Muscatine County, Iowa

1863 - 1962


Transcribed by Virginia Hopkins
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Mrs. Wayne Irey (Chairman) Mrs. Maude Koster
Mrs. Irma Morris Mr. Leonard Agnew
Mrs. Preston Brown Mrs. James Birklett

     In this year of 1962, we are celebrating the One-hundredth Anniversary of the West Liberty Fair. The fact that any society or organization manages to exist and flourish in a community for more than a century is proof enough of its worth. Since its very beginning, the Fair has been an asset to our community, so, it-is fitting that we pause and look back over the years and review the highlights of its growth and progress.

    One hundred and ten years ago, in the fall of 1852, a pioneer group of men, women, boys and girls gathered at the farm house of Samuel Mather, Senior, in Iowa Township, Cedar County, Iowa.

    Out of doors their interests were centered on a motley group of horses and mules, many of which had that day been driven in from the prairie in a half-wild state. They were tethered to whatever was strong enough to retain them. There were also a few nondescript cattle of complex breeding, along with flocks of sheep of unknown origin.

    In the house the scene was no less interesting, for there, the women were comparing their handiwork-the homemade quilts, blankets and towels, hanks of linen thread, home-grown, home-dressed and home-spun skeins of woolen yarn. In addition, they compared their jellies, jams and preserves, made from the crabapples, wild plums, wild grapes and other wild fruits which grew so plentifully along the Cedar River.

     Among those present were John Thomas, Charles Fogg, Samuel Mather, James Schooley, Jont Maxson, Zed Ellyson, Moses Butler, Israel Negus, Laurie Tatum, Greenberry Wood, Emmor Rood, Elisha Negus, Elwood Negus, James Bowersock, Elisha Schooley, Oliver Jack, Robert G. Roberts, John Moore, John Hare, Edwin Coppoc, Barclay Coppoc, thad Maxson, Thomas Gray, H. K. Maxson, Benn Ellyson, and Dillworth Schooley.

    These names stand out among the pioneers who stamped their individualities on the future of our state.

    This was the first Fair ever to be held in Iowa. That impromptu gathering out there in the prairie in 1852 was the planting of the acorn, which had so grown by 1859, that it was deemed worthy of a name.

    On April 25, 1859 a meeting was held tin District #2 schoolhouse in Springdale Township for the purpose of perfecting the organization and selecting a name. Moses Varney acted as president and Laurie Tatum as secretary. With a view to promoting hones labor, the following constitution was drawn up and adopted.

    Article I. This organization shall be known by the name of “Cedar County Agriculture Society.”

    Article II. The officers of this society shall be a President, two Vice-presidents, a recording and Corresponding Secretary, and a Board of Five Managers.

    Article III. The Board of Managers, together with the President and Secretary, shall appoint a committee on premiums, and all other committees which may be necessary. The shall make out the premium list; make all necessary arrangements for holding an annual fair; and do such other business as the wants of the Society may require.

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    Article IV: Articles of domestic production, which are of practical utility and the cost of which does not exceed its real value, may be entered and receive a premium, if worthy of merit.

    Article V: The domestic animals which ae the property of members and owned for at least 6 months previous to the exhibition ay be entered for a premium.

    Article VI: No person shall be allowed to enter any domestic animal without first paying an entry fee, the amount of which will be decided by the Board of Managers.

    Article VII: The best cultivated farm of 160 acres, 60 acres, and 40 acres shall be entitled to a premium if entered previous to the first of the seventh month. The Board of Managers shall be a Committee on Farms.

    Article VIII: All articles of produce entered shall be accompanied by a concise statement of its character and production, embracing its name, quality of soil where raised, time of planting, cost of production, and its utility.

    Article IX: Any person may become a member of this Society by signing his or her name to the Constitution, and the males paying one dollar annually.

    Article X: the boundaries of the s Society shall be Cedar County and those Townships of Muscatine and Johnson Counties adjoining, west of the Cedar River.

    Original signers of the Constitution were: Moses Varney, Laurie Tatum, Elisha Todd, Emmor Rood, William Branson, Alpheus Hirst, Thomas James, James Martis, Thomas Leech, Richard Beason, Elisha Stratton, James Bell, J. H. Painter, Thompson Walker, Teen C. Tabor, Nathan Taber, Gilbert Smith, Moses S. Butler, Griffith Lewis, James Brimmer, and Thomas Madlin. HONORARY MEMBERS included Barik Smith, Hanson Hammond, and William Lundy.

