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Agricultural Society

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa", Pages 425-431, published by the Western Historical Company of Chicago in 1879.



In the summer and fall of 1851, was inaugurated the first movement for the establishment of a County Fair. A notice was published in the Fairfield Ledger calling the citizens together at the Court House on the 24th of January, 1852. The meeting was called to order by appointing D. Rider, Chairman, and Caleb Baldwin, Secretary. Articles of Incorporation were drafted, which were recorded October 16, 1852. At this meeting, officers were elected: Benjamin Robinson, President; James Beatty, Vice President; Caleb Baldwin, Secretary; Charles Negus, Treasurer; W. P. Pearson, P. L. Huyett, D. C. Brown, David Switzer and L. T. Gillett, Managers.

The first premium-list was published April 17, 1853, with premiums offered amounting to $125, and the first fair appointed for the second Tuesday of October following. But little interest was manifested, and the sum total awarded in premiums amounted to $45. This sum was distributed as follows:

Best stallion, J. Fletcher, $5; second best, P. Cloffenstine, $3; best mare, W. D. Stephens, $3; second best, J. W. McCormick, $2; best two-year-old colt, B. Travis, $3; best jack, L. T. Gillett, $3; best milch cow, D. McLean, $3; second best, M. Ramsey, $2; best bull-calf, D. Mowry, $1; best boar, J. Gillett, $3; best butter, W. D. Stephens, $2; second best; S. S. Clapp, $1; best oats, J. Gillett, $3; second best, L. T. Gillett, $2; best tin and sheet-iron ware, T. Dare, $2; second best, J. W. Runnels, $1.

Other articles exhibited, for which no premiums had been offered, were honorably mentioned in the committee's report. "The specimens of apples exhibited by T. Duncanson were the finest ever exhibited in this county, and cannot be beaten anywhere in the State."

The weather during the first fair was inclement, and many who would have been exhibitors were kept away. The officers were not discouraged, however, and a fair for the next year was provided for on the 12th and 13th of October, with premiums offered amounting to $301. This fair was a marked improvement over the previous year, and premiums were awarded amounting to $274. The officers for 1853 were P. L. Huyett, President; J. W. Culbertson, Vice President; Charles Negus, Treasurer; Caleb Baldwin, Secretary; H. B. Mitchell, James Beatty, Robert McCord, D. Switzer and B. B. Tuttle, Managers.

In 1854, Dr. J. M. Shaffer was elected Secretary, which office he continued to hold for the next ten years, when his duties as Secretary of State society rendered a successor necessary.

In 1856, the fair was held on the Society's own grounds, ten acres for which had been purchased of J. M. Slagle, southeast of Fairfield. At this fair, premiums were awarded to T. J. Hill on large yield of corn -- 144 bushels to the acre; L. T. Gillett, 560 bushels Irish potatoes per acre; J. A. Galliher, 440 bushels sweet potatoes to the acre; David Mowery, 160 bushels of corn to the acre, and Jerome Parsons, 47 bushels fall wheat per acre.

In 1861, the constitution of the Society had been amended so as to have a Director in each township of the county, and, in 1866, the Directors decided upon erecting a fine-art hall and fitting up the grounds in a creditable manner. The cost was estimated and divided among the different townships, $300 being apportioned to Fairfield, and $50 to each of the eleven remaining townships. The hopes of the Society were not realized. The sums collected were as follows: Fairfield, $270.50; Liberty, $10.50; Black Hawk, $8.50; Cedar, $3; Des Moines, $22; Penn, $10; total, $324.50. Walnut, Polk, Locust Grove, Buchanan, Lockridge, Round Prairie, did not respond. In the mean time the Directors, having faith in the support of the different townships, had began (sic) a fine-art hall 36x60 feet and other improvements, which could not be left unfinished, and they were completed at a cost of over $1,000. The fair of 1866 was a greater success than any previous exhibition, and the excess of receipts over expenses and premiums was applied, but the close of 1866 found the Society $687 in debt.

H. N. Moore succeeded Dr. Shaffer as Secretary in 1864, but held the office only one year. He was succeeded by John R. Shaffer, who resigned in 1874, having been elected to succeed Dr. J. M. Shaffer, as Secretary of the State Society.

In the year 1870, a trade was made by the Society with Dr. Steele for forty acres of land two and a half miles north of Fairfield, in which he accepted in part payment the ten acres owned by the Society since 1856.

