Friday, July 25, 2014

The Lucas County Fair, 1884 edition

The 2014 Lucas County Fair kicks off Saturday, so this seemed like a good morning to haul out the oldest county fair photograph I know of --- taken during October of 1884, 130 years ago. It is from the Lucas County Historical Society collection, a bit faded and not that well-focused to begin with. But you get the idea.

This is identified as the display of premium animals at the fair, and the setting is the old fair grounds in north Chariton. The biggest feature of those grounds was a race track, so the display was held partly on the track and partly in the middle of it.

Lucas County's first fair reportedly was held during 1856 on a farm just north of Chariton. Fair grounds just west of town were acquired after the Civil War, and about 1881 the "new" grounds in the north part of town were purchased.

Those grounds show up on the 1895 plat map of Chariton. The street along the east side of the grounds on the map is North 7th, also now Iowa Highway 14. St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Lucas County Health Center and the Chariton Nursing and Rehabilitation Center now are across the highway just east of the old grounds and a row of houses on the west side of the highway blocks a clear view of the site.

The Chariton fair ran out of steam during the early 20th century, however, and was eclipsed by the Derby District Fair --- a huge undertaking for that small town and located on four-acre grounds on its north edge.

The last Derby Fair was held during late summer 1953 and the current grounds on Chariton's west edge acquired and developed in time for the 1954 fair --- so this is the 60th anniversary fair held on the current site.


Reporting on the 1884 fair was not by any means comprehensive, but here's an account of it from The Chariton Patriot of Oct. 8, 1884:

"The fair was more of a success in its exhibits than the most sanguine hoped for. In the art gallery there was much to claim one's attention: Decorated china, paintings, needlework, scrolls were all home talent and showed great skill of workmanship. There was a case of millinery goods and of silverware which were very fine. Quite a variety of stoves, showing our dealers are alive to the necessities of the people. The furniture was manufactured in Chariton and was all one could wish in good work and beautiful design. the children's department was one of much interest, and we hope by another year they will be able to give a much larger collection.

"The display of fruits and vegetables could not be surpassed; this section of the country may well be proud of her productions. The stand of flowers occupied the center of the art gallery and contained some few choice plants and cut flowers. We were sorry that there was not more interest taken in the floral display as it adds so much to the pleasure of all visitors.

"The poultry was especially fine, the best that has ever been exhibited at any previous fair.

"There was a procession of stock that extended two-thirds around the track which made a very fine appearance and excited the admiration of all.

"There was quite a display of machinery.

"The grounds are large and well adapted for the exhibition; being new it will take some time to beautify them.

"The display of stock was the finest ever shown in the county. Cattle, horses, sheep, hogs were equal in quality to those at the state fair.

The races were fine, some of the best horses in the state contending. The time was fast considering the condition of the track --- being new, of course, (it) was spongey and at least from three to five seconds slow.


"Oct. 2, Green trot for country horses, purse $15. Bay Jim (J.H. Bogges), first; Queen Bell (S. Threlkeld), second.

"Oct. 2, Double teams, purse $30. Gray Team (J.Q. Anderson), first; Black Team (Brown & Little), second; Team (I.E. Owen), third.

"Oct. 2, 2:50 Class, purse $100. Orinda (Chas. Davis), first; Little Tom (E. Stafford), second; Scotch Boy (Albert Cummings), third; George Anderson (J.Q. Anderson), fourth.

"Oct. 3, 3:20 Class, purse $50. Midnight (I.E. Owen), first; Abdalla Star (J.D. Mathews), second; Dolly Duroc (I. Glanville), third; Sorrel Tom (John Ware), fourth.

"Oct. 3, 2:40 Class, purse $100. Hod Pike (C.A. Thompson), first; Orinda (Chas. Davis), second; Weldon Boy (John Bullard), third; Little Tom (E. Stafford), fourth; Ben Bolt, J.B. Garrett, fifth.

"Oct. 3, Pacing Class, free for all, purse $100. Jim Crow (David Wilson), first; Blue Maid (C.M. Thompson, second; Julia Lee (Elias Bingham), third.

"Oct. 4, Trotting Class, free for all, purse $150. Alert (Jas D. Ladd), first: Nellie W. (E.B. Woodruff), second; Little Crow (C.A. Thompson), third.

"Oct. 4, Running Half Mile Heats. Jerry Sparkle (John Ware), first; Red Bird (E.S. Bails), second; Little Mack (W. Griffin), third.

"Oct. 4: Running, Mile Dash. Jerry Sparkle (John Ware), first; Red Bird (E.S. Bails), second.


Equine entries, judged in nine classes, dominated the premium lists --- ranging from "Roadsters" through "Carriage, Family and Saddle Horses" to "Asses and Mules." Cattle and sheep were not divided into breed classes, but hogs were: Poland China, Berkshires and Jersey Reds. There were eight classes of poultry, too --- divided by variety.


The editor of The Garden Grove Express had taken a train up to attend the Lucas County Fair, too --- and was impressed. He published this account in his newspaper during the week that followed:

"The Lucas County Fair at Chariton last week was a success. The Society has new grounds just north of town, and well fitted for exhibitors, and with a good race track. The premiums on stock were nearly equal to those offered by the State Society --- from $2.50 for the best chicken to $15 and $25 in the cattle and horse departments. For the best herd of beef cattle $100 was offered and $50 for the best herd of dairy cattle. These premiums brought out a large exhibit and a correspondingly large crowd of visitors. The whole fair was quite a contrast to the fair in this county (Decatur). There the people of the county willingly paid 50 cents admission and exhibitors, 10 percent entrance fee; here there was a 'kicking' against half that price of admission, and the Society could not pay the premiums. Money makes the mare go, and money is necessary to insure the success of a fair."

I'm guessing Lucas County's current Fair Board would say roughly the same thing.

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