    The first officers elected were: Moses Varney, President; Moses Butler and Thomas Leech, Vice-presidents; Laurie Tatum, Secretary; Emmor Rood, Corresponding Secretary; Elisha Todd, Treasurer; and J. H. Painter, J. Smith, Thomas James, John Thomas, and James Crozer, Board of Managers.

    At a meeting of the Board of Managers in July of 1859, the dates for the fair were set for the 6th and 7th of October on the Moses Butler farm (between Springdale and West Branch), Mr. Butler having kindly offered the use of his barn and lots. The records show that the weather was fine and the attendance was good, thus giving the Mangers great satisfaction and encouragement.

    A report made to the State Agricultural Society showed that there 188 entries made at their fair. Wheat, corn, oats, Irish and sweet potatoes were listed as principal crops raised in this vicinity. Wheat averaged about 12 bushels to the acre that year. Molasses was an important item in those days, and, on the year the first fair was held, 6,981 gallons of sorghum molasses were made on 20 mills in the Township, making and average of about 40 gallons per family.

Received for membership $ 74.00
Received for gate fees 26.15
Received from State 74.00
Total Amount $174.15
Paid for Premiums $ 74.00
Due for Premiums 12.90
Paid M. Butler for Fair Grounds 5.00
Paid Secretary 5.00
Paid Treasurer 1.00
Other Expenses 2.65
Total Expense of Society $100.55

     This was quite a good showing when it is considered that a small barn served the place of the present day agricultural hall, fine arts and poultry pavilions. In 1860-61-62 the fair was held in the pasture field across the road from Moses Butler’s barn. A tent had…

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Advertisement for West Liberty State Bank

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… been procured in which to display domestic manufacture, fine arts and other exhibits. The fair of 1860 is interesting. That year cash premiums were offered on the best 3 acres of spring and fall wheat, corn and oats; the best ¼ acre of Irish and sweet potatoes, carrots and beans; and the best two acres of clover. Premiums were offered on Durham, Devon and native cattle; on hogs, with no mention of breed; and on coarse and fine-wool sheep’ on horses, jacks and mules’ on domestic fowls’ on fruits, vegetables and sees’ on implements of the farm’ on domestic manufacture-bread, butter, cheese, preserves and jelly’ on quilts, bee hives, sorghum molasses, sorghum sugar’ on mechanical articles-work harness, saddles, baskets, brooms, tin-smithery, horse shoeing, boot and shoe-making, and specimen painting. Finally, a premium of $3.oo was offered for the best essay, “Giving an account of the fair.” The winning essay was to be forwarded to the editor of the Tipton paper for publication.

    What a comprehensive premium list for a small country fair! It paints a remarkable picture of the livestock, farm produce and domestic manufacture so typical of Iowa farms in those early years.

    The year 1862 was a bad year for the Cedar County Agriculture Society. Due to adverse weather conditions, the fair was not a financial success and the annual stamen showed a deficit of $159.34. The Society was having other troubles, too.

     It is part of the unwritten history that, in December of 1861, the Society voted to revise its constitution and draw up Articles of Incorporation. Ed Wright and Francis Galbareth were appointed to prepare the papers, which were then forwarded to the County Recorder at Tipton. The secretary, being short of funds, failed to the send the necessary fee, and consequently, the Articles of Incorporation were not recorded and lay on the counter for some time. It is assumed that some person in and about the courthouse became aware of this fact, and in 1862 they proceeded to effect an organization under the same name for the Tipton community, and had their papers recorded. It was not until the president of the Springdale Society attended the state meeting of the Board of Agriculture that he was informed that his Society could not receive state aid unless it united with a Tipton organization using the same name.

    Faced with this dilemma, the Springdale Society held several meetings in an attempt to solve the problem. Quite an effort was made to effect a consolidation between the two fairs. This idea, however, was rejected by the Springdale folks, who felt that, in spite of the bad weather and a financial set-back, their fair had attracted more entries and more interest than the Tipton Fair, which had enjoyed fine weather. Consequently, at a meeting on January 1, 1863, it was resolved to renounce the name of “Cedar County Agriculture Society” and form a new Society to be called “Union District Agricultural Society” to accommodate that strip of territory solely west of the Cedar River. The resolution passed unanimously; a new constitution was drawn up; the property f the old society was transferred to the new one’ Articles of Incorporation were filed’ and officers elected. The officers elected were’ Moses Varney, President’ H. C. Gill, Vice-president’ J. M. Wood, Secretary’ and J. H. Painter, Treasurer.

