Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to the days of the Derby Fair

Derby Fair Parade entry ca. 1950.

It's the last full day of the Lucas County Fair, observing its 60th anniversary this year on the grounds overlooking West Lake in west Chariton. But before that, there was the Derby District Fair.

The Derby Fair, which began in 1913 as a community event, had expanded by the late 1920s into a full-fledged county fair, eclipsing Chariton-based fairs and attracting thousands from across Lucas County and elsewhere to grounds on the north edge of town.

Derby Fair Parade Entry ca. 1950.

In the early 1950s, however, a combination of factors shifted the focus back to Chariton. In the first place, the Derby Fair, although public and fueled by volunteers, was privately held --- and because of that not eligible for state assistance newly available to fairs and achievement shows focused on 4-H and FFA youth.

The need to reorganize also brought up the question of location --- and the push for new fair grounds located in the center of the county. 

Derby Fair, 1928

As a result, after the 1953 Derby Fair closed, its organizers ended a nearly 50-year run and added their support to a new organization with new grounds in Chariton. Buildings on the the Derby fair grounds were auctioned off for removal later that year and many of those active in the Derby Fair joined the scramble to acquire and prepare new grounds in Chariton in time for the 1954 fair.

Outside the Derby Fair dining hall, 1938

Here's an account of the Derby Fair as published in The Derby Diary, a small book prepared by Derby residents to mark their city's 1972 centennial. The photographs all are from the Lucas County Historical Society collection.

Chariton band performs at the Derby Fair, ca. 1950.

The fair began as most community projects do, by being discussed a number of times with people of the community, each thinking it a wonderful idea but not doing much toward getting the project underway.

Derby Fair pulling contest, 1927

In the winter of 1912, John George, James Washburn and Rev. DeWitt White met at the Derby Opera House with the idea well planned for creating a Short Course, a three-day event, to be held in February 1913. This was such a success it was decided a second one be held the following fall and earlier in the season. The three original planners were assisted by three capable ladies, Mrs. Cora Oehlman, Mrs. Lydia McMains, and Mrs. Belle Westfall. The plans were made for the second event to be in December 1913. These first two Short Courses were held in the Derby Opera House. James Washburn was elected as the first president and served the position for 10 years. The three following Short Courses were held in the school building and the streets of the town in October 1914, 1915 and 1916.

Kirk Service truck ready for the 1929 Derby Fair parade

It was decided after the three-day event in December 1913 that the time be set for four days and would include rope tieing and splicing, horse judging, as well as exhibits and displays of fruits and vegetables, sheep and poultry for the adults, a pony contest and a spelling bee for the young. Even more entertainment came from baby contests, home talents, plays and a livestock parade.

"Baby Mine" elephant at the 1934 Derby Fair

The capable leaders ruled the Short Course had become so successful and had grown so large that it was necessary to acquire more space. Four acres at the north edge of town were purchased and it became known as the "Derby District Agriculture Association" or "Derby Fair" for short. After the land was purchased, three buildings were erected, the Fine Arts Hall, Horse Barn and a Hog and Sheep Barn, with the second floor for poultry and grain. The last building was planned and financed by Herman McCollough. Also at this time it was voted to add more and different entertainment in the form of a traveling tent show. This came to be a highlight of enjoyment for both young and old.

On September 10, 1917, the sixth annual Short Course was held at the new fair grounds. The Goshen Ladies served lunch. It was cold for the dedication exercises in the assembly tent. A song was sung by Letha Parkin, the prayer was given by Brother Warner, the giving of the grounds by Brother Washburn and the receiving of the grounds for the town by John George and for the country by Mr. Andy Swainey. A splended reading by 'Erma Taylor was given. It was so cold they could hardly sing, but because 50 Chariton singers had come for the event all proceeded to the Opera House for the balance of the program.

The four churches of the community, Presbyterian and Methodist of Derby, Last Chance and Eden of the rural area, built a dining hall in 1918. The meals were in great demand because of the fine food prepared and served by the ladies of the church and the surrounding area. A cattle barn was built this same year and September became the permanent month for the Fair, with the date being the first Tuesday of the month through the following Friday. The parade of livestock, floats and children showing various pets at the close of the season was a very rewarding end to a busy and enjoyable four days. With the help of so many local people and the interest shown in all departments, it was with a heavy heart that it was deemed necessary to discontinue the Fair. In September 1953, a farewell was said to an event that had become such a joyous time to so many.

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