Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Visit to the 1893 World's Fair inspires a Theater

Thomas Moran, Brooklyn Museum Collection
The city of Wamego, Kansas was founded in 1866, but a visit to the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago inspired what may be the most incredible addition to this city.  Wamego banker, J.C. Rogers joined other citizens from that area to travel by train to Chicago to see what the newspapers were describing as a magical place.

The Fair was advertised in Isaac B. Werner's home town newspapers too, and how much he must have wanted to attend.  However, by 1893 his health had continued to decline and such a long trip may have been impossible for him by then.  He had lived frugally, and he was beginning to pay off his debts, so the expense of the trip may also have kept him from going.  Like the people in Wamego, Isaac must have been thrilled reading about the wonders of the fair, like the amazing invention of the Ferris wheel  (See "If Isaac Could Only Imagine," in the blog archives at 7-11-2013).  

Advertising postcard for the Agricultural Building
The scope of the fair was amazing, with over 600 acres and a large lagoon and waterways intended to symbolize the journey of Columbus.  Offically called "The Columbian Exposition and World's Fair," it was and is generally known as the Chicago World's Fair of 1893.  It was an opportunity for Chicago to showcase both itself and the achievements of our young nation. 

Most of the public buildings were only intended to be temporary.  They were constructed of a mixture of plaster, cement, and jute, but when painted white they were dazzling in both sunlight and under electrical lights beneath the dark sky.  The use of electricity at the World's Fair was such a new invention that fair goers were amazed.

Not all of the buildings were of a temporary nature.  Many were intended to be sold after the fair to buyers who would dismantled them to be shipped to new locations and rebuilt.  Buildings represented each state, 4 U.S. territories, and 46 countries.   The picture at left offers some idea of the dense collection of structures on the 600 acres of the fair grounds.

Among the purchasers of more permanent structures was Wamego's own J.C. Rogers! He bought the Wisconsin House and The Building of Great Britain--Victoria House. 

Wisconsin House
Wisconsin House was built of brown stone, brick, and hardwood, all from the state of Wisconsin.  A striking stained glass window for the house was presented by the city of West Superior.  Although what Mr. Rogers paid for the house is unknown, fair records report that its original construction costs were $30,000, a remarkable sum in 1893 when the nation was in a depression.  

Yet pictures of other state houses show impressive structures as well.  Despite the economic condition at that time, states obviously wanted to put forward their best impressions.

The Victorian House was built in the traditional English half timber style.  The interior was beautifully furnished, and it was used during the fair primarily by English officials and their guests.

After the fair ended J. C. Rogers returned to purchase not only these two buildings but also decorative parts and artifacts from other buildings.  Rogers was a banker, and considering that the depression that followed the Panic of 1893 ruined many successful men, his buying spree at the close of the fair is rather remarkable.  He loaded a boxcar to bring his acquisitions back to Wamego. The two buildings were reassembled elsewhere and sold, but for his own town he had quite a surprise!  Next week's blog will share what else J.C. Rogers bought at the fair and brought back to Wamego!!

1 comment:

Bob Potemski said...

Thanks for telling this story, Lyn! We're looking forward to future installments.