A Common Architectural Element Between Chicago, IL and Saginaw, MI

The World’s Colombian Exposition held in Chicago, IL in 1893 brought forth an element of European-inspired architecture to reflect a sense of global connection; it was the World’s Fair after all. A common architectural element used within both the temporary buildings constructed for the fair and in the permanent skyscrapers of Chicago’s city plan (introduced in the early twentieth century) was neoclassical doric columns. These columns, originally introduced in ancient Greece, can range in width, height, and circumference, but all display a flat base and peak without much detail or ornament. The majority of the column is ridged or smooth, as most are whether doric, ionic, or Corinthian and the material in which it’s made can range anywhere between marble to limestone. These grand architectural features are a part of a very popular group of Romanesque ornament seen in various countries all over the planet and were definitely included in drawing plans on The World’s Fair.

The leading architect behind the World’s Columbian Exposition that year was Daniel Burnham and, for the beginning stages at least, his partner John Root. The partnership between these two men had given them mass success including the design and construction of the world’s first skyscraper which is still standing today. Their firm was located on the top floor of The Rookery, a building the firm had designed, as displayed in the photo below. The bottom floors display tall, fairly thin (compared to the building) doric columns placed between display windows of two modern companies: Verizon Wireless and US Bank. The building was designed with the rebuilding of Chicago in mind while using a new technique of architecture that used a steel skeletal structure. It was meant to portray Chicago as a city that isn’t second to any other and a city that reflects business and money from that period on.

as photographed by Amber Maher
as photographed by Amber Maher

Three years prior to the opening of the World’s Fair in Chicago, the Hoyt Public Library in Saginaw, MI opened to the pubic November 1, 1890. The library was a gift to the city by Jesse Hoyt, a wealthy [non-permanent] citizen of Saginaw, after his death in 1882. The architects behind the building was Van Burnt and Howe of Boston: specifically, the firm designed the library’s north entrance (Norman Porch) is the same style, in fact almost in an exact copy, of the Canterbury Cathedral in England more than likely to show the eminence and wealth within what was then East Saginaw and to suggest that same eminence would remain in the city for years to come.

The main porch/entrance is broad with thick doric columns on all four corners connected with arches. Connected to that portion, like an open walk-way, is a short span of steps that lead to the [current] main entrance. On both sides of this staircase is a row of smaller, thinner doric columns that minimize in length the closer to the doors the stairs grow; there’s a total of five on each side as seen in the photo below. Like the European and/or neoclassical styles laced into the skyscrapers in Chicago, Van Burnt and Howe took this from a European country. Although unlike buildings in Chicago and ones on display during Burnham’s World’s Fair, the majority of the interior of the Hoyt Library is decorated entirely of oak to connect the building with Saginaw’s booming lumber industry (at the time being).

as photographed by Amber Maher
as photographed by Amber Maher


Larson, Erik. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That     Changed America. New York: Crown Publishers, 2003. Print.

The Hoyt Public Library 1890 – 1997. The Hoyt Trust, 1997. Print.

9 thoughts on “A Common Architectural Element Between Chicago, IL and Saginaw, MI

  1. I really liked how much research went into this with the Hoyt Library. Comparable time periods and linking its architecture with others via the Doric pillars was very pleasing.

  2. I love love love both the rookery and Hoyt library! Great choices! You clearly did your research and incorporated great academic detail into your post. Good job!

  3. I really like the European connection you made to the building in England. It showed tremendous attention to detail and your research and continues to show how Chicago wasn’t the only city bringing culture to America. That this Library in our tri-chities area was brining culture and difference to the town and is so eye striking now. Great analysis!

  4. A great attention grabbing paragraph, it really pulled a lot of info from our book and brought back our attention of the work fair history. Good Job!

  5. Well nothing was missing from this post! It was very detail historically and architecturally speaking and I personally like Doric columns style because it was a very Spartan stuff and I like Spartans. Very good comparison in term of similar style.

  6. The history detail in your post was great. I think it is amazing that columns are on most of the older style library’s and we would not even notice it if we didn’t go on the trip. Great information from the book we read.

  7. I felt like I could hear your voice through your writing of this blog. It also seemed like you really knew your information about the architecture and did really nice research. Very well done!

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