A Palace Made of Bluegrass

One day in the late 1880s a train chugged through the lush countryside of southwestern Iowa around Creston. Seth Macy looked out his train window at the cattle and horses grazing in the fields of bluegrass. He knew that bluegrass was an excellent food for livestock. And he knew that nowhere did bluegrass grow better than in southwestern Iowa. He was impressed with the beauty and prosperity of the land and with the hard work of the farmers. Back at his job on a Des Moines newspaper, he remembered his conversations with the farmers:

The more I saw the more I kept saying to the people, why don't you advertise the advantages of your soil and climate? California cannot beat what you have here. The most stupid thing is that hundreds of home seekers have passed through this beautiful region of southern Iowa and never found out what a good country it is. . . . I was so charmed with what I saw that I wanted to turn farmer at once. . . . If I had to live anywhere but in Des Moines, I would live in the blue grass regions that I have just visited, raise fruit, grow rich and die happy.

Bigger and better every year

Seth Macy was not the only one who wanted to promote southwestern Iowa. People from 18 counties in the Bluegrass League joined together in 1889 to build a bluegrass palace on the Union County Fairgrounds. The palace was not large, but the one built in 1890 was three times bigger and was used until 1892. The palace faced east, and in the morning sun the sweet smells of the bluegrass and wildflowers on the palace walls must have attracted honeybees as well as sightseers.

For the best view of the fairgrounds, visitors climbed up to the wide suspension bridges that stretched between the palace towers. From there they could watch the horses speeding around the bend of the racetrack.

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.

Adapted from original article printed in The Goldfinch 6, No. 1 (October 1984). Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa.
© State Historical Society of Iowa

 

 


Iowa Pathways: Iowa History Resources for Students and Teachers
Home ~ My Path ~ Artifacts ~ Timeline ~ Quest ~ Teacher Resources ~ Project Information ~ Sponsors
Iowa Pathways © 2005 - 2014 Iowa Public Television