, and to make a more perfect classification, no steam will
be admitted, but the boilers and great engines are in the power station, some distance away. The
building measures 375 by 138 feet. In general appearance there is a similarity to the
Transportation Building, and it occupies a corresponding position to that edifice across Lake
Watauga. An esplanade, with handsome urns of tropical plants, extends entirely around the
Memphis-Shelby County Building: (shaped like a pyramid) The citizens of Shelby County,
Tennessee, alive to the importance and fully appreciating the propriety of substantial
representation at the Tennessee Centennial Exposition , wisely decided upon a structure that
would be at once significant and novel. The busy and historic capital of Shelby County bears the
great name of ancient Memphis, and the Pyramid of Cheops therefore furnished a happy
suggestion for a building that would be at once identified as the rendezvous and the exhibition
place of the Centennial visitors from the Bluff City. In designing this building it was the idea of Mr.
Cook, the architect, that it should not stand alone for an exhibition of the products and resources
of Shelby County, but also be in itself an exhibition of Egyptian architecture and of the decorative
art of the pyramid period of five thousand years ago. It is an object-lesson of that time, with all of
the ancient splendor of the race. Nothing of the kind has ever before been attempted, and Shelby
County stands alone in producing an exhibition of remote art which to the visitor will not only be
attractive but also highly instruct- ive ; for it is from the Egyptian that has been gotten most of the
founda- tion for what is known in the arts and sciences of to-day. The visitor interested in
archaeology will find in it much to admire and study.
Minerals & Forestry Building: This stately edifice is of the Roman-Doric
order of architecture, modified to meet the requirements of the heavy
exhibits which it is to contain. It is of ample proportions, the main building
having an available floor space of 65,224 square feet, and an annex having
a floor space of 11,664 square feet, giving a total floor space of 76,888
square feet. Besides the floor space, the main building has an altitude of
sixty- eight feet from floor to roof, and three large porticos which can be
utilized for exhibits. Within this splendid enclosure the State of Tennessee,
alone, exhibits specimens of mineral and forest wealth, of which she
possesses an abundance never yet even approximately estimated, and only
partially developed, but known to exceed in variety and extent that of many
leading nations. This is supplemented by extensive and interesting exhibits
from several other States. Here are seen in all their variety the materials
used for constructing every class of human habitation, from the humble and
happy home of the cabin dweller to the palatial marble mansion of the
millionaire. The distinguished orator who said that " the quarries of
Tennessee could easily supply enough marble to pave the Appian Way,"
might have added that it surpasses in quality and beauty the "Bohemian
Girl's" dream of marble halls. The cedar of Lebanon, so highly prized by
King Solomon, is not to be compared with the red cedar of Tennessee and
Alabama. Of the thirty-four species and varieties of oak indigenous to this
section, and many other hardwoods that are abundant, fair samples are
shown, and among them sections of the giant primeval trees that once
shaded our fertile lands like the roof of a great temple.
African-American Building: (1897 called Negro Bldg) A structure which is known as the AfricanAmerican Building is one of the most attractive in the Exposition, and occupies a delightful and
commanding position on the east bank of Lake Watauga. It well accommodates the vast variety of
exhibits which the African-American race of America has decided to display to the world. The
purpose of this department is to show the progress of the African-American race in America from
the old plantation days to the present. The collection of and preparation for exhibits of work done
by African-Americans in all walks of life was in progress systematically for months, and by far the
most complete display of this character ever made is the result.
New York Building: The Empire State has erected a building on Capitol Avenue as headquarters, which is at once imposing and comfortable in appearance. It is a conspicuous figure in
the group of State buildings, the red dome rising above the surrounding buildings and first
catching the eye of the visitor. Inside there is a beautiful reception hall, the open dome above, the
wall decoration being red and white, the red of a cool shade, and the effect charming. To the right
there is a reading and resting-room for ladies, with wide low chairs, cushioned divans, a centertable full of the latest literature, and all the conveniences which visitors could ask. On the other
side there is a reading-room for gentlemen, with all the latest metropolitan papers and every
requisite for enjoyment and restful leisure. A bountiful supply of ice water adds to the attractions of
the warm day. The building is surrounded by broad piazzas, where the sun never penetrates, and
where an easy chair is in every available place. For viewing dress parades and for genuine
restfulness, the building has no superior. It is opposite the Press Building, on Capitol Avenue.
