Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Three Observatory Towers at the Centennial Exhibition

The Three Observatory Towers at the Centennial Exhibition - 1875 ...

I had run into Observation views in photos from what I thought was one observatory tower in Fairmount Park in the year 1876 and going up until 1900. 

Finding the Illustration of the raising of the central pier of the Centennial Observation Tower north of Belmont Mansion made me realize that there were two observation towers in Fairmount Park in at least two periods of time.  

I was aware of the Lemon Hill Observatory from photos published here previously under Old Photos from the 1890s.

So starting in 1876 there were two observation towers in the West Fairmount Park and one in East Fairmount Park

I had not been aware of the first tower, the one officially sanctioned by the Centennial Committee for the Exhibition. It became such a cash cow once erected in 1875 in prelude to the Fair that two private corporations set out to imitate and made a profit as well. Those two towers were located at Lemon Hill and George's Hill just outside the western gate of the Exhibition. 

Going back to the Centennial Map above, Tower One or the Centennial Observation Tower (1) had the longest life. After the Fair, it was sold to be disassembled and reassembled in the growing ocean side resort of Coney Island in Brooklyn NY. In advertising of the Centennial Tower in Coney Island, they claim a height of 300 feet which may be the actual height or slightly exaggerated advertising or they may have added some more iron stilts of support at the bottom.

(Illustration: NY Daily Graphic 18 Aug 1875)

Inquirer 13 Aug 1875

In any any case, the Centennial Observations Tower at the Exhibition, also known as "Sawyer's Observatory" from the name of the Boston based builder, its other name in Coney Island over time became "The Iron Tower" to match "The Iron Pier" etc. Life listed on the The Iron Tower is 1878-1911 in its Coney Island carnation on photo below. 

Coney Island 1900 - Library of Congress

The second (2) Observation Tower was at George's Hill and judging from the newspaper article below a bunch of politicians took the profits and stiffed one of the original contractors. Sounds strangely familiar. Height 225 feet per newspaper clipping below. That the judgements and litigation involved is no doubt one reason this structure probably ended up on the scrap heap around 1878 instead of a vacation trip to Coney Island. 

1876 - LCP Library Company of Philadelphia Collection 

Inquirer - 17 June 1876

Inquirer 5 January 1878

And the Lemon Hill Observatory lasted from 1876 until 1899 with the owners not spending too much on maintenance and its finally being turned into scrap as an eyesore in the Park.  Its height is listed at 225 feet. 

Boat House Row below Lemon Hill Observatory - no date
1891 - Lemon Hill Observatory and Carousel 

They all appear similar in design. May have been built by original contractor on the Centennial Tower but could not find any info on that. Even though similar in design and function, also do not know if all three in original form were same original height etc. 

1893 - Aerial of Philadelphia - Showing Lemon Hill Observatory - left

Inquirer 17 June 1876

Inquirer 7 June 1899

Inquirer - 24 March 1915

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