Horticulture - Expo Chicago 1893

Horticulture at the Exhibition Expo Chicago 1893
Architect(s) : W. L. B. Jenney, Chicago

There are four great domes which are notable features in the group of World’s Fair Buildings—those constructed over the centre of the Administration, Government, Illinois State and Horticultural Buildings. Of all these, the latter rising like a great soap bubble of glass from “ The White Palace " is the most graceful and the most airy in its beauty. The building, of which this is the most prominent feature, faces east on the Lagoon, immediately south of the entrance to Jackson Park from Midway Plaisance. Across the water is the beautiful Wooded Island, and then after another sheet of water the Government and Manufactures Buildings. This location, with a broad face toward the sylvan scenery of the Lagoon and the Island, is an ideal one. It is, at the same time, appropriate that a structure for the purposes for which this one is intended should have such a location in the portion of the Park where nature holds strongest sway. Between the building and the Lagoon are beautiful lawns and a flower terrace for outside exhibits, including tanks for nymphaeas and the Victoria Regia. The front of the terrace, with its low parapet between large vases, borders the water, and at its centre forms a boat landing. The edifice measures exactly 250x1.000 feet, or more than five acres, with eight large greenhouses as an addition. The total cost was $225,000. The plan shows a centre pavilion with the two end pavilions, each connected to the centre pavilion by front and rear curtains, forming two interior courts, each 88 x 270 feet. These courts arc beautifully decorated in color and planted with ornamental shrubs and flowers. The crystal dome which roofs the centre pavilion is 113 feet high, and 187 feet in diameter. Under this are exhibited the tallest palms, bamboos and tree ferns that could be procured. In each pavilion is a gallery—those of the end pavilions being used for cafes.

Here is the most restful and attractive place of all on the grounds for refreshment and recreation. Music ripples from plashing waterfalls, the odors from sweet flowers and the glow of color from the same source are a combination of delights most conducive to the appetite and pleasure. The cafes are surrounded on three sides, by an arcade, from which may be obtained charming views of the grounds.

Here are displayed a myriad variety of flowers, plants, vines- seeds, and everything in the horticultural world. Those exhibits requiring sunshine and light are shown in the rear curtain, where the roof is entirely of glass and not far removed from the plants. The front curtains and under the galleries furnish room for exhibits that require only the ordinary amount of light. Under the great dome is to be seen one of the most beautiful effects of the whole Exposition. This comes from the miniature mountain, 70 feet high in the centre, upon which I giant tree ferns and palms are growing as if in nature. A mountain stream dashes down the declivities from miniature crag to crag, sometimes hiding behind the foliage, and again sparkling in the light. Beneath this mountain is a cave 80 feet in diameter and 60 feet high, brilliantly lighted by electricity, where during the whole six months of the Exposition the experiment is in progress to see whether or not plants will grow as well under electric light as under sunlight. Throughout the many months that intervene between the completion of this building and the opening of the Fair a magnificent and continuous floral exhibit was made' in the Horticultural Building and in the Greenhouses adjoining; but this exhibit of the past is dwarfed by the horticultural and floricultural display that tills every nook and corner of the building since the time of the opening of the Fair.

The Horticultural Building indicates its own purpose more accurately than any other structure on the grounds except the Forestry Building. It has the aspect of an enormous green-house, and immediately suggests its adaptability for the purposes intended. Its long, low galleries with glazed roofs, admitting a flood of light, are well adapted to the preservation of growing plants, shrubs and trees. At the same time, the building harmonizes entirely with its surroundings. The style is Venetian renaissance, of the Ionic order, with a broad frieze decorated with cupids and garlands. The treatment is gay and joyous to conform to the lightness of the structure and the character of the exhibits. In front of the central pavilion is a high, ornamental pylon forming the main entrance, the recessed vestibule decorated with statuary. On the face of the pylon are groups, one on either side, representing the “Sleep of the Flowers " and the “Awakening of the Flowers.”

The sculptor, Lorado Taft, has described the artistic sculpture and statuary in a series of lectures on the “Architecture of the World’s Fair.” Aside from the frieze, the sculptural decorations of the building consist of six single figures and two large groups. On the eastern front of each pavilion, at the ends of the building, are two figures placed on the level of the second story. The one on the south is called the “ Painting of the Lily.” The figure of a nymph is represented holding the lily and regarding it intently, with her brush poised in the air. The ancients attributed to these spirits of the wood and field the care of plant life. The next figure is symbolic of the cultivation and use of the grape, and represents a faun, a joyous, soulless creature, holding in one hand a brimming beaker and in the other a bunch of grapes. The drapery of this figure is the tiger skin, a favorite costume of Bacchus, the god of wine. On the north pavilion is the draped figure of a woman, intended to personify the study of botany. In her hand she holds the scroll on which is inscribed the lore of that science. The last figure, at the extreme north of the building, represents a gardener of the ancient type examining the bursting buds of the vine.

