The island of Billancourt, whose general appearance we are giving today, was originally intended by the Imperial Commission to serve as an experimental field for the agricultural machines exhibited at the Champ de Mars.
Later, in the presence of complaints from a large number of machine builders and animal breeders who, due to the small space reserved for the agricultural classes, could not be admitted to the Champ de Mars, it was decided that an agricultural annex would be established on the island of Billancourt. This decision was welcomed with eagerness by the public, and, as will be seen from this short description, the number and nature of the requests made it possible to establish a complete agricultural exhibition there.
The island of Billancourt, which covers about 23 hectares, is situated a kilometre and a half downstream from Paris, in a charming situation, and, for the beauty of its site, it can compete advantageously with Saint-Cloud, Saint-Germain and Bougival, which are the rendezvous of the population of Paris during the summer. Its approaches are the easiest, for it is crossed by a road and connected to the mainland by two bridges of remarkable construction.
The agricultural exhibition is thus divided into two parts by the road we have just mentioned; but one can easily communicate from one to the other by passages which have been reserved under the bridges.
On entering through the main gate, one is struck at first by the appearance of the experimental field, a vast area entirely free for the testing of agricultural machinery, and which is made available to the exhibitors so that they can operate their instruments in front of the public. This part of the island will therefore usually be animated by the carriages which will set in motion the ploughs, harrows, rollers, seeders and other machines which give the land all the manners it may require. This part of the exhibition will be of the greatest interest to the serious purchaser who wishes to see an implement in operation before purchasing it, and to the ordinary public who are anxious to see agricultural processes; it will be the application of an idea which has often been put forward, but which has not hitherto been realised in exhibitions of this nature.
Before arriving at the experimental field, and following the road which goes round this part of the island in which we are, we have on the left an exhibition of arboriculture; the shrubs which compose it have been arranged in clumps in the middle of a garden which goes as far as the Seine, which is very well designed and which contains a remarkable collection of statues and cast-iron vases suitable for the ornamentation of parks.
To the right is an exhibition of viticulture, containing specimens of the various methods of vine cultivation in the main wine-producing centres. Next to it, and very close to the place where they are to be used, is a vast collection of implements intended mainly for the preparation of the soil; finally, as we approach the end of the island, we find an area of land devoted to an exhibition of typical crops; these are small fields cultivated according to the most advanced methods. This exhibition can only be appreciated by those who are experts in these matters; but the names of Messrs. Decrombecque, Vallerand, Harry, Brigon, Vilmorin, etc., who have undertaken there a practical demonstration of their systems, are an indication of the interest which will be attached to it.
Before leaving the place we have just described, we must at least mention the interesting processes for growing hops and tobacco, which are installed there, the numerous fencing systems, and some installations of hydraulic apparatus, which have been placed at the water's edge.
We now pass a rustic building which serves as an office, and take the footbridge under the road to the part of the island which is situated above the bridge. Although it is much smaller than the previous one, it is nevertheless of much greater interest, since it contains almost all the agricultural machinery, and the stables in which the animal exhibitions take place.
It can be said that in this place are gathered all the instruments which, in the various regions, can be used for the cultivation of the soil and the exploitation of its products. - With the exception of a small portion of land reserved for a fruit-growing exhibition, and with the exception of that reserved for the alleys, the ground is entirely covered with instruments. Some of them, which do not have to fear bad weather, and which are mainly intended for manoeuvring in the fields, are arranged in the open air; the others, which must be used for the preparation of cattle feed, for threshing grain, etc., and which are usually used on farms, are arranged under sheds of elegant and light construction. This part of the Exhibition is most complete and contains some admirable instruments. The English exhibitors, who occupy a considerable area, have brought here the powerful machines of which English agriculture has so far been the only one to take advantage, and among these are the steam ploughs of Fowler and Howard, the threshing machines of Ransomes, Clayton, etc.
In general, English manufacturers are noted for the precision and care they take in the execution of their machines and in the details of their manufacture. Their machines are polished, painted, varnished, they have a coquettish aspect which pleases the eye, and which one does not find in the machines of French manufacture, which offer a greater appearance of rusticity.
Our aim is not to indicate the superiority of one or the other, but we must say in favour of the French exhibitors that, having brought their machines with the aim of making them work, they did not think it necessary to decorate them as if they had to exhibit them as shelves or trophies, as is generally the case at exhibitions. In short, next to the English exhibitions of Messrs. Howard Clayton and Shuttleworth, Fowler, Garett, Ransomes, etc., the French exhibitions of Messrs. Pinet, Peltier, Gérard, Protte, Paulvé, Millot, etc., are very good.
The viticulture exhibition, which we mentioned earlier, is completed by an exhibition of ploughs, vineyard harrows and, in general, of all the instruments used to cultivate the vine.