    So, although the Springdale folds had been holding annual fairs since 1852, their Society became official, and the first official fair was held on September 28-29, 1863, near the bridge of the middle branch of the Wapsie on the road from West Liberty to Springdale one-sixth mile north of the Muscatine County line (land now belonging to Delbert Smith). The records show that the weather was fine and business was good. Everybody had a good time comparing the stock, farm products, awarding premiums, and exchanging views. The total receipts for the first fair, under the auspices of the Union District Agricultural Society, were $530.20.

    In 1864, the Society purchased this 40 acres on the Wapsie for $400, thus acquiring its first permanent home. Work began immediately on improving the grounds. A few stock pens were constructed and a tent was used to protect the grains, fruits, vegetables, and finer exhibits. By 1865, the fair had so flourished that a race track was built and substantial buildings were constructed to house the exhibits. Also, a high board fence was erected …

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Advertisement for Walnut Grove Products Company, Inc.

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… along the road and the rear side of the grounds. All of this was financed by popular subscription. Until 1871 the fair was held here each year, with varying financial success, but always with interest and enthusiasm.

    So ends the chronicle of the origin and early days of our fair. The records show that that seed planted on the prairie in 1852, moved from the nursery to open ground one mile west of Springdale in 1859, was now transplanted to a point 4 ½ miles south. It was to be transplanted again, but it is fitting, at this point, to pause and pay tribute to some of the pioneers whose loyal support nurtured the Society and caused it to live and thrive.

    Of all that band who stood so steadfastly for the success of the Society in its infancy, there was no more consecrated friend than the Hon. Ed Wright, of Gower Township. He gave great service, not only to this Society, but also to his county, state and nation.

    In 1856 he was chosen to represent his district in the General Assembly, was reelected in 1857, and again in 1860. In 1860 he was elected president of the “Cedar County Agriculture Society,” but he resigned that position to go as a major of the 24th Iowa Regiment in 1862. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in June, 1864, made a full colonel in November, 1864, and brevetted brigadier general in July, 1865. He received his honorable discharge at the close of the Rebellion, returned home, and in the same year was again elected to the Iowa Legislature, and chosen as Speaker of the House. In 1866 he was elected Secretary of State and held that position for six years. In 1873 he was appointed to the Board of Capital commissioners and Assistant Superintendent of Construction. In 1884 he became custodian of the capitol building, a position which he held until his death.

    Nor must we forget Edwin Coppoc, who gave his life for a great principle, dying with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry. His brother, Barclay Coppoc, also gave his life in the same cause. Then, there was Laurie Tatum, of Springdale, a man of vision and leader in his community, He helped organize our Society, served as its first secretary and continued in that capacity for five years. Following the death of Herbert Hoover’s parents in West Branch, Laurie Tatum was appointed by the courts as guardian for the orphaned Hoover, who late was to become the President of the United States to come from Iowa.

    Another loyal supporter of the Society was Moses Varney, the first and for ten years its president, who, in season and out of season, labored for it interest, often to the point of neglecting his own business. There was Zadok Ellyson, who attended ever fair from 1852 until the time of his death, and who also gave of his means as perhaps no other person. Other pioneer supporters of the Society included” Moses Butler, A. B. Cornwall, J. M Wood, E. W. Hughes, J. L. Henderson, Phineas Nichols, George Heppenstall, A. Y. Judd, and G. C. Shipman-its veteran secretary. These men worked in harmony for more than forty years as officers and superintendents.

    As the visitor to the fair today reviews the modern buildings and notices about him the abounding evidence of prosperity, he may give scant heed to the past, and fail to consider the sacrifice and consistent labor of those determined noble folks, who gave so lavishly of their time in order that the fair might be carried on through lean as well as fat years. Recognition is certainly due them on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Society.