Parthenon (Fine Arts Building): A great critic has described architecture as i( frozen music," but
exactly why, we are not told; and yet, there is a degree of appropriateness in the description.
There it stands, beautiful, majestic, and it all but gives forth heavenly sounds. It is not only an
imitation of the glorious Parthenon standing on the Acropolis at Athens, but it is an exact
reproduction, rising in beauty and grandeur, with its gaze fixed upon the lovely Valley of the
Cumberland, and facing the splendor of the rising sun. This glorious temple, securely built of
stone, brick and iron to render it fire-proof, will be the repository of the fine arts collection. Happy
thought that suggested the Parthenon, the most perfect and the grandest achievement of all
architecture as the temporary home for a gallery of art treasures representing the best work of
every school and emporium of art. Ample wall space, a flood of natural light by day and of electric
light by night, a collection of canvases surpassing any ever before seen in the South, broad aisles
and perfect ventilation, the Art Gallery of the Centennial will give unalloyed pleasure to every
Terminal Building: This building, which is in the Renaissance style of architecture, is situated
between the Agriculture and Transportation Buildings, on the northern boundary of Exposition
Park. The location is in every way admirable, but it is peculiarly fortunate on account of its
proximity to the model shops of the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway. It is intended as
the terminal station for the steam railways approaching the Exposition grounds, and also for the
exhibits to be made by several of the great Southern railways. It is one hundred feet square, and
the lower floor is occupied by Plant's System of Railways, the Georgia Railroad Company, and the
Southern Railway Company. The upper floor is occupied by the Nashville, Chattanooga & St.
Louis Railway Company.
Texas Building: In the Alamo every Tennessean is interested as much as every Texan. The story
of Davy Crockett's brave fight against awful odds and of his heroic death in the Alamo tells one of
the brave deeds of history of which each succeeding generation will hear with new surprise and
admiration. Tennesseans won the independence of Texas, and so, when a Texas building at the
Tennessee Centennial was proposed, the idea naturally suggested itself of reproducing the
Alamo. The building is now complete, resembling in form and color the old mission where the
great fight was fought. It stands on Capitol Avenue, between the Cincinnati Building and the Press
Building, and is the center of a great deal of interest. The barred windows, the curious front, the
ornamentation and every detail is the cause of comment, and, altogether, no building on Capitol
Avenue attracts more attention. The interior is inspected with interest as great as if it were the
veritable scene of the great fight, instead of a reproduction.
Transportation Building: remarkable for its expressive poetic simplicity. Without the use of a
single column, but merely in the artistic grouping of the masses and proportioning has this very
pleasing effect been obtained. The most refined classic style of structural ornamentation is
brought into relief by the wall surface, to which it lends beauty and charm in return. This building,
situated in the northwestern section of Centennial Park, and near the Railway Exhibits and
Terminal Station Building, has a frontage of four hundred feet and a depth of one hundred and
twenty-five feet. Railroad tracks run through the building, and the doors at the north end will admit
engines and trains. On these tracks are seen the finest "drivers," day coaches, and sleeping cars
in existence. The balance of the floor space has been divided into blocks of convenient size for
the installation of other exhibits under this classification, including wagons, carriages, bicycles,
and every other kind of vehicle, and all the space is filled.
U.S. Government Building: The building is 350 by 150 feet, in the form of a cross, surmounted
by a dome fifty feet high. The display is on an elaborate scale, and is truly representative of the
wealth and greatness of the Government in every department. Dr. Charles W. Dabney, the head of
the Government Board, had previous experience in making up the exhibit at Atlanta, and has
profited by it to prepare the most striking exhibit that could have been made for the money. It is the
wonder of every visitor, and the building is never without an admiring group in every part. The
workings of the Weather Service, of the Post Office Department, of the Bureau of Printing and
Engraving, and of the Fish Commission, are all shown by working exhibits.
