All Roads Lead to Delray

1963.099.001The area in the present day shadow of Zug Island may seem like an unlikely location for “the largest building in the world erected exclusively for fair and exposition purposes.” However, in 1889, this was exactly what stood there. The area directly west of Historic Fort Wayne, along the Detroit River, was home to the Detroit International Exposition and Fair of 1889. This spectacle was intended to demonstrate the might of this modern city as the Twentieth Century drew near. The brochure from which the above image was taken touted the city’s accessibility to rail and water, its public gas and electricity consumption, and Detroit industries of the era—packaged seeds, stoves, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco, as evidence of this might.

Engraving showing the exposition grounds taken from the August 17, 1889 Harper’s Weekly supplement.

Engraving showing the exposition grounds taken from the August 17, 1889 Harper’s Weekly supplement.

And a mighty city requires a mighty exposition. A supplement in the August 17, 1889 issue of Harper’s Weekly promised that, only a “profession pedestrian” would be able to take in the scope of the event in one day. Luckily for all the amateur ambulists, fair goers were treated to displays of livestock, musicians, a gallery of over 300 paintings, and demonstrations of technological marvels for ten days. And of course there was the exposition’s very regal main building itself, designed by Louis Kamper, fresh from designing the Hecker House at Woodward and Ferry Avenues. Unfortunately the structures did not last long after the exposition’s two more annual occurrences; in 1895 the grounds were razed by the Solvay Process Company, eager to mine the salt beneath. The same access to railroads and waterways that made this area prime for such a grand exposition, coupled with the natural resources beneath also made it fertile for heavy industry, continuing to feed the city’s growth into the 20th century.

3 thoughts on “All Roads Lead to Delray

  1. Well written post, Brendan! And what a great, little-known part of Detroit’s history to share. That map was always one of my absolute favorite items in the DHS Collections. It’s amazing to think that such a grand, elaborate building stood for such a short time. I’ve found surprisingly little information about the Detroit Exposition out there, apart from an article in Hour magazine a few years ago. But I’m so glad you’ve shared these.

    Also, in the background of the Harper’s Weekly illustration, is that Fort Wayne? It looks like the fairgrounds are practically on top of the CRC!

    • Thank you! And yes, this was all new to me. When I first saw the map, I initially assumed it was either never actually built or someone was taking extreme artistic liberties with it. Unfortunately photos of the building seem fairly rare. Hopefully we’ll find some in our collection soon.

      Richard Bak’s article in Hour was exceptionally well done, and gets into a lot of great detail about everything from the the expo’s attractions to issues with policing it.

      And yes, that is Fort Wayne in the Harper’s illustration, but it appears to have been rotated 90 degrees, and officers’ row has vanished! And as best as I can tell, the Detroit River also seems to be bending the wrong direction north of the fort. I suppose we can chalk that up to illustrators Schell and Hogan working from New York.

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