    It required special courage to hold that first fair in 1863. Today’s fair witnesses hundreds of automobiles on the grounds, but then, the yoke of oxen was not an unfamiliar sight. The visitor to the fair did not jump into a car, in those days, and enjoy a ride over miles of fine highways’ rather, he was forced to walk, ride horseback, or proceed slowly by big wagon over more trails across the prairie,. It was not a trip to be considered lightly, for every member of the family looked ahead for weeks to attending the fair. It was the one big event of the summer.

    However, in 1863, there were other things to think of in addition to the fair. “The manhood of the great state of Iowa was encamped, along with their brothers from other Northern and Eastern states, on the battlefields of the South, engaged in the War Between the Sates.” It was difficult for the Society to proceed with plans for a fair.

Transcribed by Kim Kessel
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    Iowa wasn’t the prosperous State, then, that it is now. The call-to-arms had forced the abandonment of many farms. Muscatine county, which sent more men to war than any other county in the State, was the scene of many dilapidated farm houses and other signs of desolation, due to this patriotism.

     Yes, those were trying days-but the Society carried on. In fact, the records show that by 1865 interest and enthusiasm had so grown that the time of the fair was increased from two to three days.


    In December of 1871, the Society was transplanted once more, when it accepted an offer from W. C. Evans for a ten year lease of some land in West Liberty, for fair purposes. The Society paid $50.oo annually for the use of the land for four weeks each year. The old fair grounds in Cedar County was sold to L. W. Henderson.

    A committee was appointed to solicit funds to improve the new grounds. $1000.00 was soon pledged, and plans were made to hold the fair on the new grounds on September 25, 26, 27, 1872.

    The new grounds (our present home) were pleasantly located just south of West Liberty. A beautiful grove of trees provided plenty of shade for the patrons of the fair, and the site was conveniently near the railroad, which had come through West Liberty in 1855. In the horse-and-buggy days, many people from nearby towns availed themselves of special railroad rates to visit the fair. Hise House (the present Moylan hotel) did a thriving business and offered patrons free carriage service to the grounds.

    Improvements were begun immediately on the new grounds, a good premium list was prepared, and a fine …

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Picture: FAST HORSES ON A FAST TRACK - Many outstanding harness horses raced on the West Liberty Fairgrounds half mile track.

… race track was made. These still stand out as marks of achievement.

    In 1874, the West Liberty Park Association was formed, with the object of “purchasing, holding and improving a certain tract of land used by the Union District Agricultural Society.” The amount of capital involved in the purchase was not to exceed $3500. The park fund was raised by subscription, with each subscriber receiving shares of stock. The Park Association still owns the land and leases it to the Union District Agricultural Society. All the buildings and improvements are owned by the Society.

    From the very first, the officials of the U. D. A. S. have striven to make the fair an asset to the community. Down through the years they have tried to build for the future, prepare good premium lists, and keep a good track.

    A good track is a requisite for good racing, and at this fair unusual interest has always been centered on horse-racing. Back in the early 1850’s, when the fair was held on the Moses Butler farm, the only track was the big road, but it served the purpose. On memorable horse was Bowersocks’s old yellow mare, Old Jane, the mother of Wapsie. Although she had been working on the plow or threshing machine all week, she met all comers in the pacing race, doing a three minute slip down the road, even while pulling a heavy buggy.

    When the Society had its first race track at the old north grounds, such horses as "Sis Ady", a nice showy mare, and “Old Bob” from Iowa City, were added to the speed attractions. “Old Bob” was a nondescript “bag of bones” with a hitching goat. His owner drove him to a big-wheeled sulky and urged him on by wielding over him a closed umbrella. This region did not have a trotter whose dust “Bob” had to take. Poor Old Bob! After his last race, his driver started home with him, driving him to his sulky. The horse stumbled and fell-never to rise again.

    Then, there was John Wilson’s “Billy Button”; John Taylor’s “Old Rocky Mountain”; both pacers; and “Starlight,” that famous horse of mixed breeding, which took more premiums than other horses shown at the fair.

    The story is told that some old-timers recall a fair at the old north grounds, when some young ladies rode horses in a race. One young lady rode astride, and shocked the Quakers in the community.

