Louisville's Southern Exposition


Louisville's Southern Exposition


Southern Exposition (Louisville, Ky.)


The Southern Exposition, held in Louisville from 1883-1887, was driven by the city’s need to succeed in a competitive national economy. The Exposition provided Louisville with the opportunity to showcase its manufacturing capabilities and strengthen business relationships with both the North and the South. The Exposition opened in 1883 on the city’s southern outskirts—today’s Central Park, and St. James and Belgravia Courts. The Exposition’s main building—perhaps the largest wooden building ever erected in the United States—covered thirteen acres. Much of the main building was devoted to machinery exhibits, where products ranging from barbed wire to silk fabric were created. The Exposition’s agricultural department presented a working farm and horticultural garden, featuring crops of tobacco, corn, hemp, flax, peanuts, and castor oil plants, as well as a vast field of cotton growing to the south of the main building. An art gallery housed an exhibition of masterpieces by artists from around the world; visitors also enjoyed floral displays, concerts, theatrical performances, and a weekly fireworks show. One of the main attractions of Louisville’s Exposition was its ability to remain open at night. It was lit by 4,600 lamps, the largest display yet of Thomas Edison’s recently invented incandescent lights. Although originally planned to operate for only one season, the great popularity of the Southern Exposition resulted in its continuation until 1887.




The Filson Historical Society Print Collection


ca. 1883-1885


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black-and-white photographs


Still Image

Collection Items

Opening Ceremonies at the Southern Exposition
Scene of the opening ceremonies of the 1883 Southern Exposition. President Chester Arthur spoke at the event.

Southern Exposition Scenes from Harper's Weekly
Illustrations from Harper's Weekly of scenes from the Southern Exposition including the interior of the art gallery, the pavilion, the opening ceremonies, and various exhibits.

Southern Exposition Building
View of the Southern Exposition's main building, with insets of the art gallery and the park.

Exhibitor Pass
1883 Exhibitor's Pass to the Southern Exposition for Augustus Weber.

Swiss Chalet at Southern Exposition
Woodcut engraving from an 1884 issue of Harper's Weekly shows the Swiss chalet and surroundings at the Southern Exposition.

Southern Exposition Scenes from Harper's Weekly
Illustrations from Harper's Weekly of scenes from the Southern Exposition including the art gallery, the model farm, the park, and the electric railway.

Views Around Louisville From Harper's Weekly, ca. 1883
Color illustrations from Harper's Weekly of views in and around the city during the Southern Exposition including the Courier-Journal building, Main Street, the Blind Asylum, and scenes of the riverfront.

Reception of Official Visitors
Illustration from Harper's Weekly of the front of the Southern Exposition building as official visitors arrive in carriages. One prominent visitor was President Chester Arthur, who was present at the Exposition's opening ceremonies in 1883.

Southern Exposition Building and Grounds
Black and white image of the Southern Exposition main building and surroundings. The four interior courts and fountains of the main building are clearly visible.

Central Hall at the Southern Exposition
Color illustration from a German language newspaper of the central hall of the exposition building.
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