The Old Plantation

Old Plantation

Photo of the entrance to the Old Plantation
from Snap Shots on the Midway of the
Pan Am Expo
by Richard H. Barry,
Buffalo, NY: Robert Allan Reid, 1901.

A representation of a colonial mansion served as the entrance to the Old Plantation.Built at a cost of $25, 000, a hefty sum in 1901, the exhibit purported to recreate the Old South in the days before the Civil War.Cotton and corn fields with real growing crops and slave cabins, inhabited by black men, women and children added to the realism.A contemporary description of the exhibit described it as "a reproduction of the genuine southern plantation in ante-bellum days, showing the old roomy mansion, Negro cabins, cotton and corn fields, and in all requiring the services of 250 genuine southern cotton field Negroes in the portrayal of life on the plantation." In the language of the times, another description of the black residents of the Old Plantation identified them as ".darkies who vary in age from tiny pickaninnies to white-headed uncles and aunties."

There were also two cabins that the exhibit's promoter, E.S. Dundy, claimed to have been the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln and on the plantation of Jefferson Davis.A theater was another feature on the Old Plantation.Visitors were entertained at nightly minstrel shows depicting scenes from plantation life.These scenes provided the backdrop for performances by Negro singers, banjo players, dancers and "Laughing Ben".Ben, a 96 year old former slave from Dublin, Georgia was given this nick-name because he" laughs at nothing, at everything, and at all times.."

Three Gentlemen from the Old Plantation  Pickaninnies at Craps

Left: Three African American gentlemen.
Right: Pickaninnies at craps. 

Snap Shots on the Midway of the Pan Am Expo
by Richard H. Barry, Buffalo, NY: Robert Allan Reid, 1901.

Promoters of the Old Plantation also tried to make a distinction between southern and northern blacks.Southern blacks appearing in the exhibit were described as "stay-at-home" individuals who disliked traveling and publicity and were not accustomed to the stage.As such they provided a truer picture of real southern life.The exhibit's concessionaire added that these Negroes were the "remnants of the jocular, careless serfs who in the South before the war gave slavery the deceptive hue of contended and oft-times happy dependence."

The popularity of the exhibit can be judged by one newspaper story that proclaimed that the Old Plantation was one Midway attraction that merited more than one visit.The article explained that repeat visitors would never get bored as the "last show was better than the one previous.Even old laughing Ben never tells the same anecdotes two days in succession."


"The Old Plantation" in The Journal of American Industries. Buffalo: Pan American Illustrator. Vol. 3. No. 8, December 1900.

[2] Barnes, Mabel.Peeps at the Pan American Exposition: An account of personal visits in the summer of 1901 from notes jotted down on the spot and put in permanent form during fourteen years.July 1905.On microfilm at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Inc.

[3] Barry, Richard H. Snapshots on the Midway of the Pan American Exposition. Buffalo, NY: Robert Allen Reid. 1901.