Mitchell County Fair History
Mitchell County Fair and Mitchell County Agricultural Society
There has been a rich history of partnership between the Mitchell County Fair and the Mitchell County Agricultural Society, which began with the first fair held in 1859 at the town of Mitchell. The early years of the fair witnessed sporadic annual events until 1871. Several board members of the original Mitchell County Agricultural Society reorganized and took the first major step toward a permanent fair site when they purchased 20 acres on the southeast border of Osage. Construction of permanent show buildings and an office for the directors quickly followed. Since 1871 the Agricultural Society has sponsored annual fairs, continued with improvements to the fairgrounds, offered a wide array of events at the fair, and expanded the types of entertainment held at the fairgrounds.
Official records for either the Mitchell County Agricultural Society or the Mitchell County Fair have not been located to verify fair activities for the years 1859 to 1871. However, thanks to the efforts in 1955 of Mrs. Vera Kinter, an employee of the Press-News at the time, a thorough search of Press-News archives for fair information was conducted. Using information from her research, Mrs. Kinter wrote a feature article, which appeared in the Press-News. This feature article has been used as a reference for historical information about the Mitchell County Fair and is the official reference material for the book, Mitchell County Fair – Centennial Year 1871 – 1971. The following information was gleaned from this book.
“According to the Mitchell County Fair – Centennial Year 1871 – 1971 history book, the first fair was held in 1859 at the town of Mitchell. The Mitchell County Agricultural Society was also organized that same year with the first officers listed as Thomas Wardell, President; Dr. S. B. Chase, Secretary; and Amos S. Faville, Treasurer.
In 1871 the Mitchell County Agricultural Society was reorganized, and twenty acres of land was purchased adjoining the City of Osage, at a cost of about $2,000. Commodious and necessary buildings were erected for the purpose of exhibition and also a building for the officers. A half-mile racetrack was laid out and put in such order that no rack of the same length in the state surpasses it. The grounds were securely enclosed with a high board fence. The society is now in a flourishing condition, and the interest is increasing among farmers and citizens of the county who have a fixed determination to make it a complete success.”
The years following the 1871 reorganization of the Mitchell County Agricultural Society, the board continued expansion of events for the county fair. From the construction of a racetrack, baseball games, visiting dignitaries, to construction of a new grandstand in the early 1950’s.
Another pivotal event for the directors of the Agricultural Society resulted from statewide discussions about a ‘full scale county fair’ that occurred during the early 1950’s. The Mitchell County Agricultural Society Board of Directors listed the following members: Lester Anderson, Rollin Angell, Sam Bonoff, Alvin Christianson, Ralph Dodge, Ivan Elliott, Louis Ethen, Marvin Johanns, Richard Jahnel and Walter Sheldon, with Harry Hedrick as secretary. After the Agricultural Society approved the full-scale county fair concept, they began making long-range plans. Goals from the long-range planning included a new grandstand, with steel frame and sheet steel roof; new quarter mile track; a high wooden fence around the grandstand area; 20 X 120-foot building for the 4-H exhibits; a 60 X 160-foot pole building for 4-H and FFA livestock; the 60 X 120 foot steel and cement structure for varied industries; and additional electrical updates to other buildings at the fairgrounds. These goals were implemented by the Agricultural Society between the mid-1950’s and early 1960’s. These improvements provided an immediate boost in attendance at the fair.
Give-Away prizes were also started in the mid-1950’s, with a Chevrolet automobile being the first Grand Prize given away in 1955. Grand prizes also contributed to an increase in fair attendance and a sense that the fair was truly a “Mitchell County Fair” with participation by area businesses in support of the Give-Away prize.
The mid-1960’s began an added mission of historical preservation to the Mitchell County Agricultural Society vision. Recognizing the need to provide assistance in preserving historical buildings, the Agriculture Society decided to purchase a one-room schoolhouse in 1968. School reorganizations and consolidations resulted in many of these buildings being sold and removed from the rural landscape. William Ehlke, a director of the rural school district in Union Township, persuaded people in his district to help the Agriculture Society purchase their school, Union No. 1. Bidders restrained their bids, and the one-room schoolhouse was purchased for $35 by the Agriculture Society.
Purchase of the one-room schoolhouse also began a joint partnership between the Agriculture Society and the Mitchell County Historical Society. After the one-room school purchase was a reality, the Historical Society was formed to help provide care and control of the school during the fair. Shortly after the school took up residence on the fairgrounds, it was joined by a log house. John Boerjan, a farmer in Mitchell township, worked with the Agricultural Society to move one of the few remaining log homes from his farm to the fair grounds. Charge for the log house was also given to the Historical Society.
Another turning point for the Mitchell County Agriculture Society happened in 2004 when they conducted visioning meetings throughout the county to generate ideas and goals for an event center to be constructed on the fair grounds. In 2006 the Mitchell County Agriculture Society’s combined their vision of an event center with the Cedar River Complex vision, a much larger project which included a new historical museum, recreation center, fine arts center and two buildings – bus barn and weight room – for the Osage Schools. Other members of the Cedar River Complex 28E partnership included Osage Municipal Utilities, City of Osage, Osage Community School, Osage Education Foundation, Mitchell County Historical Society, Mitchell County Agricultural Society, and three at-large members from the county. The board of directors for the Cedar River Complex was comprised of members from each of these entities and provided oversight for construction and operation of the Complex. Phase One of the project included construction of the new event center that is located on the fairgrounds. Construction began the winter of 2008 and is to be completed by this summer.
Since 1871 the Mitchell County Agriculture Society and the Mitchell County Fair have weathered lean times, good times, and responded to a changing world. The future will continue to see improvements to the fair ground facilities, an expansion of events, and always the goal of providing an entertainment venue for all citizens of Mitchell County. We hope you enjoy reading this small historical summary and invite to join us at the fair!