Flax in Forest City

Flax is not a common crop in Iowa, but around 1890 the farmers in northern Iowa experimented with raising flax. The fibers from the flax plant are woven into the cloth called linen, and the seeds are pressed for linseed oil. Growing flax in Iowa was a new idea, and building a flax palace seemed the best way to promote it.

A Palace Is Built

A Flax Palace was built in 1892 on the Winnebago County Fairgrounds in Forest City. The central block was three stories high, with an eight-sided wing on each side. The "Broom Brigade" stood guard at the palace. The Broom Brigade was a walking advertisement for flax. About 20 young women shouldered brooms (made of flax, of course), and marched and pivoted, probably just like a drill team in a parade.

Entertainment and Exhibits

The palace auditorium was the ideal place for speeches and concerts and exhibits, but outside the visitors watched the Ladies' Rifle Club Tournament, foot races, hot air balloon ascensions and parachute jumps from the balloons. A parachute jump was probably not a common thing to see in Iowa back then. One observer didn't think it was very smart either. He commented that such a performance "will be considered amusing until the race of idiots who practice it is extinct."

The palace was built to show the variety and value of flax and to house other exhibits at the fair. Oddly enough, there was no prize offered at the fair for the best flax grown or displayed.

The End of a Palace

In 1893 the building was covered with flax again, but for the last time as a palace. As late as 1940, some parts of the original structure were still standing on the Winnebago County Fairgrounds.

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

 

 


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