Just inside the vestibule stand two figures, each ten feet in height. The one on the right is a light, airy personification of " Flora.” She is poised on tiptoe, and with outstretched arms holds aloft a flowering branch to which she turns her smiling face. Around her feet are plants and blossoms, profusely decking the earth, in response to her glad presence. On the opposite side is a figure of “Pomona.” Her form is a full, matronly one, her smiling face sim^estiim amused disaonointment as she struggles with an overflowing basket of fruit, which, in spite of her development, she is unable to lift.

The principal sculptural decoration of the building consists of two large groups just outside the main entrance. On the south side is the composition called “ The Sleep of the Flowers.” It represents the artist’s conception of autumn. The sculptor endeavored to suggest here the quiet, almost melancholy spirit of autumn, and with this object in view has kept all lines as harmonious and graceful as possible. The faces of the two sitting figures suggest sleep* and even the standing figure looks mournfully down upon them as if she, too, would soon join them in their slumbers. The only touch of animation is the single belated " Cupid ” who sits contentedly absorbing a bunch of grapes. This fruit is shown hanging in abundant clusters from the rocks on either side. At the feet of the figures is placed a branch of withered oak.

On the other hand is the Springtime group, called the “ Battle of the Flowers,” or sometimes the “ Awakening.” In this the artist has tried to express the vigor and push of awakening vegetation by means of broken and angular lines, making the composition as great a contrast as possible to the Autumn group. In the composition are the figures of three nymphs, a faun and two cupids, all laughing heartily as they pelt each other with buds and blossoms. The faun is engaged in binding a garland around the waist of the central figure, while she, in turn, has her arms full of flowers which she uses in the mimic warfare. The figures in these groups are about eight feet in height, and the work required several months. The artist’s principal assistant in the execution of this statuary was his pupil, Miss Julia Bracken.

The frieze around the inside of the dome was painted by C. C. Coleman. It is composed of festoons and wreaths of the passion vine, while the wreaths entwined the names of men famous in horticultural and kindred arts.

The groups included in the classification of this department, of which J. M. Samuels is chief, are as follows : Viticulture, manufactured products, methods and appliances; Pomology, manufactured products, methods and appliances; Floriculture ; Culinary vegetables; Seeds, seed-raising, testing and distribution ; Arboriculture ; Appliances, methods, etc.

The south pavilion is devoted to the exhibit of wines. Here Australia, France, Russia, Austria, California, Canada. Japan, Germany and Spain occupy large areas where all the
products of the juice of the fruit are shown in their perfection. Some of the displays are very elaborate and are worthy of the wide attention they attract. The exhibit of Spain extends northward into the east curtain, where it joins the displays made by Illinois, Texas, Missouri, Massachusetts, Indiana and Pennsylvania. These latter, however, are all of growing plants and flowers. Pitcher & Manda, of New Jersey, who occupy the north end of this space, adjoining Pennsylvania, have very much the largest display of any firm, as they transplanted here a special train-load of products from their nurseries.

The visitor has now reached the great Central dome. Here the miniature fountain dashes its sprays over the rocks of the mountain, through valleys blooming with Ilowers and green with rarest palms, ferns, and trailing vines. The cave beneath is a reproduction of one of the chambers of the Mammoth Crystal Cave in the Black Hills of South Dakota, which has been explored for thirty-four miles. These underground tunnels open and close into rooms glittering with diamond-like stalagmites and stalactites, the space around the mountain is allotted to the States of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Continuing northward into the next curtain, we enter the foreign exhibits, a display shared by Mexico, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Trinidad, Japan, Canada and Australia. The tropical countries show to visitors wonderful vegetation of rarest beauty. Trinidad has orchids, ferns and palms surrounding a great gilt lion of sculptured beauty, which guards the north end of the curtain. Australia’s plants are as strange as her animals and attract universal attention. Japan shows a number of the wonderful dwarf trees, oaks, pines and others, perfect in every detail, hundreds of years old, yet growing in small flower-pots and extending but a few feet in height. The trunks are gnarled and rough as those of forest giants, and the effect produced is as if one were looking through the small end of a spy-glass toward one of our own American monsters.

In the north pavilion are shown manufactured products properly belonging in this department. There are machinery and appliances of all sorts for lawn and flower-garden cultivation, and seeds, ornaments and varied other exhibits.