    In the early days there was a great deal of interest in horse-breeding. Among the early breeders, living in this vicinity, was Amos Kimberly, who owned and bred many …

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… race horses on his 1000 acre farm. He built a large kite-shaped track where he trained and exercised his horses, the most famous of which was a Kentucky cold named “Bezant.” This horse was later sold at a price of $50,000. Then there was George Pickering’s “Gamelion,” George Baldwin’s “Brown Cedar” and “Medora.” Asa Bowersock owned “Bashow” and Wapsie.” “Wapsie” isred “Senator N,” the latter being owned by Amos and Albert Whitacre. “Senator N” was named after Senator Pliny Nichols, and developed amazing speed as a three year old. Other fine horses who made their names known at our fair were “Start-Away,” “Chichester,” “Luellen,” “General Grant” and “Jim Lane.”

    There may be some older citizens who will remember the race at the fair when it took six heats to win a race. There were quite a number of entries in the race, including “Medora” and “Luellen.” The race continued so …

… long that the folks in the grandstand had to light matches to tell what time it was. The finish of the race finally had to be postponed until the next day.

     “Senator N” was probably the peer of all horses from the vicinity. He was a noted trotter and breeder, beloved by everyone for the beauty of his conformation, the docility of his temperament, and the honesty of his track work. This fine horse was foaled in 1881, and he made his first appearance on the West Liberty track in 1884. In his 30th year he was driven an exhibition mile on the West Liberty track, with the Albert Whitacre up. The horse lived to be 34 ½ years old.

    A veteran driver in races at the West Liberty track was William “Dutch” Sullivan, who was born and raised within a block of the West Liberty track. He began driving horses at the age of 15 and give years later began driving regularly in the fair races. He took part in the racing program every year for over 40 year.

    One of the most outstanding drivers and trainers in the middle-west was Chet Kelly, who came to West Liberty in 1914, and for twelve years maintained training quarters at the Fairgrounds. He developed many of this section’s finest horses. All of his work was in this field, and he was recognized as one of the best trainers in the country. He rarely drove a horse that did not finish in the money. Among the many horses developed during his time in West Liberty, perhaps none was better known than “Sure Mike,” owned by Oscar Morris and Mr. Kelly. “Sure Mike’ started in 66 races, won 46 firsts and finished out of the money but twice.

    Both Mr. Kelly and Mr. Sullivan called the West Liberty track the best in the State of Iowa, outside of Des Moines.

    Another veteran connected with horseracing in West Liberty was P. N. Gibson, who for 25 years served as starter of the races for which this fair was always noted.

    The officials of the Society have always tried to provide fun for all at each fair. Many changes in type of entertainment have taken place during these 100 years, changes made only to conform with the progress and advancement of the years.

    In the early days, even as the exhibits were entirely of home-spun, home-made articles, so the entertainment was home talent. There were contests of strength. The trained ox teams of Collins and Mather Brothers exhibited their intelligence and strength, answering their driver’s every command, and straining and tugging at their monstrous loads. No less pleasing were the exhibits of intelligence shown by teams of horses in similar weight-pulling contests.

    Other entertainment at the fair in the old days were threshing contests, where rival machines and their crews vied with each other in their speed of threshing out and most grain in a given time, from loads of bundles hauled in from nearby fields. There were also plowing matches open to both men and boys. One year an 18 year old boy won first place over seven mature men. Later, trick donkeys were pleasing to the fair crowds as were the clown acts of James Connelly and Amos Whitacre. Ed Evans with his hay rack stunts was popular. On the mid-way, double-decked, steam merry-go-rounds provided a way for a young man to give his young lady a thrill. Often, the fair sex became sea-sick with the whirling. There were concessions in the mid-way, too, where the young men could try their skill at winning kewpie dolls for their lady friends.

    For many years in earlier times, baseball games in the quarter-stretch provided entertainment for those with an interest in athletics. West Liberty teams engaged with teams from neighboring towns in many a hard-fought contest.

    Also, typical of the old days were family picnics. There were a few food stands on the grounds, but, at noon, hundreds of tablecloths were spread on the ground, and members of families began to straggle back to the family vehicle, coming from all corners of the grounds, to eat the goodies that mother had prepared and packed that morning.

    Today, some patrons of the fair still cling to the traditional family picnic, but, for many years, restaurants on the grounds have done a thriving business. Local organi- …

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Pictures: FIREMEN’S COMPETITION - In early years Fire Departments brought their trained horses and fast horse cart teams to complete against other companies present. This was a thrilling part of the Fair for many years.

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… zations have found that feeding fair crowds is a profitable business.

