Tarrant County TXGenWeb

The Texas Spring Palace

 By Barbara Knox

Probably the majority of Fort Worth's present residents have never heard of the Palace. Its history contains several stories, the City of Fort Worth on the eve of the "Gay Nineties," a unique building, a spectacular fire and an heroic Englishman. Our thanks to Shirley Apley, Senior Librarian, Genealogical/Local History Department, Fort Worth Public Library and Rita Martin for providing copies of archived material.

In late 1888, R. A. Cameron (then Agent for the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad) conceived the idea of building an exhibition for Texas which would even surpass the success of the Corn Palace located in the Midwest. The people of Fort Worth were very much in favor of such a project and quickly organized a committee to oversee its production. The initial capital was $50,000. B. B. Paddock was named chairman and other members included J. P. Smith, A. W. Caswell, Robert McCart, and James W. Swayne. Officers of the first Women's Committee were Mrs. Frank Ball, Mrs. B. B. Paddock and Mrs. John F. Swayne.

The location selected was along the Texas & Pacific Railway tracks at the foot of Fort Worth's Main Street. Original plans called for construction of a wooden building, covering an area of some 60,000 square feet, to be in the shape of a St. Andrews cross - the design to incorporate Oriental, Moorish and Malaysian styles. The two-storied main building, 225 by 500 feet, was surrounded by spires and domes, both three-storied and two-storied, with eight towers pinnacled with flags of different nations. The east and west entrances of the main building were covered by two-storied double towers. A dome located in the center of the building, 150 feet in circumference, second in size only to that in the nation's capitol, was covered with oats and wheat. All inside walls, booths, ceilings - everything but the floors - were covered with some form of Texas products. Surrounding the Palace on all sides were gardens featuring plants from Texas and Mexico and Texas wild flowers.

The outside lettering "The Texas Spring Palace" was made from corn sawed crosswise. A replica of the Seal of Texas, made from red and yellow corn, was surrounded by sixteen National flags.

One hundred men worked for a thirty-day period to construct the building, using half a million feet of lumber and 175 kegs of nails. When completed, Fort Worth club women devoted six weeks to decorating the inside of the structure. The wooden framework was completely covered, inside and out, with cotton, wheat, vegetables, corn stalks, fruits, nuts and other agricultural products. Also included were all types of other native materials - a spectacular display of Texas products. Raw materials alone cost $100,000.

A delegation was sent to Mexico City with an engraved invitation for President Diaz and to Washington to invite President and Mrs. Harrison. After the leader of the C. E. Band in Corsicana asked if his band might play, invitations were sent to every band in the state to be present to honor their respective towns. At least two special musical compositions were written in honor of the exhibition - "A Spring Palace March" by C. H. Edwards, dedicated "To the Ladies of Fort Worth," and a "Piano Gavotte" by Collins and Armstrong, dedicated "To the Spring Palace."

The official opening took place on May 29, 1889, with many dignitaries in attendance. B. B. Paddock introduced Governor John M. Thayer of Nebraska who brought greetings from the citizens of his state to the people of Texas and congratulated Fort Worth for the conception of the Palace. Texas Governor Ross responded and accepted the exhibit on behalf of the State of Texas. Both speakers were frequently interrupted by applause and the program closed with "Dixie" and "Yankee Doodle" by the Elgin Watch Factory Band. Also present was the National Band of Mexico, the latter in fiesta costume.

A few highlights:

At the left of the main entrance was a map showing the location of each Texas county with uniform exhibition spaces reserved for each one. For example: Llano County displayed six kinds of marble; Burnett County displayed another spectacular mineral exhibit; Mitchell County's tower was covered with cotton, corn, wheat, oats and sorghum while Bosque County's decorations were made in the forms of cornucopias, festoons, columns and cornices. The Nueces County tower utilized ocean scenes made of shells which was a very popular attraction. McLennan County spotlighted King Cotton - one scene representing cotton fields and a cowboy lassoing wild cattle and another a replica of the Indian village of Huaco (Waco). Next to that display was the "home of the singing birds" - hundreds of redbirds, robins and mocking birds - all native to Texas. A beautiful canopy in bright colors swung overhead decorated with the bright plumage of a peacock and a five-pointed star worked in beautiful feathers from Texas birds. Towering geraniums and other pot plants placed among the cages added beauty to the display.