Returning southward through the west curtain we find a large area devoted to the Pomological exhibits. Tray after tray of luscious fruits are placed before the visitor, including those from every clime, tropical, temperate and northern. Spain, Mexico, Australia, Great Britain, Colorado, Oregon, Missouri, Canada, Italy, France, the Latin-American countries, California, and almost every other State of the Union, show what they can produce in these tempting fruits. It is useless to attempt to name them all, for it would simply be to make a list of every fruit that the world produces. In the court enclosed between the northeast and northwest curtains of the building is an orange and lemon grove from California, showing the perfection to which the cultivation of these fruits has been carried. In the southerly court is a magnificent display of aquatic plants, and adjoining this an exact reproduction of an old-fashioned German wine-cellar.

To attempt to merely mention the most beautiful of the exhibits in the Horticultural Building would be like placing before the reader an immense florist’s catalogue. It is enough, therefore, to say that nearly every flower known to savage and civilized man finds in the building a representative. Never before in the history of flower shows has such a collection been gathered together.

Just west of this building, in its rear, are found the greenhouses. /Vs a general thing, they are used only for the propagation and forcing of plants and flowers, which are afterward removed into the exhibit rooms, or set out in the parterres in front of the building, where are also the exhibits of a number of private forests.

The east front of the building faces the lagoon, with broad lawns between. These lawns are intersected with flower-beds, where growing plants and flowers are changed with the months, so that the display is always luxuriant. New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey share most of this space.

As a matter of fact, however, the whole ground occupied by the Fair amounts to one great exhibit of horticulture. Century plants and cacti decorate every balustrade and railing, while every available spot is green with the brightness of a lawn or ornamented with trees and shrubbery. Around the edges of the lagoons are planted reeds, rushes and , other semi-aquatic vegetation, so that a most natural effect is produced. The Wooded Island is a triumph of the landscape gardener's art, and throughout the heat of summer is a favorite resort for the weary who seek for shade. In the northern portion of it, surrounding the Japanese temple, a large space was assigned to Japan, and the gardeners of that country have used their best effort and have produced a delightful result. This Japanese garden is a centre of great interest. In the southeastern portion of the island another large tract is devoted to the rose garden, also a favorite. The group of little islands to the southwest and those to the east of the Wooded Island are not to be reached by visitors, and are valuable for their landscape effects. This bit of nature dropped down in the midst of the " City of White Palaces " is the final touch of perfection. Every writer who has told of the Fair, and every artist who has drawn it, has agreed to this, and all tales of its beauty end at this point. It is the work of landscape architecture and the horticultural department.

The work of this department is all the better realized when one remembers the condition of the Park when it was taken possession of by the authorities of the Fair. They found it a wilderness of sand dunes and they made it the rival of the most noted pleasure grounds of the world. Every tree that decorates • the Wooded Island and shades the group of State Buildings shows the work of the landscape architect and the Horticultural Department. The beveled lawns which border the Court of Honor, the Basin and the North and South Canal are triumphs of conventional art. Leaving this portion of the grounds; the visitor finds in the sedges, rushes and other semi-aquatic vegetation along the shores of the Wooded Island and of the mainland along the Lagoon, as great a triumph of unconventional horticulture. These shores appear as naturally wild as do any of the marshes of the Illinois prairies, or as they might have hundreds of years before the prow of a white man’s boat Dreed a landing among them.

Nestled among the trees on a small island just to the south of the Wooded Island, but to which that name would apply just as well, are two dwellings characteristic of primitive civilization, the antipodes of one another as truly in structure as in the location from which they cone. One is an American settler’s cabin built of logs with the bark still on them, just such a cabin as the backwoods of Kentucky or Tennessee can show to-day in their secluded districts. It is a reproduction of the cabin of one of America’s quaintest characters, Davy Crockett. In the cabin are many relics of the noble old hunter and of other heroic pioneers of the western frontier. Before it stands one of the old-fashioned emigrant wagons with canvas cover, while the fittings within are in harmony with its exterior.

But a short distance to the east, and directly opposite from this cabin, is the hut of an Australian squatter. It is constructed of bark, and is even ruder than the American cabin. In our climate it would be but a poor shelter, and one cannot envy those who have been compelled to use it as a residence. Within it are seen whips, saddles, sheepskins/and all manner of utensils, such as are in every day use among the frontiersmen of that country.

The view looking north down the Wooded Island is possibly the most delightful of all in the Fair, or at least second only to that of the Grand Basin. It comprehends all the buildings which line the lagoon on either side and terminates with the group of State and , Foreign Buildings and the classic Art Gallery. The rose garden at the south end and the Japanese garden at the north end are centres of interest and attraction.

During the later months of the Fair the Wooded Island has been the scene of many illuminations. From the branches of its trees thousands of incandescent electric lights, as well as thousands of Japanese lanterns, shed their radiance over its natural beauty. At such times the walks are always thronged with delighted visitors, and it is considered to be one of the most artistic and delightful decorative effects of the Fair.

©The World's Columbian Exposition 1893