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1903 County Fair



1903 Premium Booklet Pages

Besides the Church, one of the most important social activities of our early ancestors was the county or local fair. This was their opportunity to show off their prized livestock or for the ladies to demonstrate their domestic skills by baking, quilting, canning or other works. Pure-bred horses and other livestock which were commonly used in the every-day lives of the pioneers on the farm, were groomed, primped, and scrubbed down in preparation for the fair. To win an award at the county fair gave farmers "bragging rights" for months or even years about their ability to raise the best livestock, grow the best vegetables, or have the fastest horses. I remember my Grandmother Baker talking about the Clydesdale draft horses her father owned, called Nellie and Clyde, and how proud he was when they won a ribbon or prize at the fair where they lived in Nebraska. Even in the early days, a small premium was given in a wide variety of categories to the Blue Ribbon winner, and those became prized possessions indeed. Some local businesses offered additional premiums as an inducement for the fair-goers to buy their products or use their services, and Fair booklets contained dozens of advertisements by local merchants and farmers.

The Fair became the social event of the summer where farmers could take a break from their daily chores and hard work to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Families were able to visit the fair booths and talk with neighbors and friends, while both parents and children attended the shows and other activities that were happening at the fair. The horse races were some of the most exciting events, and looking at the latest farm machinery was just as popular then as it is at today's fairs. At the 1903 fair at Avoca, Iowa, The Londale Theatre Co. put on a variety of plays for the amusement of the locals. A 1903 premiums booklet from that fair contains the following ad:

The Londale Theatre Co. Fair Week! When in Avoca during the Fair don't forget that the Famous Londale Theatre Co. has been secured for the entire week, beginning Monday, September 7. All Royalty Plays, Special Scenery, different bill every night. Don't forget to come. You will remember them. They have that fine Street Piano and carry Twenty People. A. Hoogewaning, Mgr., Avoca Opera House.

Below is a brief description of an early County Fair for Pottawattamie County, Iowa, 1874.

The Annals of Iowa, pub. April 1874:
"Pottawattamie County. The county fair this year was the largest and most complete ever held in the county. The number of entries was very large, and the show of agricultural products highly creditable to the county. The fine art and floral halls were fitted up in good taste, and presented a highly creditable appearance. During the first and second days, the weather was delightful, and the number of people on the ground at one time reached fully five thousand. The third day was very cold and unpleasant, the wind coming from the north in piercing gusts, which made everybody who had them don their overcoats and shawls. But the fourth day fully made amends for all this and was bright, warm and clear. The grounds were crowded beyond anything ever before seen at a fair in this section, and the greatest interest was manifested in the races which came off on the driving park. But the excitement of the day culminated at about three o'clock, when the celebrated trotters, Goldsmith Maid and Lucy, were led onto the ground for exhibition, and for which their owners received the smart sum of $500. The proper committees did their work faithfully, as the long list of premiums awarded fully attested, all of which were promptly paid by the society."

I also own two little premium booklets from the Seventh Annual Fair, Avoca, Iowa, Pottawattamie County Fair Association, 1903, which give some explanation of premiums paid for prizes at that time, for best of show, etc. Categories varied widely but included almost every animal or domestic craft imaginable, including cattle, horses (trotters, pacers, imported pure bred), hogs (Chester Whites and Berkshires), chickens in a wide variety, ducks, geese, pigeons, rabbits, ferrets, cattle (polled Angus, Alderneys, Jersey, Holsteins, Friesans), vegetables of every type, fruits of every type, and domestics such as knitting, neatest mended glove, general sewing, tatting, embroider, Battenburg, Honiton, crochet, Roman or cut work, drawn work, and fine arts (drawing, painting, China painting), and culinary (baking, canning and cooking of all kinds).

Class Trotting, $200
Class Pacing, $200
One Mile Novelty, $12 1/2 at each quarter, $50

Four Year Old or over stallion, $8.00
Three Year Old, $4.00
Purebred Clydesdale and Shire, $8.00

Barred Plymouth Rock cock and hen, $1.50
Silver Wyandotte cockerel and pullet, $1.50

Rabbits, ferrets, pigeons, $1.00

Apples and vegetables, on display, $2.00

Domestics: almost all domestic categories paid $1.00 or $.50

As special premiums, the Pratt Food Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, displayed and offered to the winning entrants one fifty-cent package of Pratts Animal Food for the following Best of Show winners: best display of wheat, corn, cabbage, jellies, apples, bread, cake, and silk crazy quilt.

Speed - M. Barnes
Grounds - M. C. Robinson
Horses - Henry Barnholdt
Cattle - D. Gross
Swine and Sheep - Sam Jackman
Poultry - Geo. Ronna
Feed and Forage - Ferd Meggers
Grain, Fruits and Vegetables - A. Poland
Privileges - F. G. Hetzel
Grand Stand - James Wilson
Tickets - R. Frost
Ornamental and Fine Arts - Mrs. C. T. Bowen

President, G. Diederich
Vice President, F. G. Hetzel
Secretary, Caleb Smith
Treasurer, J. H. Jenks

G. Diederich
F. G. Hetzel
R. Frost
James Wilson
Henry Bornholdt
Caleb Smith
D. Gross
M. C. Robinson
John Massen

The Southwestern Short Shipment Circuit of fairs in 1903 were held at:
Shenandoah, August 11 to 14
Red Oak, August 17 to 20
Corning, August 24 to 27
Creston, September 1 to 4
Avoca, September 8 to 11
Atlantic, September 15 to 18
Harlan, September 22 to 25
Missouri Valley, September 29 to October 2

Our ancestors loved to attend county fairs, and most midwesterners still do today! I think the following paragraph taken from the 1903 Pottawattamie County Fair premiums booklet says it all:

To Our Patrons. In offering this our seventh annual premium list, we wish to thank you for the assistance you have kindly extended to us in the past and solicit a continuance of the same for this season. By so doing we shall retain the high standard of excellence to which we have attained. We expect to make this the banner year of the Pottawattamie County Fair Association, and to do so we shall require your cooperation. Our object in presenting you this premium list is for you to begin right now to make preparation to exhibit your best products. Don't wait until the entries are closed and then tell your acquaintances that those are measley onions, scrawny tomatoes, and scabby potatoes, and that you have much better ones at home; but, make an entry and show that you really think so -- you pay no entrance fee in the floral hall - and it will help to swell the exhibit and you may be well paid for your trouble. We believe this to be the garden spot of America and with your assistance we can prove it to the world.

Our grounds are magnificently shaded and we will supply an abundance of seats whereon you may rest and visit with your friends and acquaintances to your heart's content. Write them and have them meet you at our fair and visit with you and talk over the old and the new.

Wednesday, September 9th, is Children's Day. All under 14 years will be admitted to the grounds free. Parents are cordially invited to bring their children and make this a school of instruction so that they may have a conception of all that is higher and nobler in life. Today education is what counts on the farm as well as in the city.

The attractions are the best that time and money can secure. If possible, we will have expert judges to do the judging. Positively no gambling or immoral shows will be allowed on the grounds and it will be a waste of time for any persons to make application for such privileges.

Again extending to you an invitation to exhibit some of the best stock and products of the household and farm and visit with us and compare notes and results and enjoy a week's recreation and pleasure, we remain

Copyright Mona Knight. All rights reserved except permission granted to reproduce or distribute to not-for-profit individuals or organizations.
Permission to publish this story was given by the writer, Mona Sarratt Knight.