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The Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907
By Nancy E. Sheppard

J300 imageIt was the dawn of the 20th century and World Fair were all the rage. These were elaborate festivals ripe with amusements, cultural engagement, exhibits featuring new technology and innovations, and with beautiful buildings unlike anything anyone had seen before. For the 300th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, a group of associates came together to stage just such a fair… something unlike anything Hampton Roads had ever seen before. However, despite the greatest of intentions and most elaborate of planning, the Jamestown Ter-Centennial Exposition of 1907 was a financial failure that was transformed into something far more; far greater.

Opening on April 26, 1907 at Pine Beach in Norfolk, the company that managed the exposition chose to hold the fair on southside Hampton Roads, as opposed to closer to Jamestown due to accessibility issues. Pine Beach was a remote location so railroad tracks were built for the existing railroad line to reach the fair while piers were established on the shoreline for ferry boats from Old Point Comfort to bring visitors. On opening day, several of the attractions were not yet completed and ladders were visible, propped against buildings.

Despite being a little unfinished, it was a wonder to behold. Several states built large homes to represent their history and showcase innovations, industry, and arts of their particular state. An area called "The Warpath” contained amusements including a water chute ride, another ride called "Hell’s Gate” which took passengers on boats along a waterway through a vortex of creepy creatures and gruesome scenery, a couple of theaters were established to depict famous Civil War battles, with one of the most popular being for the battle of USS MONITOR and CSS VIRGINIA. A Swiss Chalet against a backdrop of snow tipped mountains stood near a Wild West showcase of buffalo herding and Plains American Indians. A street scene called "The Beautiful Orient” had dancers and markets.

For 1907, the Exposition was rather ahead of its time. Though segregated (like much of the south at this time), it was still deemed "inclusive.” There was a building entirely designed and built by African- Americans that was devoted to depicting African- American heritage, innovations, and education. Booker T. Washington is known to have visited the African-American exhibits.

On a field, large parades were held, showcasing military precision. Units from all over the world came to show their own military’s uniqueness and uniforms. International navies brought their ships to the piers and sat them right alongside the leviathans of America’s Navy; most notably, the famous, "Great White Fleet.”

The Jamestown Exposition was a magical escape for anyone who visited… but what happened to it? Join us next week as we pick up Part 2 of the history of the Jamestown Exposition!


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