Muscatine County, Iowa

1863 - 1962

Transcribed by Lynn McCleary
Page 23

    The West Liberty Drivers’ Park Association, as it was originally known, has always been closely associated with the Fair in West Liberty, and the cooperation between the two groups has been a definite factor in the success of the Fair.

     The Park Association was organized in 1874, the object of the incorporation being “to purchase, hold, and improve a certain tract of land used by the Union District Agricultural Society as a Fairgrounds – the amount of capital not to exceed $3,500.00.” The money was raised by subscription, with each subscriber receiving shares of stock. A total of sixty-two shares was issued to thirty investors.

     Charter members of the Park Association were:

J. M. Ball A. E. Keith
C. S. Barclay Anos Kimberley
S. A. Barnes Z. N. King
Thomas Birkett R. G. Lewis
George Chase T. C. Manfield
J. A. Deemer George Morgridge
Zed Ellyson John Miller
J. A. Evans C. M. Nichols
W. C. Evans Ira Nichols
J. M. Fisher Phineas Nichols
E. P. French Pliny Nichols
Thomas Gray J. M. Purvis
Niles Greeg George Shipman
Ed Harrison D. A. Smeltzer
R. C. Jewitt Jim Webb

     Phineas Nichols was selected the first president of the Park Association, and George Morgridge served as the first secretary.

     Immediately upon purchase of the land one block south of the railroad track, the Park Association began improving the grounds. Workers were employed to cut the brush, thorn and crabapple trees, sow timothy and clover seed, and improve the track.

     In the early years the Park Association rented the grounds to the Union District Agricultural Society for only a few weeks each year. The rest of the year the land was rented for various purposes. The hay crop was sold annually to the highest bidder; part of the grounds was rented as pasture; the stalls on the grounds were rented to trainers and the tack made available to them.

     In 1895, the Park Association granted a pavilion company the privilege of building a sales pavilion on the grounds. The Park Association took $50.00 worth of stock in the company and received 40% of the hog and sheep sales, and 50% of all other sales.

     The Fairgrounds has always been a convenient and pleasant picnic site for organizations and families. The annual reunion of the Nichols Family has become practically an institution. The records show that their first picnic was held on the grounds in 1899 and has been held each year since then. A small rental fee has always been charged for the use of any building for such purposes.

     In 1914, the Park Association gave serious consideration to making the Fairgrounds into a public park but the idea was abandoned.

     Through the years, he Fairgrounds has been used for a variety of activities, in addition to the annual Fair. In the early 1800’s the local high school introduced football as a part of its athletic program, and the Park Association donated the use of the quarterstretch as a gridiron. The late Moray Eby was one of the early (if not the first) football coaches. The first football team in West Liberty included: Louie McCaw, Raymond Aikins, J. E. Kimball, …

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Picture: A large crowd at an early year fair.

… Harold (Happy) Smith, Alphous Randall, Amos Wilson, Charlie Romaine (linemen), and Porter Black, Ira Lambing, Pliny Nichols, and George Wilkinson (backfield).

     For almost fifty years the Fairgrounds was the only athletic field in West Liberty. In 1933 the gridiron in the quaterstretch was rebuilt by volunteer labor, and flood-lights were installed for night games. The first night game was played that year between West Liberty and New London. The following year the field was lighted for night kittenball games, which attracted large crowds during the summer months. The Fairgrounds was the scene of athletic events for the last time in 1949. In 1950, the West Liberty School System dedicated its fine new Memorial Athletic Field, located in the northwest part of town, and now the scene of all athletic events.

     During the 1920’s, part of the Fairgrounds was used as a Tourist Camp. In the summer of 1924 this camp was the scene of a horrible murder which made the headlines and shocked the community. Two tourists became involved in an argument which ended in violence and murder. A piece of gas pipe was identified as the murder weapon, and excitement and uneasiness reigned supreme until the killer, Gabe Simmons, was apprehended on August 1, 1924. He was later convicted and hung.

     In spite of this adverse publicity, the Tourist Camp continued to be a popular camp site. The records show that, in 1927, there were 325 cars, from many different states, registered as having stayed on the grounds. Later records show that the grounds were also used as a Trailer Camp, trailers being permitted to rent space for$1.00 a week.

