series begins at
Oldham County History Center
many firsts for Louisville
Helen E. McKinney
LA GRANGE, Ky. (February 2013) When visiting
the St. James Art Fair several years ago, Bryan Bush became intrigued
with the information he found on a monument in front of the St. James
Historic District. It related information about the Southern Exposition,
which took place in Louisville from 1883 to 1887.
He began searching microfiche from the Louisville Courier-Journal, which
had published detailed articles about the exposition. The papers
chief editor, Henry Watterson, had covered the event every day because
he was responsible for its taking place in Louisville.
Watterson came up with the idea for the Southern Exposition
in 1882 after reading about the idea of holding a cotton exposition.
Atlanta beat us to the draw, so Watterson expanded the idea,
said Bush, a historian and author. In addition to an agricultural element,
Wattersons plans included inviting Northern states to participate
with their industrial and mercantile businesses.
Bush will be the featured speaker for a new series of programs offered
at the Oldham County History Center, "History Press Dinner Series."
The program will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, in the Rob
Morris Educational Building in La Grange, and includes light dinner
fare and books for sale.
A 10-acre building once stood on the site of what is now St. James Court
in the Old Louisville neighborhood. It held a five-year series of Worlds
fairs, running for 100 days each year.
The exposition held a lot of firsts, said Bush. It held
the largest installation of the recently invented incandescent light
bulb, a large bicycle track, an electric train ran around the entire
complex and large agricultural implements were on display. At
one point it became the Worlds fair, representing different
countries, Bush said.
To keep it fresh, Watterson gave it a different
theme each year, he said. In 1884, the exposition had a military
theme, complete with the Kentucky state guard camped on the grounds
and drill competitions.
In 1885 the theme was the Worlds Fair, in 1886 it was Dinosaurs,
and the Southern Exposition ended in 1887 with a childrens theme.
Bands were brought in, concerts held and even operatic performances
One element that made it stand out was a separate building that housed
an art gallery, said Bush. To have an art gallery was very unusual
for that time period. People such as J.P. Morgan and Ulysses S.
Grant loaned items for display in the art gallery, and President Abraham
Lincolns son, Robert Lincoln, visited the exposition.
We chose Bryan Bush for the first lecture because he published
a book on the Southern Exposition and we thought it would be a good
choice for our exhibit opening on the Southern exposition military drill
competition letters, said Nancy Theiss, executive director of
the Oldham County History Center.
Bush, a Louisville native, is the author of 11 books. His program will
consist of a lecture about his book, Louisvilles Southern
Exposition: 1883-1887, and a powerpoint presentation that includes
pictures and drawings about the Southern Exposition.
Bush, a Civil War scholar, is also involved in a historical project
at Louisvilles Conrad-Caldwell House. He will be the speaker for
the opening of an exhibit titled, Louisville During the Civil
War, that runs from Jan. 26 through June 12.
Bushs lecture in Oldham County will follow the 5 p.m. opening
of a new year-long exhibit at the History Center titled, "Saving
the Printed Word." This exhibit will include some of the History
Centers manuscripts and letters, such as our Southern Exposition
letters for military drills, said Theiss. The letters are part
of the David Weller Collection that we got from Chilton Barnetts
Part of the Southern Exposition program included invitations to
volunteer militia guards to come and participate in competition drills.
Weller helped organize the drill competition, and after the Civil War,
he was very active in the Kentucky volunteer guard.
Included in the exhibit will be a hand press that visitors can use and
an area highlighting cursive handwriting with feather quill pens and
letter seals. The idea for the exhibit came from Karen Eldridge
of Karens Book Barn, who expressed concern over the loss of printed
materials and historic manuscripts in the future, Theiss said.
In conjunction with the exhibit, several workshops will be offered at
the History Center throughout the year. The first will take place from
1-3 p.m. Sunday, March 3, and feature Lexington, Ky. artist and teacher
Barbara Christensen. She will conduct a workshop titled, Using
Relief Rubbings to Incorporate in Artwork. A fee will be charged
for the workshop.
Another workshop will be featured from 1-3 p.m. Sunday, March 10, titled,
Collecting Rare Books. The program will be given by collector
Norvelle Wathen and Bookbinder Gene Ward. This program is free, but
reservations are suggested.
For more information or to reserve tickets for
the Bryan Bush program, contact the Oldham County History Center at
(502) 222-0826. Tickets are $12 for members and $15 for non-members.
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