The first notice of a county fair appeared in the Independence Civilian of July 23, 1857. It had been suggested
by a number of individuals that the citizens of Buchanan County should take measures to form a "County Agricultural
Fair" to be held in such town as determined upon by the committee appointed for that purpose, and in order
to get the people interested to offer premiums to exhibitors for the best specimens of farm produce. It was thought
perhaps the season was too far advanced for that year, but the meeting should be called and the ball put in motion
for next year. Accordingly several meetings were held which culminated in a county fair being held in Independence
October 13 and 14, 1858. In the Quasqueton Guardian of February 25, 1858, appeared a call "to the farmers
of Buchanan County" and all others interested in the formation and maintenance of a county agricultural society,
in view of the importance as well as benefits derived from a properly organized and well regulated agricultural
society, were invited to meet at Morse's Hall, in Independence, on Saturday, March 20, 1858, to perfect such an
organization. This notice was signed by forty one of the prominent business men and farmers of the county. Pursuant
to this call, a meeting was held and an organization perfected and a constitution was adopted. Dr. H. S. Chase
was elected president of the enterprise and Abiatha Richardson, David Merrill, Newman Curtis as vice president;
L. W. Hart, secretary; O. H. P. Roszell, treasurer, and John Smyzer, William Logan, Rufus Conable, William H. Elliott
and Charles Hooker were elected as directors. Committees were appointed and the officers and especial committees
were delegated to solicit members and money for the society, and 200 hand bills advertising the society were published
and scattered throughout the county. A board of managers, consisting of five members from each township in the
county, were appointed; this made fifty five on the board, as there were only eleven townships. S. S. McClure was
appointed chief marshal. Premiums were offered on much the same things as now days, on farm animals, field, orchard
and garden produce, dairy and household manufactured articles, including many things which now appear in the Floral
Hall premium lists and what was of an entirely different class was the mechanics' work department divided into
first, second and third classes. In the mechanics' work the list included almost everything that ever was or could
be manufactured in the county, the first class offered premiums on twenty four different articles, most of which
were farm machinery. hi the mechanics' work - second class - premiums were offered on seven articles, all of which
pertained to leather industries (boots, shoes, harness and the different kinds of tanned leather comprised the
list). This at first promised to be one of the most important industries of the county. The third class offered
premiums on six different industries, as follows, best specimen of cabinet work; best specimen of tailor's work;
best specimen of tinware, not less than five pieces; best specimen of blacksmith work, not less than three pieces;
best specimen of carriage or sign painting, and best specimen of printing. In the household manufacturers' class
the unusual premiums were best piece of flannel, not less than ten yards, best five palm leaf hats, best two pounds
of stocking yarn, best three pairs woolen socks, best three pairs woolen mittens, best pair of ten quarter woolen
blankets, best pair of shirts. One dollar and 50 cents were the premiums awarded on these articles. We give these
lists so one can get an idea of what were the various employments and accomplishments of those early pioneers,
what their necessities and luxuries of fine arts embraced. Many of these classes had no entries and many, though
having a small number, were exceptionally good for that early day.
In the first class awards were given on the best two horse wagons, best buggy, best ox yoke, best specimen horseshoeing.
In the second class awards for best dressed calf skins, best coarse boots, best ladies' shoes. The third class
was for best specimen blacksmith's work, three pieces. The premiums were 50 cents and $1.00 on these different
It is interesting to read these lists and compare the difference between the early fairs and those of today; for
instance, a premium of $3.00 was given for the best 25 pounds of May or June butter. Imagine this profligacy when
now the fair committees are glad to get entries of pound packages. One dollar and fifty cents for best sample of
butter made in September; $1.00 for 12 pounds September butter; $1.00 for jar of brandy cheese.
Premiums were offered for best sweet potatoes, best gallon of Chinese sugar and cane sugar; only two premiums were
offered on domestic cookery, best loaf of bread and best specimen of cooking, not designated what kind of material.
