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Iowa History Daily: September 15 - Forest City's Flax Palace

Iowa History Daily: On September 15, 1893, local citizens in Forest City completed work on the Forest City Flax Palace. The 158’ x 138’ 1890 building constructed to celebrate Winnebago County’s place as a leading producer of flax wowed audiences and even made an appearance (in miniature) at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

Jasper Thompson’s 1892 biography laid out the case for a palace built of the popular food and fiber crop: “The north central and northwestern parts of Iowa, and especially Winnebago and Hancock counties, have been for years known to be the most productive section of country on earth, and the soil particularly well adapted to the production of small grains, corn, wheat, oats, rye, barley and flax, the latter being a crop that can be planted from March to July and harvested from July to October, producing quicker returns to the laborer than any other known agricultural production.”

The building, constructed on the grounds of what would become Forest City’s Pammel Park (then the Winnebago County Fairgrounds), featured wired strands of flax woven into yard-long panels. When completed, the building featured 7,500’ of floor space, and volunteers trimmed out the building with grains, grasses, wild flowers, vines, and sugar canes. Residents brought in twelve weaving machines from Chicago, and local artists created murals.

Local farmers, notably Peter Lewis, contributed the flax for construction and decoration. Local people also filled the floor-space with a variety of exhibits which competed for prizes. Local woman Mary Lundberg took home a blue ribbon for her home-made bread made out of wheat raised, threshed, and ground into flour by her brother. Musicians from the area also filled the air with music, and a hot air balloon soared over the grounds to provide visitors a unique view of the structure.

Debuting in 1890, visitors paid 35 cents to enter the building. A roaring success, gate receipts totaled more than $3,900 in one day during the first season. Following the success of the first season, Forest City rebuilt the building in 1891 before recovering it in subsequent years. A stand out attraction at the county fair for a number of years, interest eventually waned and the structure ultimately came down during a 1933 highway construction project. #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar #IowaOTD


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