South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition

The South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition, commonly called the Charleston Exposition or the West Indian Exposition, was a regional trade exposition held in Charleston, South Carolina from December 1, 1901 to June 20, 1902.[1][2][3][4]


To overcome weakening trade with Latin American and the Caribbean and seeing the benefits of fairs like the Cotton States Exposition held in Atlanta in 1895, a railroad executive, J. H. Averill, advocated holding an exposition in Charleston in the News and Courier. J. C. Hemphill, the editor of the News and Courier, and Frederick C. Wagener, a German immigrant and local businessman, were two early supporters of a World's Fair in Charleston.[1][4]

In 1900, the Charleston Exposition Company was formed and began soliciting funds. There was support from the business community and the South Carolina General Assembly allocated US$50,000, but the Charleston aristocracy felt that the fair was unseemly self-promotion. The Federal government, which had normally contributed funds, did not offer early support. There were no official exhibits from abroad.[2][3][4]

Wagener, who was president of the exposition company, suggested that 250 acres (100 ha) of his property on the Ashley River be used for the fair. The company hired a New York architect, Bradford L. Gilbert, who had been supervising architect for the Cotton States Exposition. Gilbert chose Spanish Renaissance style with the buildings painted creamy off-white. This led to is being called the "Ivory City." The grounds were divided into an area for Nature and another for Art.[4] The principal buildings were: Administration, Agriculture, Art, Auditorium, Commerce, Cotton Palace, Fisheries, Machinery, Mines and Forestry, Negro, Transportation, and Women's.[5]

The Exposition faced many challenges. The weather was not good, some exhibits were late in opening, and there was a shortage of funds.[1][2][3] President Theodore Roosevelt delayed his visit from February to April. The attendance was disappointing. Only 674,086 came to the exposition.[4][5] The cost of the exposition was $1,250,000, while the receipts were $313,000.[5]

After the exposition, the City of Charleston built its Hampton Park on the eastern portion of the grounds that included the Exposition's formal court. Although it was moved and rebuilt, the bandstand in the park remains.[6] In 1919, the State of South Carolina obtained the western portion. This was used for the new campus of The Citadel.[2][3] Lowndes Grove, which was the Woman's Building in the exposition, remains.[7]


The Cotton Palace was a 320-foot (98 m) long building with a 75-foot (23 m) tall dome was the focus of the exposition. The other major buildings were the Palace of Commerce and the Palace of Agriculture. There was a Negro Department in its own building. The Woman's Building was in Wagener's Lowndes Grove house. Twenty different states participated in the exposition. State buildings were erected by Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania; city buildings represented Cincinnati and Philadelphia; and special structures were devoted to the exhibits of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guatemala.[5] Pennsylvania featured the Liberty Bell in its exhibit.[4] The grounds were adorned with statuary, among them six original historical groups, situated in the Court of Palaces. Statuary included "The Aztec" by Louis A. Gudebrod, "The Negro" by Charles A. Lopez, and "The Huguenot" by Elsie Ward.[5]

The midway had a carnival with thrill rides, a 400-foot (122 m) long painting of the Battle of Manassas, and Eskimo village. There was a Turkish Parlor with imported cigars and a house of horrors.[4] As with similar expositions there were souvenirs for sale, which included commemorative medals, pins, and other trinkets.[1][8] A miniature railroad of the Miniature Railway Company proved to be one of the most popular attractions and best-paying amusement features on the grounds. The routes touched all points of interest from the Sunken Gardens and the Court of Palaces to the headquarters for hoky-poky.[9]


  1. Chibarro, Tony (November 5, 1999). "The Charleston Exhibition". Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  2. Edgar, Walter, ed. (2006). South Carolina Encyclopedia. Columbia, South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. pp. 898–899. ISBN 1-57003-598-9.
  3. Harvey, Bruce G. "South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition". South Carolina Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  4. McLaughlin, J. Michael; Toddman, Lee Davis (2003). It Happened in South Carolina. Guilford, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press. pp. 106–107. ISBN 0-7627-2452-8.
  5. This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "South Carolina Inter-State and West Indian Exposition" . New International Encyclopedia. 1905.
  6. Coker, Michael D. "Charleston's White City - The Creation of Hampton Park". Retrieved 24 May 2009.
  7. Leiding, Harriette Kershaw (1921). Historic houses of South Carolina. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: J.B. Lippincott Company. pp. 188–192.
  8. "1901-1902 Charleston - South Carolina Interstate and West Indian Exposition Medals". Retrieved 23 May 2009.
  9. Miniature Railways at the Charleston Exhibition. In: Street Railway Review, Vol 12, 1902, p. 365. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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