A large number of wine presses of different models arranged at the end of the first shed form an interesting ensemble and show the different processes of wine extraction; it can thus be said that viticulture, one of the most important branches of French agriculture, is represented here in all its details.
By the very fact of its location on an island, the Exhibition had to offer convenient sites for the establishment of hydraulic machines and to enable them to function easily. A vast platform on the bank of the great arm of the Seine is covered with norias, irrigation pumps, slurry pumps and in general machines of a specially agricultural character. M. Thiébaut, whose name is famous as a pump manufacturer, stands out in this place by the importance of his exhibition.
If the costs of establishment had not been so considerable, or if, as compensation, the administration had been able to exempt from ordinary duties the spirits, beers and other products which would have been manufactured within the enclosure of the exhibition, a certain number of manufacturers would have willingly established specimens of agricultural factories, such as breweries, distilleries, sugar factories, oil mills, etc., which are now established in such large numbers on even the most mediocre farms. This is now an almost indispensable complement to any well-run agricultural operation, since by starting with flour, beetroot, oilseeds and, in general, foodstuffs intended for animal feed, meat can be produced more cheaply. It is therefore unfortunate that it was not possible to bring together in the agricultural exhibition all the specimens of these very useful industries, and that this part, which would have been so interesting, was limited to a starch factory and a distillery for small farms.
At the end of the exhibition and on the water's edge rise four pretty buildings of rustic construction and picturesque effect; they have a country air which perfectly suits the character of the exhibition. They are well ventilated, a great number of doors have been provided, the clearances are easy, they contain each one about fifty stalls; finally they can be given as models of stables for agricultural competitions; it is the opinion which the Emperor emitted when he saw them for the first time. It is here that the animal exhibitions are held, which must continue until October.
It is here that for six months the most beautiful samples of our different species of domestic animals will follow one another. Dairy or working cattle breeds, meat or wool sheep breeds, luxury and working horses, farmyard animals, dogs, etc., etc., will find their place in turn.
Each exhibition will last ten to twelve days and will end with the sale of a certain number of the animals exhibited.
Thus, crops, instruments, animals, that is to say everything that constitutes agriculture, is more or less widely represented at Billancourt; it is a complete ensemble where everyone can learn and where the most learned can learn. This annex of the Universal Exhibition will certainly be much appreciated when the heat comes, when one feels the need to leave the dust of the tarmac and the radiance of the asphalt for the greenery, the shade and the coolness of the water that one is used to finding in the vicinity of Paris; From this point of view, the Billancourt agricultural exhibition will have a superiority over all the places where the public is accustomed to go, since in addition to the attraction of an interesting exhibition, useful to know and whose composition will be partly renewed every fortnight, it will have the advantage of offering all the types of establishments that the public looks for, as indispensable to the success of a game of pleasure. We would not be complete in our description if we did not speak of the restaurants which are almost completed and of which one in particular, already open to the public, offers from its terrace one of the most beautiful views that can be imagined; On one side, the eye can see the whole of Paris with the magnificent bridge of the Point-du-Jour in the foreground, and on the other side, the Bois de Boulogne, the hills of Bas-Meudon, Sèvres, Saint-Cloud, on which the magnificent villas built there stand out, Diogenes' lantern, the palaces of Saint-Cloud etc. , and finally the entire course of the Seine, which is continually criss-crossed by numerous boats.
The road which crosses the island is lined with two rows of shops where everything useful and amusing will be sold and where games of all kinds will be established which are one of the elements of the success of the country festivals. A large number of other small shops scattered along the main roads will contribute to the gaiety of all parts of the exhibition. Finally, almost every Sunday, regattas will take place in front of the banks, which will then certainly be too small to contain the number of curious people that this spectacle brings, which has from day to day and to a greater degree the gift of interesting the Parisian public.
Lastly, we must mention the installation of a photographic workshop which will give exhibitors the possibility of having their instruments or animals reproduced.
It is not useless, before concluding, to indicate to our readers what are the means of going to Billancourt, it is the best service that we can render them; because one is always embarrassed on this subject when one is not accustomed to go to a point. The most convenient way is to take the ring railway which leaves every half hour and whose station at Point-du-Jour is about 1500 metres from the exhibition. Soon it will even reach the exhibition itself by a branch line which is now being completed. The Meudon station, which overlooks the island of Billancourt, is a second means of accessing it by rail. Then there are the steamers which leave every hour from the Champ de Mars, and which will provide a more frequent service when the season brings a greater number of visitors to Billancourt. Finally, there are the American omnibuses from Sèvres and Saint-Cloud which drop off travellers about 400 metres from the island. These various means of communication are more than sufficient to meet all requirements, and the eagerness of the public to go to the agricultural exhibition will justify the nickname given to Billancourt, the country house of the Exhibition.
We have only wanted to give a general idea of the agricultural exhibition today; we intend to give a detailed description of it one day, and a special issue will be devoted to the examination of the instruments and animals which will have won the main awards.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée