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WNYRHS HISTORY - PanAm Expo 1901 - Chapter II

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This is the Second of many historical articles about railroading in the Western New York area, written by Society Historian, Greg Jandura. As more articles are added, old ones will be archived. So sit back, or feel free to print out, and enjoy the rich railway heritage of Western New York.
by: Greg Jandura

"Come To The Expo In Buffalo"

        Formally known as the Pan-American Exposition, and informally as the Buffalo Exposition of 1901, it took place between May 1st and November 1st, 1901 in Buffalo, New York. In late November 1896, a request was made to Washington, DC. requesting $500,000 in federal aid money for a proposed exposition. It would be held May 1 through November 1, 1899 in either Niagara Falls, New York or Buffalo, New York celebrating science and civilization and the magnificent achievements of the America's during the 19th century and also the development of hydroelectric power at Niagara Falls. "Progress in Electrical Science." It was envisioned that by 1899, every piece of machinery in manufacturing in Buffalo, Rochester, and surrounding area cities and towns would be powered by electricity. The first transmission of electricity from Niagara Falls to Buffalo occurred in 1896 made possible one of the expo's most exciting exhibits, the demonstration of electricity in daily use. By 1901, electrical engineers had perfected the rheostat, a resistor allowing variable current and dramatic graduations in the power of the lighting.

The certificate of the incorporation of the Pan-American Exposition Company was formally filed with The Erie County Clerk and New York State Secretary of State in Albany on June 25, 1897. The incorporates included the prominent railroad men of the day such as: The honorable Chauncey M. Depew, President of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad (familiarly known as the Central-Hudson Railroad). E.B Thomas, President of the Erie Railroad Company; H. Walter Webb, Vice President NYC&HR Railroad; Edgar Van Etten, General Superintendent NYC&HR Railroad; John M. Brinker, President of Niagara Falls & Lewiston Railroad Company; Fred CM. Lautz, Vice-President of Niagara Falls & Lewiston Railroad Company; J.T. Jones, President Niagara Falls & Suspension Bridge Railroad Company; The Honorable W. Caryl Ely, President of Buffalo & Niagara Falls Electric Railway Company; Burt Van Horn, General Manager of the Buffalo & Niagara Falls Electric Railway Company; Herbert H. Bissell, General Counsel for the Niagara Falls & Lewiston Railway Company and the Buffalo Traction Company. The original exposition site chosen was Cayuga Island, 175 acres of land in the Niagara River along with additional property opposite LaSalle which is at the city line of Niagara Falls, New York. Cayuga Island had been purchased some time ago by Capt. John M. Brinker and Fred C.M. Lautz of Buffalo who were members of the Exposition Company. President William McKinley, visiting Buffalo in August, 1897 as a participant in the Grand Army of the Republic Civil War Union Army Veterans) Encampment drove a ceremonial stake into the ground at the Cayuga Island site. In January 1898 the charter of the exposition company was revised and approved by then New York State Governor Theodore Roosevelt. Buffalo Mayor Diehl immediately set out to secure $500,000 in subscriptions from wealthy Western New Yorkers solicitations continuing until early 1900 to keep the project going. In March, 1898 both New York State and the Federal Government endorsing this project enacted legislation. The outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898 put this ambitious endeavor temporarily on hold. After the Spanish-American War renewed interest in holding the exposition began to increase and there was spirited competition between Niagara Falls and Buffalo for the honor. Buffalo won out because of its population 350,000 and the fact that 40 million people were within one day's journey from Buffalo, the second largest railroad hub in the country. During 1898, the Exposition Company was again reorganized and on May 11, 1899 the Rumsey estate property was acquired and chosen as the Pan-American Exposition site with the formal lease signed on September 5, 1899. The larger Exposition grounds with better accessibility would be located in the northern part of the City of Buffalo adjacent to the large and beautiful Delaware Park. These grounds are about 1 mile in length from north to south from Delaware Park Lake to the Central-Hudson Belt Line Railroad just north of Great Arrow Avenue, and half a mile wide between Delaware Avenue and Elmwood Avenue. There will be 350 acres, including 133 acres of improved parklands and lakes. In 20 months and at a cost of $10 million, the Pan-American Exposition was created with opening day set for May 1, 1901. The Buffalo site was ideal in that trolley lines extended along three sides of the grounds and for 5 cents one could ride to the Exposition from any part in the city, and downtown Buffalo was only 20 minutes away. In addition, the Central-Hudson Railroad brought in Belt Line as well as Excursion trains right up to the station erected on the northern boundary of the grounds.

Other notable exhibitions were held in the United States during the 19th century and included the "Centennial Exhibition" Philadelphia, 1876; "World Colombian Exposition," Chicago, 1893, Cotton Exposition," Atlanta, 1895; "Trans-Mississippi Exposition" Omaha, 1893. The Pan-American Exposition of 1901 would usher in the new 20th century and its technical marvels. To get an idea of the size of the Pan-American Exposition in relation to the afore mentioned, The 1893 World Colombian Exposition had attracted 60,000 exhibitors and 27 million visitors. The Pan-American Exhibition would attract 3,500 exhibitors and 8 million visitors, still impressive no matter how you look at it.

In 1901, an estimated 40 million people lived within a 12 hour train ride from the Niagara Frontier. "Buffalo has a population of 352,219 (12th census) and it ranks as the fourth largest shipping center in the world. The acreage of the City is 25,343 1/2. It is a great commercial gateway between the east and the west It is the principle Eastern port for the commerce of the Great Lakes and no other city on earth receives such a volume of grain as Buffalo. With her 41 elevators and a capacity of 20,000,000 bushels, nearly 200,000,000 bushels of grain are handled annually. Over 1,000,000 barrels of flour were manufactured in 1899. The coal receipts of 1899 amounted to over 3,000,000 tons, most of which was sent westward by water The lumber receipts of 1899 were 230,000,000 feet ... The manufacturers of Buffalo number some 3,500 with over 100,000 operatives. Buffalo can also boast of 200 miles of street railways, with 100 miles of suburban lines. 4,141 vessels arrived in 1899 at the Port of Buffalo. 28 railroads enter the city; 250 passenger trains daily; nearly 700 miles of railroad trackage within the city limits. Buffalo in 1901 can boast of 9 theaters, 3 libraries, 24 banks, 60 public schools, 187 churches of all faiths, 1,025 acres of public parks, and the largest coal trestle in the world, and the longest breakwater in the world. Lastly, while Buffalo still had in 1901, 104 3/4 miles of stone streets and 7 1/2 miles of brick streets, it could boast of 223 miles of asphalt which was more than Paris, Washington, London or any other city in the world. (14)

As early as late 1899, artist sketches of the major buildings to be erected on the exposition site were profusely illustrated in Buffalo's newspapers to stir the imagination of wonders yet to come! A large billboard measuring 16 x 70 feet was placed along the Niagara River for water and railroad passengers to see which proudly proclaimed "PAN-AMERICAN EXPOSITION, BUFFALO 1901." This was one of the largest billboards in the United States.

       In commemoration of the Pan-American Exposition, the United States Post Office issued a set of five stamps engraved by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Depicted on the 1-cent was Fast Lake Navigation, 2-cent NYC&HR "Empire State Express," 4-cent Automobile, 5-cent Bridge at Niagara Falls, and 10-cent Fast Ocean Navigation.

"The Pan-American Exposition was called the "Rainbow City." Upon entering the grounds, the visitor was treated to the sight of splendid domes, attractive minarets, towers and pavilions glowing with pleasing hues, tints, regal statues (some 500 sculptures of which 125 were original works), and buildings containing exhibits from all parts of the Western Hemisphere.

The general plan of the grounds was that of an inverted "T" with the cross arm being the Esplanade extending east and west, and the cross arm terminating at the Propylaea. The Court of Fountains is in the center of the vertical stem and starting from its four comers was the beginning of the main group of large buildings. The most prominent of these was the Electric Tower, which rose to a height of 391 feet. It was said that the Electric Tower could be seen from downtown Buffalo."

"The Tower of Light was a steel supported building. An elevator took visitors up 252 feet to the colonnade near the top of the tower. From here a spiral staircase led the venturesome to the cupola, on which rested a 16-foot high gilded, nude, running figure of the Goddess of Light holding a torch aloft ... A large restaurant occupied a floor seventy-five feet above ground level. It also provided access to the pretty roof gardens atop the curving colonnades flanking the base of the tower. Five or six stories above the restaurant and below the cupola and the upper colonnade a richly ornamental loggia extended across each side of the tower. It offered a splendid view of the grounds." (15a)

"Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the Pan-Am was the color scheme of the buildings. In previous expositions, the main feature had always been architecture but not color. The Pan-Am attempted to appease both. Imagine seeing colossal buildings colored in hues of red, blue, green and gold's. The Electric Tower was deep green, with details of cream with blue and gold! Now you can see where the name "Rainbow City" came from.

Since the Pan-American Exposition was a celebration of electricity, it was only fitting that the promoters of the Pan-Am would outdo themselves when it came time to see it at night. Drawing its power from Niagara Falls, at dusk 240,000 eight watt bulbs came on at once, not in a brilliant flash of light, but in gradual increases in brightness until every building was adorned in a bath of light. The Electric Tower alone was studded with 4,400 lights and on top of the structure was a powerful searchlight that was seen from Niagara Falls and Canada.

The architecture of the Pan-Am was a free treatment of the Spanish Renaissance style compliment to the Latin American countries represented at the fair. Columns were used for decorative, rather than architectural effects, and each building is rich with the use of balconies, loggias, towers, and minarets.

One very important architectural note needs to be made clear; none of the buildings at the Pan-Am with the exception of the New York State Building, were built to be a permanent structure... 95% of the buildings were made of chicken wire with wood frames and a base coat of plaster! Each rainfall would cause buildings to decay a little more, so you can imaging the problems the Pan-Am directors had with 1901 being one of the wettest summers Buffalo ever had".

Other notable features of the Pan-American Exposition besides the Triumphal Bridge over the Grand Canal included the following buildings: US Government, Dept. of Agriculture, Horticulture, Graphic Arts, Mines Building, Court of Fountains, Ethnology, Temple of Music, Machinery and Transportation, Manufactures and Liberal Art, Electricity, Art, and Stadium. States and Foreign Nations buildings included New York State, New England, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Women's, Forestry, Dairy, and Hospital.

An exposition would not be complete without a Midway, which would offer some 40 attractions. Beside the rides, animals, bazaar, and restaurants, one could take a Trip to the Moon, go inside the House Upside Down, see a Colorado gold mine, glass factory, motion pictures and pictorials of Cleopatra, the Pall of Babylon, and the Johnstown Flood among other things.

The Machinery and Transportation Building (illustrated, next page) costing $265,000 to build exhibited all the latest developments in automobiles, locomotives, railroad cars and equipment. This enormous edifice was 350 x 500 feet with its long side facing the Court of Fountains. Its highest tower was 170 feet above the Grounds. The cement walls were tinted in reds and yellow's atop which was typical red Spanish mission tile.

Seven mammoth steam locomotives were on display from Baldwin, Schenectady, and Brooks built for the New York Central, Michigan Central, Lehigh Valley, Buffalo & Susquehanna, Jersey Central and Illinois Central railroads. Also on display were couplers, velocipedes, wheel assemblies, and a display by the American Bridge Company. There were trolley cars, a Railway Post Office Car, 5 freight cars, which included box, gondola, coal and flat cars. Visitors were fascinated as coal was hoisted, sorted and loaded. The DL&W had a passenger coach on display and the Grand Trunk Railroad provided photos and a mural of scenic views along its lines. There were undoubtedly other railroad-related displays that were not recorded in Buffalo's newspapers.

The Pan-American Bureau of Transportation was established under the direction of W. Caryl Ely to ensure that freight and passengers to and from the exposition were adequately served. A newspaper article in the 11/1 1/99 issue of the Buffalo Morning Express talked of building a switch off the NYC&HR Belt Line and digging shallow trenches in which track would be laid to the major buildings to bring in building construction supplies and exhibits without transshipment. During the Exposition the trenches would be covered by asphalt and dug out after the close for dismantling the structures and moving out the exhibits. The trains were to be pulled by either a small steam engine or overhead trolley type catenary system that would be dismantled. It's unknown which method was selected. Entrance gates to the grounds were located at West Amherst, Elmwood, Lincoln, Water Gate, Meadow, East Amherst, and the railroad station constructed by the NYC&HR at the northern perimeter on the Belt Line. Fair goers arriving by trolley boarded cars designated "Direct To the Pan-American" on the Niagara, West Grant, Baynes & Hoyt, Elmwood and Main Street Lines. Admission was 50 cents on weekdays and 25 cents on Sunday. Originally the Exposition was to be closed in observance of the Sabbath, but it was decide to open the gates although the Midway was closed and sales of articles were prohibited. Sunday hours were restricted to between 1 PM. and 11 PM. while normal weekday hours began at 8:30 A.M.

The railroads serving Buffalo were determined to bring in visitors to Buffalo and the Exposition. In 1893, high and inflexible passenger rates for several months kept tens of thousands from taking the train to Chicago. Buffalo's railroad management brought in newspapermen from other cities to tour the grounds and report back their experiences. Officials from railroads not directly serving Buffalo were also brought in so that they could advertise the Exposition from distant points. Experimental fares were experimented with on different levels of service coach vs. Pullman in the name of attracting ridership and making money.

In March of 1901, the NYC&HR railroad proposed that a switch be built at the Terrace Station in downtown Buffalo to bring through trains directly to the exposition grounds which would allow for locomotive run-around. Belt Line trains running the loop every few minutes could not handle the additional traffic which would bring absolute chaos to the Exchange Street Depot. The only drawback was that out of town excursionists would completely bypass downtown Buffalo. This did not sit to well with the merchants. The railroad wanted to avert massive confusion and dangerous conditions as in addition to the multitude of daily scheduled trains, there would be excursion specials diverging on Exchange Street from all directions.

By April 1901, Pan-American Exposition officials were getting nervous as opening day was a month away and much needed to be accomplished including road paving, building construction and landscaping. The 5,000 men work force was doubled to 10,000 who would labor seven days a week and around the clock. The railroads announced an experimental May only, 1/3 round trip fare good for 15 days. Every Tuesday, a round trip was offered at 1 regular fare plus $1.00 with a five-day stopover. Special fares would be in effect on May 15 and May 20 (Official Dedication Day). These coach excursions, good for a 3-day stopover were sold at 1 cent a mile. The Wabash Railroad which had an interest in reaching the Buffalo and Pittsburgh directly over its own rails. Since having Grand Trunk Railroad trackage rights into Buffalo since 1897, it started a price war by charging a less than standard agreed upon, or "differential rate" with its competitors serving Kansas City. The Wabash was the most direct route from Kansas City to Buffalo. The railroads in anticipation of huge crowds hired extra staff in all areas of their passenger departments. Already there were ticket scalpers who were trying to make a fast buck at the expense of the railroads and anti-scalping measures were being considered by the Legislature in Albany by New York Governor, O'Dell.


13. Paton J Ian, "Did Technologies Stand the Test of Time." The American Philatelist Dec. 1994
14. Pan-American Exposition "Four Track Series #15 - New York Central & Hudson River Railroad," 1901
15. Heverin, Aaron T., "The Pan-American Exposition"
15a. Austin M. Fox, Symbol & Show. The Pan-American Exposition of 1901 Buffalo: Meyer Enterprises, 1987

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