With final preparations underway for the county fair, I went on another browsing expedition. Here are glimpses from a few of the preceding 175 fairs, chosen to highlight traditions of bygone days, to recall the influence of national and international events on those traditions, and to show how quaintly the UDC reported it all.
1841 – During the first Champaign County Fair, produce and small animals were displayed on the courthouse lawn, with livestock on the Reynolds farm across from the old Children’s Home.
1875 – Drunkenness, swearing or other species of rowdiness will not be permitted.
1883 – There is no lack of peanut vendors or lemonade stands.
1886 – All morning a steady stream of carriages and buggies arrived.
Late 1880’s – The Park Avenue location was purchased for $6533.
1889 – The grandstand affords an elegant view of the track. For ten cents a person can sit all afternoon and watch the races.
1890 – In Domestic Hall silk quilts, needlework, hearth rugs, and woolen knit stockings were unusually well represented.
1912 – It is likely that few men on the fairgrounds will escape being approached by the equal suffragists and asked to vote for woman suffrage.
1914 – J. Clarence Stevens, one of Urbana’s most popular vocalists and composers, will appear daily in the Art Hall to entertain music lovers with his own songs.
1915 – The Fair Board erected a large tent, fitted up as a rest room, each Grange organization having a special time to supervise. This convenient resting place was used by tired mothers and as a meeting place for friends.
1918 – That the fairgrounds will be open at night this year for the first time has caused great satisfaction. Evening admission will be absolutely free.
1919 – The Fair Board eliminated one of the greatest evils of the fair by erecting the new sanitary drinking fountain.
1920 – Veterans of the Civil, Spanish-American and World Wars will be admitted free of charge on Wednesday.
1922 – “Chief of Police” James Todd of the Fairgrounds forces has had considerable experience of late with the “hootch hounds,” causing the arrest of a man on a bootlegging charge.
1923 – Generally complete lines of all automobiles handled locally were on exhibition in special tents.
1924 – The Red Cross “Kiddy Koop” is ready to take care of all babies brought to the grounds. Several girls have offered their services, so that mothers need not worry about their infants while in the care of Miss Leah Schneider and her assistants.
1928 – The Champaign County Fair just held was a record breaker for small attendance. To avoid increasing the Fair Board’s debt, only half of the premium awards have been paid so far.
1929 – Elaborate plans are being made for the second annual horse pulling contest, with three classifications: teams under 3000 pounds, teams over 3000 pounds, and mule teams.
1930 – Champaign County boys and girls exhibited 103 animals in several dairy, pig, sheep, and rabbit 4-H clubs, with winners representing practically every township.
1931 – With the fairgrounds drenched with one of the heaviest, most consistent rainfalls during any fair week, it was announced the Fair Board had failed to take out rain insurance. Indications are that this year’s fair will sink the board more heavily in debt. It may not pay any racing stakes.
1932 – Miss Louise Overfield and Louis Enoch will be married on Friday in front of the grandstand by Mayor L. B. Fulton.
1933 – On exhibition are 125 draft horses, an unprecedented number for the county fair.
1935 – Beautifully carved locomotive models, made of ivory, ebony, and mother-of-pearl and requiring fourteen years to construct, are on display.
1935 – The loop-o-plane is the newest thing in thrills. According to its owners, this machine has made more than one timid soul faint.
1937 – The Fair Board refused permission to sell liquor on the grounds, and the WCTU set up a display to strike at the evils of liquor.
1938 – The County Fair and Red Cross gained distinction from a visiting national inspector, who marveled at the hospital beds, complete first aid equipment, and ice cold juices for heat and sunstroke.
1939 – Eight thousand packed the grandstand to see the Renfro Valley Barn Dance. Eight persons fainted despite the cool evening weather.
1940 – Sunrise, Liberty, Terre Haute, and Up-To-Date Granges won honors for appetizing arrangements of fruits, vegetables, jellies, and preserves in the Horticulture Building.
1941 – A float parade will be one of the outstanding features of the Champaign County Fair Centennial.
1942 – Despite uncertainties of the times and news of gigantic battles in Europe, the county’s first wartime fair will open bulging with entries and packed with entertainment. The Fair Board is confident of success despite busy work schedules and tire rationing.
1943 – County residents should bring their flattened, cleaned tin cans to the fair to be donated to the nation’s war effort.
1945 – Sam Fullerton, who judged 250 head of prize cattle, described the show as the outstanding Aberdeen-Angus show in the entire United States.
1946 – Members of several Boy Scout troops have been aiding fair management and the public by running errands, delivering messages, and generally making themselves useful.
1948 – At the afternoon races, the Lone Ranger made his first-ever appearance at a county fair. He and his horse Silver executed feats of riding, roping and shooting.
1949 – After Champaign Countians had o-o-hed and a-a-ahed over the new grandstand, Rev. Samuel Furrow opened services by requesting the crowd to stand and sing one verse of “America.”
1950 – Girls in 55 4-H clubs exhibited 467 projects and modeled garments in several categories including Easy-to-Make Cotton Dress, Tailored Clothes, and Complete Costume.
1951 – Seven county garden clubs displayed 105 exhibits featuring arrangements, specimens, and potted plants. The Pioneer Garden Club won the sweepstakes.
1952 – Highlight of the Junior Fair Parade was the appearance of A.B. Graham, who organized the first 4-H club in 1902. He said he has “lived long enough to see that the sun never sets on 4-H members.”
1954 – 4-H Demonstration Day set a new record of 45 nutrition and clothing individual and team demonstrations in the DP & L tent, beginning at 9:30 AM and finishing at 6:00 PM.
1956 – Roderick Yocum of Cable piled up 266 of a possible 290 points to win the 4-H tractor rodeo.
1957 – A field of 35 standardbreds will race in the two and three-year-olds futurities with the field including some of the Midwest’s best colts and drivers.
1960 – Fair Secretary Elizabeth Goddard announced that grandstand box seats may be reserved by calling the secretary’s office during business hours or the Goddard residence: Terre Haute 273.
1964 – Single admission 50¢ – Family Ticket $3 (12 sessions; man, wife, children under 16; auto) – Exhibitor Ticket $2
1965 – Rotcoff All-Girl Auto Thrill Spectacular and Swenson’s Thrillcade are scheduled as grandstand entertainment.
1966 – The usual crew of auctioneers, Merlin Woodruff, Don Bradley, and John Reed, will work the swine show tent to coax bidders into offering top prices for youngsters’ animals.
1969 – It’s a family affair for Elmer Roth, fair electrician. His wife and daughter can be heard almost continually from the paging booth.
Now, enjoy this year’s fair by celebrating our modern traditions – and creating a few new ones!
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.