Thursday, February 08, 2018

Town and country collide at the 1888 county fair

I think I can guarantee that there will be no city vs. country conflict Saturday night when the Lucas County Fair Association holds its annual entertainment fund-raiser at Carpenters Hall. The event begins at 5 p.m. and will feature homemade soup and desserts plus ice cream. Both silent and live auctions also are on the agenda. Admission is by free-will donation and everyone --- city folk and farm alike --- is welcome.

All proceeds will go to fund entertainment events at this year's county fair, scheduled for late July.

But back in 1888 --- a century ago --- conflict between town and country threatened to derail the fair.

The 1888 Lucas County Fair had been a disaster both in terms of entries and attendance. Residents of Chariton were accused of boycotting the event and not that many farm residents turned out either, even fewer brought livestock to exhibit. Everyone had become disgruntled during the 1887 fair and expressed their hostilities in 1888.

Benton Township farmer John Jackson Werts did his best to explain the conflict and propose a way forward in a letter published in The Chariton Democrat of Sept. 20, 1888.

"We attended the Fair last week, held at Chariton by the Lucas County Agricultural Society; and not an article worth naming was placed on exhibition by any of the citizens of Chariton. Why was this the case?

"The facts of the case, so far as we are able to learn there, were about as follows: The society, for a year or two back, has been mostly in the hands of the citizens of Chariton, and after the fair last year there were some complaints made by farmers of the county in regard to the management of the fair. There were large premiums paid to trotting and running horses, and a large sum of money paid to a sporting woman to come and run horses and dogs ---- things the farmers cared very little about --- and thus the money receipts of the fair were about all used up.

"Farmers that had spent their time for months preparing their stock to take to the fair, and near a week's time to take it to the fair and home again, and pay their entrance fees, stall rent and feed, and 10 percent on the premium offered, and to get their families in, were left without any premiums, as the money was all used for imported exhibitors.

"Now if this was a just cause for complaint, then we claim that Chariton did wrong in boycotting the Fair (this year), but we imagine that the Chariton folks were sharp enough to see that the management of the fair last year must cause a failure of the fair this year, and to clear themselves of the blame. They attended the meeting of the society for the election of officers and elected all farmers, and thus got the thing off their hands, and now make out that it is the fault of the farmers that the fair is a failure. We think this because of the taunts we received from them during the fair, wanting to know why we did not bring in our stock now and make a success of it, as we had it in our own hands.

"Now we believe that a county fair is a good thing in many ways, but we do not believe in making too much of a horse racing institution out of it, nor do we believe in admitting gambling institutions in it. They say we need their money that they pay for the privilege; but where do they get this money? Do they not get it from the people of our own county whose minds are not sufficiently fortified against their temptations? And from those who are not able to lose the money? Nor do we wish to have our children exposed to the temptations of these scoundrels, when we send them to our county fair.

"Now I see no reason in the world why the farmers and the business men of our county should get at logerheads and break up our fair, just because there was a little mistake made last year, and a little complaining done about it. We would like to have faith in our business men in the future as we have had in the past. I have always contended that we had the best business men in Chariton of any town of its size I was ever acquainted with.

"We know that we cannot make a success of a fair without the cooperation of the business men of our county, nor can they make a success of it without our help. So, we say, let us all join together and run it right, or drop it entirely, and when we wish to see a fair go somewhere else --- and do a little trading (there) when we go to the fair all the same." (signed) J.J. Werts


The good news here is that after the 1888 debacle, everyone decided to work together --- and the 1889 county fair, despite dodgy weather --- was a success.

The Democrat was able to report in its edition of  Oct. 3, 1889, that "the county fair was in all respects a successful one. The exhibits were numerous and worthy; the attendance large; and the receipts sufficient to meet all obligations of premiums and expense. The management this year, with Mr. Brownlee as president and Mr. Bestow as secretary, was conservative and wise. It has resulted in placing the society on a firm footing that will doubtless result in great good hereafter."


Sonia Hermanstorfer said...

Do you have any information on Lucas County Quakers in the latter half of the 19th century?

Frank D. Myers said...

There were no meetings in Lucas County; the Quakers who settled here generally affiliated with other denominations or simply kept spiritually to themselves. The nearest Friends meetings were at Smyrna, just over the Clarke County line to the west; and various meetings east of Indianola in Warren County.