The first floor of the Palace featured an auditorium, with the bandstand nearby, a miniature lake with fish and domesticated waterfowl and a beautiful water fountain.

Perhaps the best and most skillful piece of work was a beautiful mosaic on the second floor - a map of Texas divided into counties, showing streams and prominent cities and towns. Each county's space was decorated with its leading products. Another second floor exhibit was a "library room" - not only for display but also for the use and comfort of visitors. A table held current issues of all leading Texas newspapers; a bookcase, (covered with the separate petals of pine cones), offered copies of Texas books and literature; a piano, constructed of Texas woods was made by a Texas native. Two bent wood chairs were sent for this room by the first furniture company established in Texas. Floor rugs were made from skins of Texas animals and a pitcher always contained a fresh bouquet of Texas wild flowers. On one wall was a picture of Fort Worth (in 1872) and another of Doyle Springs in Granbury - both made using cereals, straw, pine petals, moss and leaves.

Other beautiful exhibits, all made of grain and seed, portrayed Galveston harbor, with ships going and coming; Texas farms, depicting farm life, with cattle, horses and buildings; an East Texas lumber mill; products from coal mines, and floral and horticultural pictures. Colorado City furnished a rock salt palace with turrets. Houston sent palmetto plants Spanish moss, leaves and native grasses and Wichita Falls sent (freight free) enough wheat to cover the great dome of the Palace.

An unusual exhibit was a prairie dog town where the little animals ran about freely but could go in their burrows at any time. "Remember the Alamo!" On display a rare piece of marble sculpture done by a Texas girl depicting the fall of the Alamo. There was also a facsimile of the Alamo bearing a sign asking for donations (5 cents) for the Alamo fund.

Texas was (and is) rich in historical relics and many individuals graciously lent personal belongings for display. Among these were: the fragmentary remains of the flag carried by the heroes of San Jacinto, a walking stick made of wood from the hulk of Commodore Perry's flagship; the first branding iron ever used in Tarrant county (later owned by Seaborne Gilmore); an English derringer worn by C. B. Daggett, Sr. in the Shelby County War; a walking cane of Gen.. Sam Houston; a daguerreotype of Pappy Daggett - the "Father of Fort Worth;" a $100 Confederate bill; a letter from Col. Isaac Parker, member of the First State Legislature and a copy of the Western Express printed in 1857 at Birdville, first county seat of Tarrant County.

Other forms of entertainment were plentiful. The famous Watch Factory Band of Elgin, Illinois, performed daily, under the direction of Professor Joseph Hecker. A native of Germany, he had moved to England at age 20 where he was the civilian bandmaster in the regular army by appointment of the Prince of Wales. The composer of hundreds of compositions, a special one, dedicated to Queen Victoria, featured her picture on its cover. He had directed the Elgin band for nine years and received many honors for his work in this country. The Fort Worth Gazette called him "The greatest director in America, if not on earth."

A popular show was a parody of the "H. M. S. Pinafore." The play's closing lines were, "The best investments on the earth are in the Palace City - yes, the great Fort Worth." Another attraction was "Mr. Leroy" who daily ascended 1000 feet in a balloon and parachuted to earth.

The season was considered a great success even with a $25,000 deficit. Fort Worth business men took care of that in short order since it was evident that the Spring Palace would "put Fort Worth on the map."

The 1890 season was even more impressive. In order to have more space, each wing was enlarged by one hundred feet and many more decorations were added overall. During the opening ceremonies, all Fort Worth businesses were closed. Governor Alva Adams of Colorado was the principal speaker and Russell Harrison, son of the President of the United States, was a special guest. Local sponsors included W. F. Lake, A. W. Caswell, Prof. Alex Hogg, K. M. Van Zandt, J. P. Smith and W. T. Maddox.

Medals were awarded various counties for their displays. Out of state attendance increased dramatically and special trains carried public officials from Boston and Chicago. In addition to the many exhibits and other entertainment, there were stage shows and cotillions. A fancy dress ball was held every night with excursion trains running daily from nearby cities and towns. Because of the large attendance, it was decided to extend the season for one day, closing with a grand ball on the evening of May 30, 1890.

