From the history of world expo: Hampton roads -1907

Nov 27. Kazpravda

By foreign media

From the history of world expo: Hampton roads -1907The Jamestown Exposition was one of the many worlds’ fairs that were popular in the United States in the early part of the 20th century. Commemorating the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in the Virginia Colony, it was held from April 26 to December 1, 1907, at Sewell’s Point on Hampton Roads, in Norfolk, Virginia.

It celebrated the first permanent English settlement in the present United States. The 20 remaining exposition buildings were included on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, as a national historic district.

Early in the 20th century, as the tercentennial of the 1607 Founding of Jamestown in the Virginia Colony neared, leaders in Norfolk, Virginia began a campaign to have the celebration held there. The Association of Preservation for Virginia Antiquities had gotten the ball rolling in 1900 by calling for a celebration to honor the establishment of the first permanent English colony in the New World at Jamestown, to be held on the 300th anniversary.

On February 4, 1901, James M. Thomson began a campaign for the celebration in his Norfolk Dispatch, proclaiming: «Norfolk” is undoubtedly the proper place for the holding of this celebration. Norfolk is today the center of the most populous portion of Virginia, and every historical, business and sentimental reason can be adduced in favor of the celebration taking place here rather than in Richmond.» The Dispatch was an unrelenting champion of Norfolk as the site for the exposition, noting in subsequent editorials that «Richmond has absolutely no claim to the celebration except her location on the James River.»

By September 1901, the Norfolk City Council had given support to the project. And in December, 100 prominent residents of Hampton journeyed to Richmond to urge Norfolk as the site. In 1902, the Jamestown Exposition Co. was incorporated. Former Virginia Fitzhugh Lee, a nephew of General Robert Lee and the most popular man in Virginia, was named its president.

Because of the isolation of Sewell’s Point, the company’s choice made the site difficult to reach by land in order to develop it for the Exposition. New roads had to be built to the site. Two existing streetcar lines had to be extended a considerable distance to reach the site. The eastern portion of the newly built Tidewater Railway was rushed into service, and the local Norfolk Southern Railway agreed to add substantial passenger capacity in conjunction with the Tidewater Railway to prepare to move the thousands of daily attendees anticipated. On the shore, new piers had to be constructed for moving supplies to exposition buildings. Hotels had to be raised to handle the millions of anticipated exposition visitors. Bad weather slowed everything.

Another major setback was the death of Fitzhugh Lee in 1905 while traveling in New England to drum up trade for the celebration. Henry St. George Tucker, a former Virginia Congressman, succeeded him. The Norfolk businessman David Lowenberg ran most of the operation as director general.

Opening day was April 26, 1907, exactly 300 years after DMIRAL Christopher Newport and his band of English colonists made their first landing in Virginia at the point where the southern shore of the Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. They recorded giving thanks, planting a cross and naming the location Cape Henry. Within the next few days and weeks, they found and explored the harbor now known as Hampton Roads. Sailing upriver on its biggest tributary, the James River, they eventually settled at what they would call Jamestown to begin their first settlement.

The first day of the Exposition had its share of headaches. Only a fifth of the electric lights could be turned on, and the Warpath recreation area was far from ready. Construction of the government pier left much of the ground in the center of the exposition muddy soup. Of the thirty-eight principal buildings and works that the Exposition Company planned for the fair, only fourteen had been completed by opening day—the Fire Engine House and the Waterfront Board Walk having been completed only in the last two days. The company failed to complete two planned buildings, the Historic Art and Education buildings, by the Exposition’s end in late November.

Prominent visitors included President Theodore Roosevelt, who opened the exposition and presided over the naval review. After the opening day, attendance dropped sharply, and never again achieved projections. The Exposition Company had initially lobbied the federal government for $1,640,000, and received a loan for an additional million, to be repaid by means of a lien on 40% of the gate receipts. When crowds failed to appear in the anticipated numbers—the exposition was attracting on average 13,000 visitors daily, only 7,400 of whom paid entrance—the company was able to repay only $140,000 of the million dollar loan. The fair began attracting negative attention in the press as early as the January before it opened, as a divisive split between members of the planning committee became public. The press who arrived for opening day found the grounds unfinished, the hotels overpriced, and the transportation offered between the fair and nearby towns insufficient.