    Yes there have been man changes. IN the beginning the fair was held for only two days; it was increased to a three-day fair in 1865; became a four-day fair in 1890; and in 1917 a night show as added. Prior to 1916, the fair closed each day at dusk, but the patrons could find night-time entertainment in town. It was customary for Stock Companies to provide fine dramatic presentations during fair week. These companies played at the “Rink” (building now housing the Snider and Peters business establishments) until the Opera House (Strand Theater) was built.

    Since 1916, it has been the desire of the Society to procure the finest of vaudeville acts to appear each day on both the afternoon and evening programs.

    Our Nation has been engaged in four major wars during the existence of this Society. The first fair, in 1863, was held during the trying days of the Civil War. There was indecision about holding a fair in 1918 (World War I), and again in 1942 (World War II), but the Society carried on in spite of shortages on the home front. Nor were plans for a fair abandoned during the Korean War (1950-53).

    Many may remember the fair of 1918. Boys from this vicinity were fighting in trenches in France. At home, patriotism was running high, and that patriotism was much in evidence at the fair. The cakes that year were required to be a patriotic nature. The old-time cakes, rich in butter, flour and frosting, gave way to creations of substitutes. That year the lesser premiums were paid in Thrift Stamps, an idea which resulted very favorably in the War Savings Campaign.

    An item in the Index, prior to the air of 1918, advised the people of other changes to be expected; “At the fair this year, the old-fashioned lunch basket will be coming back. ON the grounds this year there will be found no restaurants serving full, old-fashioned meals. There are too many restrictions on foodstuffs. As for drink, there will be plenty of good, plain water. The old stand-by, pop, will be mighty scarce, and unless you can take your lemonade straight, without sugar, you’d better not have your mouth set for it. Sugar restrictions have hit the pop game hard, and the use of sugar for lemonade is absolutely not to be considered. Ice cream may be available in limited amounts.”

    Gas rationing and food shortages posed a similar problem during World War II. Again the fair was held in 1942, and the attendance hit 10,000.

    No matter what obstacles have arising, or what changes have been deemed necessary for the success of the fair through the years, there have always been men and women of the community who have come forward to lead and serve the Society.

    Women have always been an asset to the enterprise. As far back as 1875, such names as Mesdames Amos Kimberly, S. S. Gause, Steven Chase, E. H. Dillingham, S. W. Jacobs, A. Fulton, A. B. Cornwall, and Henry Mosher, stand out. These women were called upon many times and always served willingly. Many more women have served the fair through the years but the list is too long to name here. Suffice it to say that the women’s departments have always been in capable hands.

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Now Junior Department

     The first week with boys began in 1916. The work was started with an acre corn project. IN the fall of 1916, a baby beef club was organized with 15 boys entered. The following boys were in the baby beef program:

    Archie Braun, Harry Braun, Roy Braun, Dean Dodder, Cloyce H. Downer, Maynard Eckhardt, Frank Feldhahn, Carl R. Griffin, Albert Kemper, Thomas Gray McClean, Adolph C. Rang, J. M. Schafer, Ivan Wold, Hillis R. Phillips, and Chas Gray.

    The boys fed their calves, kept records and had a beef club tour.

    The first exhibiting of Junior projects in boys’ work began in 1918 at the West Liberty Fair. There were 9 …

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Picture: AUTOMOBILES REPLACE THE BUGGIES - The automobile played an important part in the growth of the West Liberty Fair. Families could travel to the Fair much easier, stay later and attend more days.

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Picture: Winners in one of the first Junior Department shows at the West Liberty Fair.

… entires in the baby beef club show that year. They were as follows:

    Adolph Range, Roy Braun, Albert Kemper, Harry Braun, Dean Dodder, Archie Braun, John Schafer, Carl Griffin, and Maynard Eckhardt.

    Also pig club work began in 1918 and was exhibited at the West Liberty Fair.

    The beginning of 4-H club was organized by project clubs rather than by area clubs as we now have it. There were the Baby Beef Club, the Pig Club and Acre Corn Contest.

    The West Liberty Fair also held a judging contest for boys. The boys making up the judging team for state competition were Harold Wiggers, Raymond Satterthwaite, Harold Holmes, Ray Braun and Willie Adams.

    Girls’ 4-H club work was started in 1920. There were three clubs organized. They were the “Cheese Club” and “Garment Club” in Wapsie and Goshen Township and the “Own Your Own Room” Club in Bloomington Township. There were 43 members in Girls’ 4-H that year.

