The Travouses: Fair Commissioner and Hostess

Illinois State Building
“Illinois State Building,” issued as a supplement to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1904. MCHS archival document 1987-166.

The states were all eager to showcase their achievements and heritage at the 1904 World’s Fair. Each state formed a commission to plan and coordinate exhibits and to construct a state building on the 1904 World’s Fair fairgrounds. Charles N. Travous, a prominent lawyer in Edwardsville, Illinois, was the only person from Madison County on the Illinois Commission to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition, formed in July of 1901. He served as one of the fifteen-member commission’s two Vice Presidents and as the chairman of the Building and Maintenance Committee.

Charles N. Travous
Cabinet card albumen photograph of Charles N. Travous. (Circa 1890, based on photograph type, photographer, and subject’s age.) MCHS photograph 1992-095.

Illinois originally budgeted $50,000 for construction of the Illinois building (not including furnishings). The first bids came in at $150,000. Charles and his committee trimmed the building plans. After concluding that local contractors had colluded to raise construction bids, the committee decided to proceed using day labor supervised by a builder. Construction came in under budget. The final total cost of the Illinois building – “designed by Illinois architects, erected by Illinois labor, and furnished, for the most part, by Illinois firms” (Official Guide, p. 23) – was $88,582.06. An updated example of the French Renaissance style, with the fleur-de-lis motif replaced by ears of corn in the frieze and cornice relief, the two-story building featured a domed rotunda and sculptures of Lincoln and Douglas flanking the entrance.

Letter from Charles Travous to architect Fridolin Oswald, of Alhambra, Madison County, Illinois, inviting Oswald to submit a design for the Illinois Building. The firm Hazelton and Marshall submitted the winning design. MCHS archival document.
Illinois building
Photograph of Governor Richard Yates arriving in his carriage for the dedication of the Illinois building on May 27, 1904. On page 41 of The World’s Fair.

The building also provided a haven of hospitality for Illinoisan visitors. The wives or daughters of the commissioners rotated ten-day shifts to serve as (unpaid) hostesses. Charles’s wife Gillian (née Torrence) took the first shift, beginning with the building’s dedication on May 27 through June 9. She had to deal with a few wrinkles at the beginning. Access to the hilltop building was compromised by extremely muddy roads until the installation of cinderblocks. When a visitor to the building fell and broke her arm, Gillian rose to the occasion and made sure the woman got prompt medical attention.

Gillian Torrence
Cabinet card albumen photograph of Gillian Torrence. (Circa 1885, based on photograph type, photographer, and subject’s age.) MCHS photograph 1992-095.

The demolition process began as soon as the Fair closed on December 1st. Apart from the Palace of Fine Arts (today known as the St. Louis Art Museum), the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company had to dismantle all of the Fair structures and restore Forest Park within a year. Even the great Observation Wheel repurposed from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago (today we would call it a Ferris wheel) was demolished. Relocation saved some of the smaller state buildings, but not the Illinois building. Southern Illinois Construction Company of East St. Louis purchased the structure and its furnishings as salvage for $4,250.

World's Fair demolition
Photograph of the World’s Fair demolition, with a portion of the Palace of Liberal Arts still standing in the background. In the Nicolaides album, MCHS archival document 1972-033.

Sources for this article include news articles from the Edwardsville Intelligencer and the following additional sources:

  • Find A Grave. “Charles Norton Travous.” Accessed September 27, 2017.
  • Official Guide to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at the City of St. Louis, State of Missouri, April 30th to December 1st, 1904. Compiled by M.J. Lowenstein. St. Louis: The Official Guide Co., 1904. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at
  • Rademacher, Diane. Still Shining: Discovering Lost Treasures from the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. St. Louis: Virginia Publishing Co., 2003.
  • Report of the Illinois Commission to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition: St. Louis, Missouri 1904. Peoria: J.W. Franks & Sons. Edited by Henry M. Dunlap. Available at the Madison County Archival Library. Also available online at the HathiTrust Digital Library at
  • Weinstein, Robert A., and Larry Booth. Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1978. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.
  • The World’s Fair: Comprising the Official Photographic Views of the Universal Exposition held in Saint Louis, 1904. Library ed. Saint Louis: N.D. Thompson Publishing Company, 1904. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.