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Postcard from the Past - Organizing a County Fair in 1900s

Written by Dick Perue

As county and state fairs around the country count down to the final days, one is reminded of the struggle that many pioneers went through in order to organize the original events.

An article in the recent fair edition of the “Rawlins Daily Times” outlined such struggle in Carbon County.

In part the news item noted:

In late September 1891, Rawlins citizens gathered at the hose house to – according to the Rawlins Republican – “take some action towards the organization of an agricultural and fair association for Carbon County.”

Prominent livestock dealer William Daley organized the meeting...A previously appointed committee, headed by Daley, was tasked to look for a tract of land suitable for such an event.

They decided on a site “on the school section southeast of town, the old polo grounds,” the newspaper reported.

The committee estimated the grounds could be purchased, enclosed and set up for approximately $3,000.

Benefits of a county fair were touted as, “This is a matter in which an interest should be taken by people in all parts of the county. A fair association properly conducted is beneficial to any county as it creates a demand for better stock.”

“The people take pride in raising fine colts, fine calves and better crops. They enter into a good natured contest, each trying to outdo his neighbor in producing an animal or to raise a crop that will carry off the premium ribbon.”

“As the contest continues, interest increases from year to year, and those who have taken the most pains probably finds that he has raised double the number of bushels of grain on an acre of ground or has raised a calf that is worth double the amount of money they would have been had it not been for the fair association.”

This first effort apparently didn’t take off, as another Carbon County Fair Association held its first talks in 1908.

This time, Saratoga led the charge. “Why shouldn’t we have a fair?” the Grand Encampment Herald asked. “Why should it not be held in Saratoga?”

Fifteen directors from Saratoga, Encampment, Rawlins, Hanna and area ranches were selected and papers were filed at the Secretary of State office.

A newspaper advertisement appeared in February 1910, announcing the “first Carbon County Fair” to be held Sept. 20-22 of that year and added that the “association has purchased 40 acres of land just east of Saratoga.”

“On this ground a fine half mile track, elliptical in shape, is being graded, and fair buildings are under construction.”

“County Fair A Great Success,” the Grand Encampment Herald reported Sept. 23, 1910.

The program was largely comprised of horse races.

“One of the prettiest races ever seen any where was the Lochinvar race – gentlemen and lady riders riding in pairs and holding hands,” the article reported.

“Altogether Carbon County has reason to be proud of its first fair, and Saratoga people are deserving of high compliments of their successful handling of the big crowds and the excellent entertainment afforded the visitors,” the article concluded.

The second Carbon County fair in 1911 was more extensive, featuring baseball games, art exhibits and more livestock displays, with the most interesting feature being the stock parade, which was “led by those on horseback who were followed by all the animals which had been awarded ribbons and could be led.”

The fair continued in Saratoga until 1919 when scandal hit the board of directors, and the event was discontinued until 1929 when it resumed in Rawlins where it has been since...but then, that’s another exhibit.