UDH Hdr-Mirror Lake 1888

Henry Chittenden was a history buff, had long been active in the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society and was well connected at City Hall and the Statehouse.

In 1788, the first American settlement in the Ohio Country was established at Marietta. Henry believed the centennial of this event deserved commemoration. Chittenden pressed the Governor and General Assembly to declare a celebration and appropriate funds for the observance. He also lobbied city government and the Columbus Chamber of Commerce to kick in.

Chittenden argued that the centennial exposition would not only honor Ohio's pioneers, celebrate a century of achievement, and publicize Ohio's glories to the rest of the nation but would also help Columbus by bringing thousands of tourists and their dollars to town. As an owner of the streetcar company that would move these visitors around, Chittenden looked to make out alright too.

The Centennial Exhibit Hall, Ohio State Fairgrounds, 1888. Courtesy of the Biography, Travel, and History Division, Columbus Metropolitan Library

By early 1888, he had gotten his wish, a Centennial Exposition would be held at the Ohio State Fairgrounds that fall and Chittenden himself would be vice-president of the Centennial Commission.

Throughout the spring and summer a massive building program was undertaken on the fairgrounds. Armies of laborers and craftsmen toiled and tens of thousands of dollars were spent. New construction at the fairgrounds used so much material that the city experienced shortages of lumber and other building supplies.

A colossal domed and turreted Victorian exhibition hall dominated the center of the grounds. A hemispheric coliseum, 9 stories tall with seating for 10,000 soon joined it. A new women’s building competed with the other structures for grandeur. A half dozen other similarly remarkable edifices were added. Landscapers beautified the grounds with trees, shrubs, and flowers, winding lanes, pretty lakes, and fountains.


Grant's birthplace at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in its special protective housing, added 1896.

Chittenden paid for a special gift to the state out of his own pocket. In 1888, Ulysses S. Grant, the recently deceased Civil War hero and president, was Ohio’s most celebrated son. Chittenden purchased the humble cabin where Grant had been born and brought it from Point Pleasant, Ohio to the fairgrounds to honor his friend.

Chittenden used his connections with veterans groups to arrange for an encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans group. Twenty thousand were expected. Special days were also arranged for Ohio pioneers, Columbus and other Ohio cities, German immigrants, and various trade and fraternal associations.

September 4, 1888, opening day of the centennial, was one of the grandest occasions the city has ever witnessed.

In the morning, Columbusites, visitors, and dignitaries were entertained by a huge parade downtown. In the afternoon, a majestic opening ceremony was held at the fairgrounds with processions, bands, choirs, poems, and speeches.

Chittenden himself composed a song for the occasion, which was performed by a children’s choir dressed in red, white, and blue capes and 38 hats with stars to form a living American flag.

Despite its grand start, the Centennial did not live up to expectations. Attendance was strong initially but faded as children returned to school and farmers turned to their harvest. In October, the weather turned cold and wet and crowds stayed away. When the exposition closed October 19, it was still deeply in debt.

To settle accounts, the grand buildings were torn down and sold for lumber, steel, bricks, and glass. Only a kiosk near the Administration Building and the Mechanical Building near the 11th Ave. entrance survived.

Undaunted by the centennial’s mixed success, Chittenden was already turning to his next project, his greatest challenge and the one he’d be remembered for...

Ulysses S. Grant

Ohio's favorite son and Henry Chittenden's friend, Ulysses S. Grant