Among the premiums for miscellaneous articles were the following: A premium of $2.00 was offered for map of Independence
drawn with a pen; this was awarded to Thornton & Ross. This was a very creditable piece of work and afterwards
these men had copies printed and sold them throughout the county. Now there are only a few in existence and are
treasured highly. Two dollars for bits, augurs and gun work; $2.00 for 1 dozen domestic cigars; 50 cents for roast
of beef (who wouldn't give 50 cents for a roast of beef, even without a premium attached).
Seventeen awards were given on horses in fifteen different classes. Thirteen awards were given on cattle in nine
different classes. Oxen and steers entered were required to be presented in the yoke with a chain to secure them,
and be accompanied with a suitable person to take charge of them. The committee on working oxen and four year old
steers had to try the cattle presented for premiums, both on wagon and chain, and award the premiums for the best
working cattle, considering their docility, training, close matching, strength. size and beauty. Only one entry
in sheep was made, although premiums on eight classes were offered and although there were several flocks in the.
county. Five awards were given on pigs in a like number of classes.
Only three awards were given on poultry. One field crops awards were given, $5.00 for the best acre of wheat, $3.00
best acre of corn, $1.50 best acre of potatoes, $3.00 best acre of Vermont eight rowed yellow flint corn. One fine
thing was the amounts given to the committees in charge of the different departments and authorizing them to recommend
discretionary premiums upon such articles and animals if they deemed the same to be highly meritorious, although
they might not come within the list of premiums, and such awards would be paid at the annual meeting in January,
where all premiums were paid if the funds would possibly admit. The society were furnished the courthouse for the
display of manufactured, fancy and household articles, and for fruit, vegetables, grain, etc. Hay would be furnished
gratis during the fair for all stock presented for premiums.
For special attractions there was a Ladies' Equestrian Performance, three prizes awarded for the best exhibition
of horsemanship, a silver cup worth $8.00 for the second best, a $6.00 riding hat; for the third prize a $4.00
This exhibition was the center of interest in the entire two days' program. There were six entries in the contest,
all popular young women of the town. The exhibition was to take place at the race course which then occupied the
grounds of the West Side School Building. It was the opinion of the judges that the horses were generally inferior
while the riding was uniformly good.
There was a plowing match too, but this did not command the attention that the riding contest from the fact that
plowing was a very common, every day occurrence. The exhibition closed with an excellent address by C. A. L. Roszell
and the reading of the premiums by Colonel Thomas.
The omens were not as auspicious for a complete success as could be desired on account of the weather which on
the first day was cold, blustering and stormy but the second day the weather man changed his attitude toward the
enterprise and gave his sanction to it by doling out a very propitious temperature and climate. The different committees
generally made their awards impartially and to the general satisfaction of everyone. It was the opinion of some
of the judges that though several fine horses were exhibited, the display was inferior to what the county was capable
of producing; in cattle there were thirty two entries, some of them very fine, showing even at that early day one
of Buchanan's specialties was foreshadowed. The display of swine was quite creditable, the finest specimens were
of the Suffolk variety. The display of poultry was not large but the varieties exhibited were fine, among them
some Chittagong fowls, probably an extinct variety. In sheep, as we have mentioned previously, there was but one
entry, that a fine merino buck and ewe belonging to C. H. Jakway, now of Aurora, one of the first importers of
sheep in the state; an anecdote connected with Mr. Jakway was that he once offered a pail of fine butter in Independence
for 4 cents per lb. and could not find a purchaser.
The fruit and vegetable exhibit was pronounced excellent some' fine large sweet potatoes were exhibited by E. B.
Older and a radish 2 feet in length and 12 in. in circumference, which was grown in Jefferson Township by Mr. Romig.
Mr. Romig also exhibited samples of white and yellow seed corn which had produced 75 to 80 bu. per acre that year.
Some of the Chinese sugar cane syrup presented was pronounced equal to the best golden syrup then in market. Mr.
