Southwest Iowa was known as the Bluegrass Capital of the world. Bluegrass was important to all of southwest Iowa. Many of the pastures were of bluegrass which waved invitingly in the cool prairie breezes. Much of the hay used for livestock was of the bluegrass variety.
In 1889 the Blue Grass League was formed by 18 counties in southwestern Iowa, with J. B. Harsh as president. The counties comprised of Appanoose, Wayne, Decatur, Ringgold, Taylor, Page, Fremont, Mills, Montgomery, Adams, Union, Clarke, Lucas, Warren, Madison, Adair, Cass and Pottawattamie counties. The Bluegrass League decided to build a bluegrass palace on the Union County Fairgrounds.
The Blue Grass Palace was designed by Louis Syberkro, an artist, and constructed by J. C. Woodruff, both prominent Creston men, and was 100 feet square with corner turrets and a central tower 92 feet high. The building materials were mainly sod and baled hay covering a frame work of wood. The railroad ran special trains with reduced fares, which brought very large crowds from all over the United States. The League operated for three years in cooperation with the county fair and races. "Never before art and nature been manipulated with so great genius and skill as was demonstrated in the blue grass palaces of 1889 and 1890. A perfect panorama of all that is beautiful in art and nature was expressed here in all its intensity, and until this work had not been written on exclusively.
The purpose of the palace was to allow each of the counties, all members of the league, to exhibit the products of their soils, a place where people might meet together in one grand holiday exposition after the harvest was past and the summer ended. The idea met with the approval of all officers and members of the league, and the palace was built and thrown open to the public on August 26, 1889. Each county in the league occupied a separate booth in the very unique structure, where they exhibited all their fruits, vegetables, grasses and grains, products of the dairy, wood, coal, sandstone, marble and numerous articles from the manufacturing industries throughout the blue grass regions. Here was certainly one of the grandest scene ever witnessed by people in any country under the sun. A magnificent structure completely covered with all the varieties of grasses and golden grains grown in the blue grass regions manipulated with all the beautiful flowers of the fields, the architecture being handsomely wrought in all the novel decorations, giving it a decided appearance of a grand old palace or hanging-gardens. It not only presented an interesting and charming appearance, but one of great study as well to a vast multitude who gazed upon the sublime beauty and lofty magnificence of the only original blue grass palace in the world.
The palace of 1889 was such a hit with the public, the league decided that the one of 1890 should far surpass in true beauty and elegance the one of the year before, so it was enlarged to three times the former size and thrown open to the public again on August 26, 1890 and the whole world has learned through this palace the wonders of the blue grass regions in southwestern Iowan.
The front of this beautiful structure, composed entirely of the products of the solid, faces the east and has a total length from north to south of 265 feet and is 132 feet wide, the main tower in the center of the building being 120 feet high, while on the north and south wings are two towers ninety feet high feet high; over the main entrance on the east side is another to00 feet in length, which, with several smaller towers, give the building a grand appearance, and far surpasses, both in the exterior and the interior finish, the one of 1889, and contains more than three times the amount of space, giving each county in the league just double the room it had the year previous. The entire south wing of the new building was devoted entirely to a vast auditorium which comfortably seated 2000 people. Eighteen counties chose their respective booths in the new building in which to make their exhibits, the Ottumwa Coal Palace Association one, while the North Pacific Railroad Company chose two, in which to exhibit samples of the excellent products from the famous section of country along their line of road from St. Paul to Puget Sound. The remaining booths were occupied by the District Fair Association with a most interesting display, while numerous business firms of Creston occupied large space on the gallery floor.
This grand opening speech for the 1890 exposition and industrial exhibit was given by Gov. Horace Boies, the palace governor of Iowa, along with all the pride and splendor which all true Iowans know so well how to assume. The noted Iowa State Band of Des Moines accompanied the governor and staff, and discoursed music on this occasion calculated to stir the inner most depths of the human should. The vast and beautifully decorated auditorium in the south wing of the lovely building was filled to overflowing with a sea of happy faces, while the handsome galleries above fairly groaned beneath the burden of an eager, anxious humanity, and, when the highest executive of the greatest state in the Union stepped to the front of the large stage so exquisitely decorated with all the products of Iowa soil and looked upon all luxurious grandeur surrounding him, the enthusiasm was so great that thousands of handkerchiefs fluttered to the breeze, while cheers of greeting went up from the mouths of over 4000 people. Scarcely had the sweet notes of the beautiful rendition, "Hail to the Chief," died away when the governor expressed himself as highly delighted with the magnificent palace and decorations, which were the most beautiful and elaborate ever seen on the continent. "There is always something new under the sun, and this beautiful palace, constructed of the products of our soil, demonstrates this fact to our people. This structure is indeed wonderful to look upon, and all lovers of art and nature are both delighted and interested as they gaze upon this great monument of industry and enterprise erected by the people of southwest Iowa, and by them exquisitely decorated with all the products of a rich soil."
One of the most conspicuous and novel features of this palace is the royal suspension bridge stretching from north to south on the highest portion of the building, twelve feet wide from which a magnificent view of Creston and the beautiful surrounding country is obtained; also of the race tracks below, on which wonderful records of speed are made every day during the exposition. Interior designs
Inside the palace the crowds listened to politicians' speeches and band concerts. All kinds of exhibits were on display-- from log cabins to temples, from timber wolves and wildcats (probably stuffed), to silkworm cocoons. Models of animals and buildings were constructed of the area's crops and lumber (56 different kinds of trees grew in southwestern Iowa then). Even the students of Osceola and Chariton exhibited their homework.
After 1892 the palace wasn't used anymore. The idea was given up. But for a few years the palace on the Union County Fairgrounds had been the pride of Iowa's Bluegrass Country.
From Iowa Leaves, by Clara B. Rouse
Adapted from original article printed in The Goldfinch 6, No. 1 (October 1984). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.