Stevens County Fair History
The first Stevens County fair was held in 1873. Second street led to the fairgrounds and the race tracks that were down by Pomme de Terre River. The fairs were held as late as October. In 1876, the first Stevens County Agricultural Society was organized with the following officers:
President: Charles Wintermute Vice-President: M.L. Torkey Secretary: W.W. Griswold and Treasurer: C.J. Fisher. The Morris Tribune tells us of the fair in 1879: The County Fair was not a success. The display was meager, sports few, attendance except on Saturday afternoon very slight. No interest was manifested outside the village and the only thing that rendered the fair attractive, was the baseball game. There is lack of interest on the part of the officers and commissioners. There is a poor choice of time, no man will lose 2 or 3 days of work this time of the year. However, there was a good display of machinery by Kenner & Moore.
In 1880, the exhibits were shown in a warehouse, owned by Amundson & Walders, on the west side of the track. By 1882 they were using large tents at the fairgrounds for exhibitions. In the years from 1898 to 1905, the exhibits were shown in the first Armory building which had been the old Great Northern Depot moved to the site of the present library. It was said that if D.T. Wheaton, who was the fair's secretary, Secretary of the Board of Education, County surveyor and weather observer, had not been around, there might not have been a fair. But the horse races, both running and harness, became a drawing attraction of the fair.
In 1905, 25 acres of land was purchased from A. C. Peck for $75.00 an acre and the fairgrounds were moved to their present day site.
In the early days of the fair, everything for the midway came in on trains and the drayman was kept busy hauling loads to the fairgrounds. It was a great deal of work to set up the older merry-go-rounds because it was set on a track that had to be kept level. Local help was hired. It would take all night to get ready for the fair and when it was over, they would have 3 or 4 days to get to the next one. The midway was a more exciting place than now. There were many sideshows each putting on a performance outside of the tent to attract the crowd. Sometimes they sold patent medicine. There were always the gypsy fortune tellers and the machines set to con the people. The striking machine was one that had a little lever that could be tripped without the crowd knowing it. As one gentleman told, it could be set so a baby could ring the bell or so the devil himself couldn't.
For years, admission to the fair was charged at the gate. But a large number evaded this fee by walking along the railroad tracks, climbing through a hole in the fence, and cutting across the railroad tracks to the fairgounds. Officials ignored this, especially in the depression years.
The fair was a place for the farmer to display his produce, the businessman his wares, the housewife her canning ability, her garden produce, and her fancy work. In later years, the 4-H clubs became a prominent part of the fair. Auto races have replaced the earlier horse races.
Morris believed in advertising the fair and in 1923 sent a caravan of 50 autos to nearby towns. When they approached a town, they all blew their horns. So a crown was always waiting for them to see what the noise was all about. The Morris Concert Band rode along and gave a concert to the assembled people.
Entertainment was varied at the early fairs. Some years there were bowery dances. The grandstand programs had pageants, acrobatic troupes, airplane exhibitions, signing groups, and the speakers that were listened to eagerly in the days before one could turn a TV button and get a speech anytime. Horse racing was spaced between the other events.
The Stevens County Fair has come a long way in 140 years. Today we have great support from the Stevens County Commissioners and local businesses are always willing to help out. We have very active fairboard members who take great pride in putting on a good event. They strive to bring you new and exciting entertainment each year while also showcasing local talent. They know that you come to the fair to socialize with your friends and neighbors and to enjoy all that fabulous fair food. That's why there is plenty of benches around the fairgrounds and a wide variety of eating establishments. We all love the fair food! But best of all.... You Park FREE and You Enter the Fairgrounds FREE and there is plenty of FREE family entertainment. Can it get any better than that?
History items taken from the book by Edna Mae Busch - History of Stevens County and articles from the Morris Sun Tribune.