Lathrops and Mr. Reed's were especially fine. The butter entries were all of a superior quality. The one entry
in cheese was of excellent quality.
This society, of which we have given a very detailed account, deeming an Agricultural Fair, one of the most important
interests of a farming community continued in existence but about four years. A good deal of interest was manifest
and the displays continued very creditable considering the imperfect development which had at that time been made
of the agricultural resources of the county. It was found difficult, however, to keep up the interest, for the
lack of funds to offer attractive premiums, and the organization therefore was soon abandoned. At their 4th Annual
Fair, in 1862, there was a fine exhibition of sweet potatoes and a squash weighing 104 lbs., also fine specimens
of sorghum, syrup and sugar. For several years the show of cattle and horses of the Buchanan County Agricultural
Society was on the ground west of the Empire House. That of domestic manufactures was in the rooms of the hotel
and the secretary had his office in the east room during the fair.
In 1866 a second society was organized, held two fairs, very much of the same character as the previous ones, and
was then abandoned like the other. Neither of these societies owned any ground or other real estate. Their means
for defraying expenses, paying premiums, etc., were derived from membership fees ($1 annually from each member)
and $200 contributed by the state for each fair held. These sources of revenue being found insufficient, the joint
stock plan of organization, then common throughout the state, was finally adopted.
The next agricultural association adopting that plan was organized in 1869, and held its first fair the following
year. The first officers were as follows: L. S. Curtis, president; J. H. Campbell, treasurer; Jed Lake, secretary.
The capital stock originally subscribed was $6,000, to which was added soon after the organization $600 more. This
was increased by a donation of $1,000, made by the county in accordance with a law of the state. All this not being
sufficient to meet the estimated expense of an equipment that should enable the society to make "a fair start,"
it proceeded to borrow $1,500, making its entire outfit $9,200. With this money it purchased about sixty acres
of land, owned by James Burns, about half a mile west of Independence, being a part of the northeast quarter of
section 5, township 88, range 9; enclosed it with a close substantial board fence; built along its south and western
sides convenient stalls and sheds for cattle, a stable one hundred feet in length for horses, and an octagonal
floral hall twenty two feet on each side, graded a half mile race track, and dug four excellent wells. The aggregate
expense of all this was $9,100. The main hall was two stories high, with a wing on one of its sides 22 feet in
width by 60 in length. This wing is used for the exhibition of fruits and vegetables, while the main hall was devoted
to flowers, articles of domestic manufacture, works of art, etc.
Fairs have been held annually ever since this society was organized, which have always been successful, pecuniarily,
and for the most part creditable to the farming interests of the county, which should be the chief care of such
The capital stock of the society is divided into 200 shares, one half of which are owned by Jed Lake, Esq., the
most of the other half being held by the farmers throughout the county. The society is still in debt about one
thousand two hundred dollars.
Eventually "the Agricultural Fair" became, honestly speaking, the "Annual County Races," and
in the days when Independence was a veritable hot bed for speed and breed in horse flesh, the races were the chief
attraction of the entire fair and even in 1880 the former historian decries the fact that racing was being made
such a prominent feature and was the absorbing interest of the fair and proves his statement by saying that on
Thursday, the first day devoted to that part of the exhibition 1,900 tickets were sold at the gate, how would he
exclaim if he had known the figures of the 1891-2 fair when thousands crowded every available space on the grounds
to see the fast horse race; and for no other purpose and on that memorable day when Axtell and Allerton raced each
other in a record breaking heat.
A County Agricultural Society was organized in the county on March 26th, 1886, by a number of prominent men. On
the 27th a meeting was held at the courthouse and S. T. Spangler was chosen president; L. J. Dunlap, vice president;
F. B. Bonniwell, secretary; and F A Weatherbee, treasurer. It considered renting the old county fair grounds at
the Rush Park site for the fair that year, and possibly to buy the grounds later.