Woman’s Building: "The natural progress of the works of man is from rudeness to convenience,
from convenience to elegance, and from elegance to nicety." This law of evolution has been
beautifully illustrated at the Tennessee Centennial, where a pioneer's cabin of cedar logs,
furnished with spinning-wheel, hand-loom and other implements of woman's work, in the earliest
period of the country's history, are in striking contrast to the elegant structure containing all the
appliances of modern convenience, and the triumphs of modern art, known as the Woman's
Building. This building, 160x65 feet, is at the southwest of the Auditorium. It is modeled somewhat
after the Hermitage, the home of Andrew Jackson, and to this design some features of Grecian
architecture have been added with pleasing effect. Eight massive columns support the roof, which
is surmounted by an observatory. A flight of six steps of Tennessee marble, each thirty-five feet
long, leads to the entrance of the building, and on either side of this is a magnificent iron vase of
unique and handsome workmanship, filled with palms and flowering plants. As fitting links
between the primitive chairs and tables of the pioneer's cabin and the artistic and luxurious
draperies and furnishings of the parlors in the Woman's Building, a Colonial sitting-room, the exact
reproduction of a room in a house owned by the poet Longfellow, and once used by General
Washington as his headquarters; and a Colonial bed room, in which every piece of furniture, the
mantel and ornaments, are of historic value. Thus have the noble women of Tennessee completed
the chain which connects the history of the settlement on the Cumberland with the present city of
Impact on Tennessee
Following the Civil War, the United States experienced a period of
industrialization and modernization. New technologies, including
motion pictures were created. Americans were eager to show off
their achievements to the rest of the world. The 1889 Exposition
Universelle in Paris demonstrated to the world that a world’s fair
could serve as both an expression of national pride and as source of
income for the host city. In the United States, World’s Fairs were
held in Chicago in 1893 and St. Louis in 1904. Those fairs drew
millions of visitors to the host cities and were the model for
Tennessee’s Exposition.
The Centennial Exposition was planned as a celebration of
Tennessee’s first 100 years of statehood which occurred in 1896.
However, due to a recession and disagreements among the
divisions of the state, the fair was held a year late. Railroad
companies were enthusiastic supporters of the fair. They sponsored
special exhibits, offered discount fares and promoted the fair in
advertising. The companies viewed the fair as an opportunity to
bring potential investors to the state.
The fair followed the model set by the Chicago World’s Fair. The event was held in a
park like setting which was created for the event. Temporary buildings built in the
classical style of ancient Greece held the exhibits. Nashville was known as the
“Athens of the South” so a full scale replica of the Parthenon was built to serve as the
exhibit hall for the arts. Memphis contributed a replica of the Great Pyramid of
Cheops. Other classically styled buildings housed exhibits on agriculture, industry
and education. A separate building called the Negro Building housed exhibits relating
to African-American history. The log building known as the State Capitol of the State
of Franklin was also dismantled, transported to Nashville and reassembled as an
The fair also had a section called Vanity Fair which featured rides and games. The
centerpiece was a giant see-saw. The see-saw was 75 feet long and lifted 20
passenger cars into the air for a view of the city. The see-saw did not capture the
imagination of fairgoers the way the Eiffel Tower or Ferris Wheel had and therefore
did not become the symbol of the fair. The full- scale replica of the Parthenon became
the image of the fair.
The Centennial Exposition did not meet the expectations of the fair’s creators.
The fair ran for six months and had over 7.1 million people attend. However, this was
much smaller than the expected attendance. The fairs in St. Louis and Chicago had
crowds of 20-30 million. The smaller crowds may have been caused by lingering
economic worries and an outbreak of yellow fever along the southeast coast. For
whatever reason, Tennessee’s Centennial Exposition did not capture the national
imagination the way that previous fairs had. Following the close of the fair, the
temporary buildings were dismantled and the area returned to being parkland.
Interestingly, the State of Franklin capital building was somehow lost and never
returned to its original site in Greeneville. However, the fair remained a source of
pride for Nashvillians. The Parthenon, the most popular building of the fair, was rebuilt
in the 1920’s using permanent materials. It remains the centerpiece of Centennial
Park and continues to draw visitors from around the country and around the world.
ash/tennesseecentenn00nash_djvu.txt (great pictures)