Seven thousand persons were said to be present for the ball. The Elgin Band had finished its last concert and their chairs had been put away in preparation for the dance. Suddenly, a fire of undetermined origin swept through the building trapping people inside. As the tinder dry decorations went up in flames, men and women jumped from the upper floor and children were thrown out to be caught by men standing below. Within fifteen minutes, the walls collapsed and the Palace swiftly became a pile of charred ashes. It had burned so rapidly that fire fighters had no time to save any part of the structure. Although several hundred were injured, fortunately only 43 were considered serious, and many acts of valor were reported. There was only one fatality, Alfred S. Hayne, a visitor from England. Mr. Hayne had escaped unharmed, but returned repeatedly to the burning building to help trapped women and children. It was not until he was literally on fire that he abandoned his post, jumped from the second floor, and died of massive burns a short time later.

Carelessness in the use and handling of inflammables and violation of the firemen's code contributed to the destruction of the Palace. In addition to the complete loss of the building and its contents, some exhibits were irreplaceable, including some historical items provided by private citizens, making the loss impossible to value in dollars and cents. The day following the tragedy, the question heard everywhere was, "Will the Palace be rebuilt?" B. B. Paddock and a number of directors adopted a resolution calling for a fire-proof Palace to be built for 1891 as "an enduring monument to the enterprise of the people of Fort Worth." Unfortunately, insurance was inadequate to replace it and plans were canceled. Another contributing factor was the economic panic of 1893.

Al Hayne was considered the hero of the tragedy. Plans began immediately to erect a monument to his memory. This was done in 1893 at the junction of Main, Houston and Lancaster Streets. In 1922 vandals stole the statue and it was not until 1934 that the hero of the Texas Spring Palace was again honored with a memorial bust which still stands in a small park formed by the intersection of these streets.

Some First Hand Accounts of
The Texas Spring Palace Disaster

Researched by Rita Martin

Mrs. H. W. Tallent: "I was standing in the gallery when I noticed the crowd's excitement, but decided to stay where I was since I was separated from my husband. However, when I saw many parts of the building on fire, as the heat became more intense, I felt I must make an effort to escape. I did not realize until then that my hair was badly scorched. The people behind me were in a panic and after I had made a step or two on the stair, I was thrown to the bottom. Fortunately, a rescuer, standing at the side, put his hands under my shoulders and pulled me out - I was shoeless; my ball dress was literally torn off and my other accessories for a fancy dress ball were gone. The ribbon trimming my dress was spotted with blood from some of the wounded. Mrs. Volney Hall, badly hurt, was on top of me and her appeals to the crowd not to step on her broken leg were piteous to hear. Perhaps the oddest thing of all was that as I watched the fire, mentally noting the splendor of the display, almost oblivious of danger, I, with two other ladies more seriously hurt, actually laughed at our ridiculous plight! Although the fire spread rapidly, generally speaking, the people, frightened though they were, behaved in an orderly manner. I hope never again to witness a similar situation."

Mrs. R. L. Taylor: "I was with a group on the second floor and the blaze broke out about ten feet from where I was sitting. Fortunately, the four staircases had not been blocked to clear the rotunda for dancing - had they been roped off many more would have died. As I ran to the stairway, I caught the heel of my shoe which broke off and I fell. Some man picked me up and carried me downstairs and by the time I could run across the street, the back of my dress was scorched and ruined."

Miss Ada Large (Mrs. B. M. Mustard) received a gold medal from directors of the Palace in appreciation of her bravery. When the cry of fire was heard, she was near a floral display at the south entrance to the lower floor's west wing. She took it upon herself to save the many children who were playing in the area and would not leave until all were safe, even though her own clothing was burned and torn and her skin parched. Her actions were not known until several days later at which time the directors made plans for the reward.

Miss Ida Lee Wyse and her escort, Frank Prosser, were sitting on a balcony overlooking the dance floor. "I saw a tiny flame but thought nothing of it; but in a few moments, it became a huge blaze. Everyone was running and screaming and we started for the stairway. We managed to get out just as the building fell in."

This page was last modified 21 Aug 2004.

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