This Association was conducted with various degrees of success, mostly in a less degree. If judged from a financial
standpoint although the Association endeavored to do its part and give the people a good fair. But a fair, cannot
be conducted successfully on "good intentions" alone and the Association did not have the cooperation
of the farmers either in their attendance or exhibits, and this fact too, did not warrant expensive attractions.
In January, 1909, the Fair Association was entirely reorganized, a stock company formed, of which the representative
farmers and business men are the stockholders. One hundred and fifty four shares of stock were sold. W. M. Woodward
was elected president, A. H. Farwell secretary and W. A. Tidball treasurer and eleven directors were named. Since
this organization was perfected the Fair has been steadily prospering, and with the "Booster" spirit
manifested it is expected that the Buchanan County Fair is scheduled to be one of the big fairs in the state.
THE BUCHANAN COUNTY AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY
In January, 1891, the Buchanan County Agricultural Society bought thirty acres of land of Thomas Scarelift just
north of the Illinois Central Depot grounds, and in the spring began improving it for the permanent County Fair
The site selected is considered to have much natural beauty, easily accessible, and makes one of the finest fair
grounds in the state. The society is controlled and almost wholly officered by farmers. Subscription papers were
placed in the handg of the township assessors and every one had an opportunity to show their good will toward the
society. No one was asked to subscribe a large amount but all were expected to give something, from 50 cents to
In 1897 the fair attractions eclipsed all previous records, the association having secured the "Doctor Carver
Combination" which consisted of Dr. W. F. Carver, champion rifle and wing shot of the world and the high diving
horses, which dove from a platform forty feet high into a twenty foot tank of water. An immense crowd witnessed
both of these marvelous performances.
The Buchanan County Fair of 1904 was one of the most successful for years. On Thursday probably 7,000 people visited
the fair, the big attraction was the appearance of the noted Carrie Nation. She delivered her temperance address
and had an attentive, appreciative audience. After the speech, several minutes were devoted to selling her souvenir
hatchets and throngs of people invested in the trinket, the proceeds from the sales to be devoted to the temperance
cause. The exhibitions were exceptionally good and the weather ideal.
Other special features which have attracted immense crowds were the diving elks, and in 1911, Otto W. Brodie was
secured by Secretary Rigby to give exhibitions with his flying machine, a "Farnum Biplane." It was rather
a disappointment in some respects, the machine was so old and hard to manage that only one successful flight was
made, that on the first day when in alighting he seriously injured his machine.
But in spite of this fact it was a novel sight and well worth the money, as very few in the county had seen an
aeroplane. In 1912, the chief attraction was the automobile given away to the one holding the lucky ticket and
souvenir spoons with each admission was another drawing card.
In 1913 extensive improvements were made on the grounds, an addition equal in size to the original amphitheater
was built on the north of the old one, new gateways, fences, stalls, etc., were added.
In 1914, Micky McGuire, "The Wild Irish Rose," was the star attraction and gave three flights a day,
of the most marvelous, thrilling and hair raising feats. He is a fearless spectacular aeronaut and the immense
crowds were spellbound Flower decorated carriages was also a big attraction. One novel feature was the night fair.
All attractions were open, the grounds brilliantly illuminated and besides the regular performance, splendid fireworks
drew a large crowd out every night.
On Thursday, the largest crowd that ever attended a Buchanan County Fair poured through the gates. Both amphitheaters
were packed and standing room along the entire west half of the track was at a premium. Hundreds of automobiles
were crowded in the half mile.
The following named persons have been secretaries: Jed Lake, C. W. Williams, George H. Wilson, T. B. Bonniwell,
A. H. Farwell, J. W. Foreman, A. H. Farwell, C. W. Stites, Charles L. Bing, P. G. Freeman, A. G. Rigby, J. S. Bassett,
and Perry J. Miller.
History of Bachanan County, Iowa
And its People
By Harry Church and Katharyn J. Chappell
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co.
Bachanan County, IA
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