    In 1921 there were 10 girls’ clothing clubs organized with 157 members. The members made 630 garments and 13 household articles.

    In more recent years, some men’s names stand out distinctly for their contributions to the success of the Fair. W. H. Shipman, Secretary for twenty-five years, was probably the best known Secretary in the state, in his day. Another outstanding contributor was the late Grant Nichols. For many years he provided the music for the Fair, and his experience with the band of Ringling Brother’s Circus made him a valuable man, especially when it came to providing accompaniment for the free attractions.

    The late Senator J. I. Nicholas was the father of the 4-H Club work in this area, and he was ably assisted by the late W. P. Nicholas. Baby beeves were their specialty. In 1916 these men worked with County Agent J. W. Merrill to start boys’ club work in corn-growing and baby pork projects. Baby beef work was started in 1917, and in 1918 nine calves were shown at the West Liberty Fair, with $225 in prize money offered in the various classes. (Adolp Range’s Angus steer with the sweepstakes winner, and went on to place 12th at the State Fair.)

    The winners in the 1918 Baby Beef Contest were: Class One—Best Kept Records: 1st, Carl Griffin, Letts; 2nd, Adolph Range, West Liberty, and Archie Braun, Nichols. Placings on individual animals were: 1st, Adolph Rabge; 2nd, Roy Braun; 3rd, Albert Kemper; 4th, Harry Braun. Class Two winners were Wayne Probst, West Liberty, 1st, and Leo Tucker, Springdale, 2nd, in both Best Kept Records and on Baby Beeves.

    In 1920 there were 28 baby beeves, 56 pigs and 15 lambs shown at the Fair. The interest and number of entries have mounted steadily since club work began.

    In 1961 there were 197 baby beeves, 58 beef heifers, 67 dairy heifers, 199 pigs, 67 sheep, 19 entomology and wood working, 10 rabbits, 18 field crops.

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Advertisement from the Muscatine Journal

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Girls 4-H History

    In that same year, 1920, the first Girls’ 4-H Club was organized here, and the girls worked on a clothing project. At today’s Fairs, the 4-H building on the northwest part of the grounds is a very busy place. The girls’ projects run the whole gamut of activities included in modern homemaking, from cooking and sewing to refinishing furniture and interior decorating. In 1961 there from 790 entries with furniture refinishing, the major project in 4-H classes with 225 entries in the Junior division.

    The Fair has meant much to 4-H Club work. It has provided an opportunity for the young people to exhibit their projects publicly. One might compare the Fair to the final examination at the close of the school year. It is the day of judgment, when one club member has his or her efforts rated against the work of fellow members. For the majority of club members the West Liberty is the end of the year’s projects, and he climax to a year of 4-H Club work. Others go on from West Liberty to compare their projects at the State Fair and the International where competition gets tougher.

    Likewise, boys’ and girls’ 4-H Club work has been of great value to the West Liberty Fair. Interest in club work has brought more people to the fairs, and given them an opportunity to observe how young people are trained for the problems of the day, so that they will be better able to meet the challenges of agriculture and homemaking of tomorrow.

    There remains one more than to whom special recognition is due for his contributions to the success of this Fair. That man was the late Ivan Noland, who, every year for over 55 years, was a familiar figure in the Secretary’s office at the Fair. Although he would never accept an office, he was an able assistant and advisor. He worked diligently preparing and revising premium lists year after year, and keeping detailed records. To him belongs the credit for much of the information found in this history. He first became interested in the Fair in 1906, and served continuously in some capacity until his death in 1961. Up to the time of his last illness he was looking ahead, working and helping to plan for his centennial observance. He did not live quite long enough to take part in the celebration. His absence will be felt, and the memory of his loyalty and service will not soon be forgotten. From the standpoint of interest and years of service, he was indeed “Mr. West Liberty Fair.”

    In 1960, the Society was reincorporated, and the name was changed from Union District Agricultural Society to the “West Liberty Fair,” Muscatine County. Since it is the only Fair still in existence in the county, it is really the Muscatine County Fair, and without financial aid form the county, the Fair would have a hard time. Men from all over the county have rendered valuable service, through the years. Harry McKee, Ernest Hoopes, Arlie Kennedy and James Shepard, all of Muscatine, are currently serving the Board of Managers.

