Saturday, July 23, 2016

The first Lucas County Fair

Lucas County Fair 2016 officially is underway as of today, so I thought it might be interesting to look back to the first county fair, held during October of 1868. That's 148 years ago, although county fairs haven't been held consistently every year since the founding.

As years passed, the event moved a few times and reshaped itself into various configurations, but the current fair grounds are not far south of the original 10-acre site, purchased for $1,000 during the foundational year. Eventually, the original grounds proved to small and in 1884, new grounds were developed in northeast Chariton. During the 1920s the Derby Fair became the county fair and finally, during 1954, the fair headed back to Chariton and the current grounds above Crystal Lake.

The first steps toward a county fair were taken during April of 1868 when the Lucas County Agricultural Society was organized during a meeting at the 1858 Courthouse attended by a disappointingly small crowd --- 10 to 15 people --- even though the session had been advertised for four weeks in Chariton newspapers.

"It was resolved to have a county fair the coming fall, and every effort be made to get ready and prepare for the same. There being no money, no grounds for fair purposes, and in fact, nothing to commence on, you can see at once the Society had taken upon itself a task of no small importance," association president J.D. Wright, looking back, stated in his annual report to the membership during 1870.

But officers were elected, committees appointed and work began immediately. In less than a month, the premium list for the 1868 fair was ready for distribution and two months after that, fair grounds were purchased.

During mid-July, Society officers and others got together to examine several locations proposed for the fair and selected a 10-acre field offered by Henry Close south of the Osceola Road about three-quarters of a mile west of the then city limits of Chariton. That description places the grounds somewhere in the neighborhood of the current Johnson Machine Works plant and the ag services office building to the west.

Close himself agreed to contribute $50 toward the $1,000 purchase price and the balance was raised through subscriptions and association membership dues.

Work on the grounds began immediately --- they were fenced, two wells were dug and a hall and livestock pens were built at a cost of an additional $1,000 or so. The first fair was scheduled for the first week in October.

By June, the Association had 288 members --- 140 from Chariton, 55 from Benton Township, 27 from Liberty, 21 from Warren, 32 from White Breast and fewer than 5 each from other townships.

Here's editor John Faith's report on the 1868 fair --- published in The Democrat of Saturday, Oct. 10. It's a generally positive report, although Faith did have his nose out of joint, as he always did --- in this instance because 76 Agicultural Society officers and committeemen were Republicans and only 16 Democrats. I've omitted his lenghty and pointless lament --- everyone who was active in bringing the fair about was a volunteer and both Republicans and Democrats had been offered equal opportunities to become involved.

"The first annual fair of the Lucas County Agricultural Society opened at the grounds of the Society, about one mile west of the city, on Wednesday. Owing to the severity of the weather on that day, nothing was done, but few entries were made, and indications seemed to point to utter failure. On Thursday, however, the weather was more favorable, and the attendance was quite large. A fair number of entries were made, and the displays, although not extra in their character, were numerous.

"We intended to make an extended mention of the most noticeable entries, but owing to their variety, we are unable to do so and do justice to all.

"The display of stock (horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, &tc.) was not good. A fair proportion of entries were made, but the grade was considerable below what we would expect to see at a county fair. Yet, we must remember that ours is a new county, and this is the first time that an exhibition of the kind has been invited.

"The collection of vegetables and farm products was larger than we expected to see, and was very good indeed, when we take into consideration the inducements offered to the farmers, and the imperfect notice that had been given of the fair.

"The handiwork of the ladies and housewives was well represented by a very good display of needlework, ornamental and plain. There were also several cases of artificial flowers, fruits, &tc., besides a very good display of preserved fruits, jellies, jams, pickles, preserves, &tc.

"The variety of fruits was not extensive (but the display of apples demonstrated) that fruit of an excellent quality can be grown in this country.

"In the way of agriclutural implements, the display was not very large, but would have been better had the fair promised to be a success.

"Taken as a whole, and considering all things, the fair was a success, beyond the expectations of the most sanguine.

"There have been many things connected with the orgnization of the society that have worked against it, and will continue to work against it until experience shall point out the errors that have been committed. Much fault has been found with the manner in which things have been carried on, and there was some reason for finding fault. But we need an agricultural society, and can afford to overlook many things which, otherwise might prove to be more serous objections. We think the society has good reason to congratulate itself, this year, upon its success and have cause to feel encouraged for the future."

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