But in time, things improved and portions of the event became spectacular. Planners asked each state of the union to contribute a building to the Exposition. While some of these buildings offered exhibits on the states’ history and industry, others primarily served as embassies of a sort for visitors from the state, providing sitting rooms and guest services. Lack of interest or funds prevented participation by all, but 21 states funded houses, which bore their names: for example, Pennsylvania House, Virginia House, New Hampshire House, etc. During the exposition, days were set aside to honor the states individually. The governor of each state usually appeared to greet visitors to the state’s house on these days. On June 10, 1907, «Georgia Day,» Theodore Roosevelt returned to the Exposition, delivering a speech on the steps of the Georgia Building, which had been modeled after his mother’s family’s home.

The 340-acre (1.4 km?) site included a 122 by 60 ft (37 by 18 m) relief model of the Panama Canal, a wild animal show, a Wild West show, and a re-creation of the then-recent San Francisco Earthquake. Possibly the most popular attraction was a re-creation of the Battle of Hampton roads, the first battle between two ironclad warships, the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia, which had taken place within sight of Sewell’s Point 40 years earlier during the Civil War. The exterior of the Merrimac-Monitor Building looked somewhat like a battleship, while the interior held a large, circular exhibit describing the battle.

The railroads put on elaborate displays. The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O) displayed its entire F.F.V. passenger train. The New York Central (NYC) electric engine on display was part of its Grand Central Station modernization project in New York City. Not to be outdone, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) brought a 23-foot (7.0 m)-diameter section of its new East River Tunnel. The same section was later installed underwater as part of the link to the new Penn Station in New York City, with an inscription that it had been displayed at the Jamestown Exposition.

Other technology included late-model automobiles, autoboats, and electric and steam traction engines, each in its highest stage of development. The exposition was perhaps most notable for the display of military prowess; warships of many nations, including the sixteen battleships of the United States, participated in a naval review, and all kinds of modern military hardware were on display.]

Exhibits from both occupational and classical black educational institutions were represented. While the Exposition was a money-loser and derided by many in the press, the Negro Hall achieved nearly universal praise. It was the only exhibit visited by President Roosevelt in either of his visits. Although most commercial ventures lost money, the branch bank in the Negro Hall, affiliated with a local African-American institution, recorded one of the Exposition’s only profits, doing $75,731.87 in business in the course of the fair.

Mark twain and Henry H. Rogers also paid a visit, arriving in the latter’s yacht Kanawha. Ships of two squadrons commanded by Admiral Robley D.Evans stood off in the bay from Sewell’s Point. On opening day, an international fleet of fifty-one ships was on display. The assembly included 16 battleships, five cruisers, and six destroyers. The fleet remained in Hampton Roads after the exposition closed and became President Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet under Admiral Evans, which toured the globe as evidence of the nation’s military might.

In addition to the ships anchored at Hampton Roads, the exposition provided a campground sufficient to house five thousand troops. Military and “semi-military” men in uniform were admitted for the price of a single day’s admission, fifty cents, and were permitted to come and go after that, as long as they were encamped at the exposition grounds and drilled regularly on the parade ground. This accounts for many of the 43% of people tallied entering the fair daily who did not pay admission. The organizers felt the troops provided informal entertainment and were an attraction to the exposition.

The United States issued a series of three postage stamps in conjunction with the exposition. The 1-cent value portrayed Captain John Smith, the 2-cent value the founding of Jamestown, and the 5-cent Pocahontas.

The Exposition closed on December 1, 1907, as a financial failure, losing several million dollars. Attendance had been 3 million, a fraction of the numbers promised by the promoters. But, it had other benefits for the United States and for Norfolk and Hampton Roads.

On June 28, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson set aside $2.8 million for land purchase and the erection of storehouses and piers for what was to become the Navy Base. Of the 474 acres (1.9 km?) originally acquired, 367 had been the old Jamestown Exposition grounds. The military property was later expanded considerably. The former Virginia Railway coal piers, land, and an adjacent coal storage facility owned by Norfolk & Western Railway (which merged with the VGN in 1959) were added in the 1960s and 1970s. The base now includes over 4,000 acres (16 km?) and is the largest Naval facility in the world.