    Also, in 1960, another change was deemed necessary to keep pace with the times. The Board voted to rebuild the track for auto racing, and at the Fair that year, harness racing was for the first time not a part of the afternoon programs.

    The current rack records on the West Liberty Track according to the Trotting and Pacing Guide are: PACE 2:06 by Brook King, trained and driven by M.L. Hogue of West Liberty. The horse is owned by Glen Bice of Galesburg, Illinois. The record was set August 27, 1959.

    The record TROT was 2:06 set in 1953 by Highland Sterling, driven by Clary.

    West Liberty is now affiliated with the Mississippi Valley Speed Club, and 8 or 9 races are held on the West Liberty tract each summer. The thrills and spills of jalopy racing are now a feature attraction at the Fair.

    There have been thrills on the grounds in the past two, the most spectacular incident occurring at the Fourth of July celebration in 1901. Carleton H. Myers, aged 12 years long with some other boys was watching the preparations for a balloon ascension and parachute leap. Unfortunately, Carleton was standing in a coil of rope when the balloon was unexpectedly released, and he was carried aloft, feet first. He was able to right himself, grasp a loop above the parachute, and cling for his life.

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Picture: Balloon Ascension 1901 with human cargo.

Meanwhile, the balloon ascended to a height of 1,500 feet and drifted three miles across country, finally landing some 20 minutes later in a corn field near the county line northeast of town. Carleton was shaken, but unhurt. Mary of the excited and horrified spectators jumped into their buggies and attempted to follow the course of the balloon and its human cargo to its destination.

    The Fair crowds experienced a thrill the year and horse dropped dead during a race. Another year, a horse ran away, lost his driver, but continued racing the mile, and came in first. Many may remember, too, the time when the lights went off on the grounds during a storm, leaving a loaded ferris wheel stranded for an hour in the rain.

    These were just incidents, but memorable, nonetheless. Perhaps this Fair can lay no claim to monumental achievement, but its record can be pointed to with pride. In 100 years of existence, the Society has never defaulted in the payment of premiums, and has also tried to offer a clean exhibition, as free of objectionable features as possible. Gambling and the sale of liquor have always been banned on the grounds.

    In a continuous span of 100 years it has always operated in the black, being one of 21 Fairs out of 103 in the …

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… State to do so in 1960. The West Liberty Fair is one of only four in the State that accepts any entry (listed in the catalog) from any part of the country. It has the largest number of exhibitors of any County Fair in Iowa. In 1961 there were 1,521 head of livestock entered---with a total of 4,580 exhibitors. This is quite a contrast to the 188 entries of 1859. The total income of 1961 Fair was $56,969.12, and the total expense was $53,134.00.

    It has always been a policy of the Fair to issue no free admissions. The President, Directors and all help must buy tickets. If anyone has ever received a free ticket, someone else has paid for it.

    A look at some of the statistical records through years is testimony of the steady growth of the Society:

Paid Admissions  
1860 152
1906 6,821
1914 10,426
1923 13,751
1958 23,246
1961 37,475
Total Entries  
1859 188
1885 984
1898 1,655
1961 4,389

     From the crude stalls and tents of 100 years ago, the Society now owns buildings and equipment valued at $136,275.00, with a replacement value of $246,500.00. These buildings have 2.5 acres of roofing and 1.5 acres of siding. It takes 30 gallons of paint a year, and 600 gallons of roof tar to keep the buildings in good repair.

     More than a century has passed since that little band of pioneers planted the seed of this Society up there on the prairie, in 1852. That seed was transplanted in 1859 to Moses Butler’s barn moved to the banks of the Wapsie in 1863, and finally move d in 1872 to its present location, where it found congenial soil which to grow.

     Today, not the children, but the grandchildren, the great, and great, great grandchildren of those pioneers gather year after year to talk of days gone by—of achievement that has come—and the promises of the future for the West Liberty Fair, in the town of West Liberty, “The Center of Culture and Agriculture,” in the County of Muscatine, that peerless State, “Iowa the Beautiful.”

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Picture: Heavy machinery completely rebuilds banked tracks and lowers the midfield for better viewing.

Picture: Track nears completion.

Picture: The jalopies take over.

Picture: A packed amphitheater at the races.

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Page created February 9, 2019 by Lynn McCleary