     In former years the Fairgrounds provided an excellent site for large Fourth of July celebrations. The Cedar Valley Community sponsored horse racing meets on several occasions, and, of course, the older citizens of the community will recall the memorable balloon ascension of July 4th, 1901, when young Carleton Myers took his unexpected “flight into space.”

     In 1925, the Park Association, for the first time, voted to rent the Fairgrounds to the Union District Agricultural Society for the entire year for $375.00. Since then a long-term lease with the Park Association gives the Fair Board all privileges and complete jurisdiction over the grounds.

     On the occasion of the West Liberty Centennial Celebration in 1938, the Fairgrounds was used as the setting for an elaborate pageant. There were two performances, and crowds thronged to the amphitheater to witness this “Spectacular,” staged in the quarterstretch and on the track.

     Perhaps the most unique was to which the Fairgrounds was ever put occurred from July 18 to August 8 in 1943, when three hundred Italian prisoners of World War II were barracked on the grounds. They were brought here from a prison camp in Missouri to help de-tassel corn in this vicinity. The prisoners were housed under the amphitheater, while the Floral Hall and 4-H Building served as quarters for the one hundred U. S. soldiers who were assigned as guards. The prisoners were a cheerful lot on the whole, and often the air was filled with the sound of their singing, as they were transported by truck to and from the fields nearby. They made beautiful music until that fateful day when word came of the death of Mussolini. For a time following this news the prisoners became strangely silent. It was difficult to interpret from their reaction whether they were feeling sorrow, resentment, or relief.

     In recent years it has become the custom to hold the Memorial Day Services at the Fairgrounds, and the Girl Scouts find it a good place to hold their day camp in the summer.

     In 1960, the Fair Board voted to regrade the race track for auto racing, and West Liberty joined the Mississippi Valley Speed Club. Eight to twelve jalopy races are …

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Highlights of the Centennial West Liberty Fair, August 18 to 22, 1962

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Picture: FROM THE WATER TOWER – A view of the Fairgrounds taken from the city water tower many years ago.

… scheduled each summer and provide exciting entertainment for consistently large crowds. A small track was also built in the quaterstretch for go-carts. Young and old alike participate in these midget races.

     The Park Association was last incorporated in 1936, with the following twenty-nine members holding its sixty-two shares of stock:

Ethel Anderson (3) Irwin Mosher (1)
James S. Barclay (2) Lena Nichols (1)
Robert Barclay (1) Nellie Nichols (2)
James Birkett (2) Roxie Nichols (2)
Robert Brooke Est. (8) Wayne Nichols (1)
Robert Buckman (1) Ivan Noland Est. (2)
Harold Childs (1) F. M. Richards (1)
Myrtle Dice (2) Vaughan Sanders (2)
Ditmars, Kerr & Co (1) U. D. A. Socieety (14)
Emma Ditmars (1) Kenneth Wagner (1)
George Drahos (1) Willard watters (1)
Charles Mackey (2) L. A. Whitacre (2)
George Gordon (1) R. R. Wright (2)
Edith James (2) Ray Wuestenberg (1)
Harold Keele (1)  

Special Committees For 1962 Centennial Fair

The planning for the 1962 West Liberty Centennial Fair began many months ago when the specially named General Committee began work with the officers and directors of the West Liberty Fair in the development of the special features of the exposition. Members of the committee are Atty. Harold Keele (chm.), Albert Angerer, Mrs. James Birkett, Arthur Hudachek, Irwin Mosher and Mrs. G. William Smith. The history committee responsible for the writing of this book spent many hours in research for material telling the one-hundred-year story of the fair. Mrs. Wayne Irey was chairman of the committee and had as co-workers Mrs. Maude Koster, Mrs. Irma Morris, Mrs. James Birkett, Mrs. Preston Brown and Leonard Agnew. A big feature of the 1962 Fair will be the pageant. The pageant committee had given considerable time and thought working with the representatives of the Hal Garven Theatrical Co., Minneapolis, in developing the presentation. Harry Lewis is chairman of the committee with Joe Mauck, Mrs. Elmer Merridith and Mrs. Perry Bodie, the local directors. Many other committees each handling special features have been doing their part to make the 1962 Centennial Fair one which recalls the years gone by while anticipating those ahead.

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Page created February 11, 2019 by Lynn McCleary