Muscatine County, Iowa
Muscatine Journal & News-Tribune
Centennial Edition
31 May 1940

Section 4 - Page 11, Submitted by Liz Casillas, April 4, 2012

Big Shiny Engine Was Big Attraction At Iowa Fair Here

A shiny new steam engine that chugged industriously and belched big puffs of black smoke was such an unusual spectacle that it stole the show in the machinery department when the Iowa state fair was held in Muscatine for the second consecutive year, Oct. 6-9, 1857.

The 1857 state fair was the fourth ever held in Iowa. The first and second Iowa fairs were at Fairfield in 1854 and 1855 and the third and fourth were held in Muscatine in 1856 and 1857.

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Speaking in unrestrained terms of the steam engine that was the sensation of the 1857 fair, the editor of The Journal said it excited universal admiration and obtained first premium. It is four horse power, he wrote, costing $400, and will consume but two bushels of coal in 10 hours.

Another “new contraption” at the machinery exhibit that received a good share of attention was a patent gate exhibited by William Sherwood of Muscatine. It was explained that by giving a rope a slight pull, the gate opens itself, and after passing through, a pull on another rope closed it without the driver getting out of his carriage at all. Mr. Sherwood was awarded a premium.

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The two state fairs held in Muscatine seem pitifully small when contrasted with the modern fairs held at Des Moines or even with the present-day West Liberty fairs but they attracted a large attendance for an event of that day, the estimates of the crowds sometimes ranging as high as 11,000 on a single day.

Muscatine was able to obtain the fairs because from 1854 to 1879 the fair was “on wheels,” moving around from one section of the state to another. Not over three consecutive exhibitions were held in any one city. The next two years after Muscatine played host, Oskaloosa entertained in 1858 and 1859. Later fairs were held at Iowa City, Dubuque, Oskaloosa, Clinton, Burlington, Keokuk and Cedar Rapids. The fair moved to Des Moines in 1879 and remained there.

The major spectacle staged in connection with the 1856 fair here was a balloon ascension, but proper recognition was given farming pursuits. There is certainly very great attention paid to the culture of stock in Iowa, The Journal reported. There was some splendid specimens of swine and sheep on exhibition, but the display was meager. Wednesday closed with a spirited display of stallions. The agricultural department of our state is fast attracting the attention of the eastern states, the article went on, and we therefore found many articles of great usefulness to the farm on exhibition from the most distant eastern state.

In the fruits and vegetables department of the 1857 fair there were few articles on exhibition that were raised outside of Muscatine county.

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“Mr. Barnard of this county had 30 varieties of vegetables, including some rarities such as three kinds of egg plants,” The Journal reported. “A squash raised by Alexander Clark weighed 177 pounds, but as Aleck is a colored man, the committee could not, according to the Dred Scott decision, award the decision to him in preference to his mule. It would be unconstitutional. The show of corn and cereal grains was large and creditable.”

James Weed and James Cattel of Muscatine, obtained first premium for the best and greatest variety of apples in the 1857 fair. Mr. Weed was also awarded the first premium for the best and greatest variety of grapes. T. S Parvin of Muscatine exhibited specimens of cranberries and chestnuts raised by him.

Other devices along with the patent gate that had to play “second fiddle” to the steam engine in 1857 were a small fire and a garden engine. The display also included a corncob mill, portable grist mill, a great variety of corn planters, cultivators, sowers and harrows. A silver mounted plow drew many covetous glances because it was “not only handsome but well made.”

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Cannon and French of Davenport exhibited some window sash and Wells and Coe of Muscatine several flour barrels made of staves manufactured altogether by machinery. A secretary or bureau exhibited by Christian Kegel of Muscatine attracted much attention. Several beautiful paintings were exhibited by Mrs. Helen Robbins of Wapello. Miss Abba Gilbreth of Muscatine was awarded a premium for the best specimen of flower painting. Hall and Mitchell of Muscatine had “some very fine” daguerreotypes on exhibition.

Good weather prevailed throughout both fairs. That the sponsors of the 1857 fair exercised good business judgment in administering the financial details is disclosed by the pleasing announcement that “the total receipts will be ample to pay expenses.”

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Windmills on display were regarded as marvels of mechanical utility. One of the mills was described as a simple structure, adjusting itself to any kind of wind, and will run if there is even the least breeze. It is adapted particularly to the drawing of water, though it may be used for sawing, grinding, or any other similar purpose. Its cost is only from $45 to $65.

About 180 horses and 150 cattle comprised the major part of the farm animal department of the 1857 fair. No addresses were given, these having been ruled out by the directors together with female equestrianism and trotting matches. A plowing contest was one of the entertainment features.

“We have not seen the report of the committee on pantry store,” wrote the reporter of that day in a slightly sarcastic vein. “We understand that the entries were very meager and that the committee, in their report, administer a rebuke to the ladies for their want of interest in such matters.”

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–Last evening as Conrad Hacker and William Snyder were riding up Third street in Wallace & Beach’s delivery wagon, drawn by that corrigible gray horse, and when near the corner of Linn, the animal suddenly took fright at a parasol and after demolishing the dashboard with a violent kick, started on a run. At the outset the wagon was drawn over a rut in the street, whereby the seat was displaced and Conrad, who was holding the lines, was thrown out and considerably bruised. Mr. Snyder suffered the same fate immediately after by the wheels of the vehicle striking the sidewalk – After thus summarily disposing of the occupants, the horse next proceeded to relieve himself of the wagon, which he did in short order, then made tracks for the store, at which he reported himself as if he had been engaged in a praiseworthy achievement. – Journal, July, 1869.

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A young man of Teutonic persuasion residing a few miles west of Wilton, went to that place last week celebrating the 4th, and having partaken of too much lager or benzene, fell out of his wagon, when one of the wheels passed over his arm, breaking it in a frightful manner – Muscatine Journal July 12, 1869.

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Louisa county was all in a dither in the spring of the year of 1885, over the reported discovery of gold quartz in paying quantities there.

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Times Have Changed
(For The Better)

Way back in Pioneere Days log cabin settlers started the idea of community trading posts. – From the trading posts developed the general country stores, which figured in the early seasoning of many great men. – The store of Abe Lincoln’s Honestry and the Realization of his responsibility to his customer has become a tradition. – As America thrived with the building of homes and wholesome family life, so did the community thrive where the general store was best. – Thus, the seed was planted, and the personalized independent grocery store is still one of the greatest assests of the community.


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We’re Not Quite ½ Century Old
In that time, we’ve never had dissatisfied customer.
Our Articles Guranteed
See Us First

CARTER’S Second Hand Store, 424 East 2nd St.

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Page created April 8, 2012 by Lynn McCleary