This purchase was thought to be too far from town, and the Directors hesitated to make the improvements necessary for its occupancy as a fair-ground. In 1872, another trade was made with David Alter for twenty-five acres from the southwest quarter of his farm, the new purchase being but one and a quarter mile from the city limits. The price paid was $2,500. Alter received in payment the land purchased of Steele at $30 per acre, in all $1,200, and the Society's three notes for $433.33 each, payable January 1, 1873, 1874 and 1875, secured by mortgage on the land sold to the Society.

The Directors proceeded at once to erect suitable buildings and track which were completed in a substantial and permanent manner, but when finished they found themselves in debt some $7,000. About this time, the stringency in financial affairs began to be felt. The Society was unable to meet its obligations and its grounds were sold under foreclosure of mortgage. A fair was held in 1875, but in 1876 and 1877, it was not thought advisable to make the attempt. The present year, 1878, it was determined to make an effort to reorganize, and a successful exhibition was the result. The grounds, which remain as when sold under the mortgage, are beautifully located and admirably fitted up and there is no doubt but the Society will regain possession, and, with an improvised condition of affairs, will again be in successful operation.


The Iowa State Agricultural Society, which has just held its twenty-fifth annual exhibition, was born in Jefferson County, and, belonging to the county history, it is but proper that its origin should be mentioned in this connection.

At the meeting of the Board of Directors of the Jefferson County Agricultural Society, held October 13, 1853, it was, on motion of C. W. Slagle,

Resolved, That the officers of the Society be instructed to take immediate steps to effect the organization of a State Agricultural Society, and that the officers use their influence to have said Society hold its first annual exhibition at Fairfield in October, 1854.

The following persons at that time constituted said officers: P. L. Huyett, President; Caleb Baldwin, Vice President; J. M. Shaffer, Secretary.

Charles Negus, Joseph Fill, John Andrews, Jacob Ramey, William S. Lynch and James Beatty.

The above committee reported at the regular meeting of the Board of Directors held November 26, 1853.

The following circular letter embodies their report. This was made up by a subcommittee consisting of P. L. Huyett, Caleb Baldwin and J. M. Shaffer.

The undersigned, appointed a committee of the Jefferson County Agricultural Society to confer with the different agricultural societies in the State of Iowa, for the purpose of organizing a State Agricultural Society, respectfully invite your Society to be represented by delegates -- nine in number -- to meet at Fairfield, Jefferson County, on December 28, 1853, to confer with delegates from the other county societies.

You are earnestly solicited to be present, that the immediate organization of a State Society may be completed, and that the time and place of holding our first State fair may be determined upon. Associations not notified through their officers are also invited to be represented. Papers throughout the State favorable to the organization of such an association will please copy the above notice.

P. L. Huyett,
C. Baldwin,
J. M. Shaffer, Committee.

Pursuant to this call, a number of delegates met at the Court House in Fairfield. D. P. Inskeep, of Wapello, was called to the chair, and D. Sheward, of Jefferson, appointed Secretary.

The credentials of delegates showed a representation from five counties -- Henry, Jefferson, Lee, Van Buren and Wapello.

Communications from Scott and Muscatine were read, and also one from Hon. James W. Grimes, of Des Moines County; after which, on motion, a committee of one from each county society represented was appointed to draft a Constitution and By-Laws.

The committee was as follows: Thomas Sivetor, Henry County; P. L. Huyett, Jefferson County; Josiah Hinkle, Lee County; Timothy Day, Van Buren County; J. W. Frazier, Henry County, with J. M. Shaffer, Secretary of Committee. (ed. note: one of the Henry County people should be from Wapello County instead)

The Constitution reported and adopted provides that "The style of the Society shall be 'The Iowa State Agricultural Society,'" and its object the promotion of agriculture, horticulture, manufactures, mechanics and household arts. Any citizen of the State became a member by payment of not less than $1 on subscribing and $1 annually thereafter.

The officers to consist of a President, Vice President and three Directors from each county society, who together constituted a Board of Control.

The committee suggested Fairfield as the most suitable place for holding the first annual fair, and proceeded to the election of officers, which resulted as follows:

President, Thomas W. Clagett, Lee County; Vice President, D. P. Inskeep, Wapello County; Recording Secretary, J. M. Shaffer, Jefferson County; Corresponding Secretary, C. W. Slagle, Jefferson County; Treasurer, W. B. Chamberlin, Des Moines County.

Also three Managers from each of the following county societies: Lee, Van Buren, Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Mahaska, Polk, Des Moines, Louisa, Muscatine, Dubuque, Johnson and Scott.

On motion of Mr. Sheward, a committee of five was appointed to memorialize the General Assembly of the State of Iowa, praying for the passage of a bill rendering pecuniary aid to the furtherance of a permanent establishment of a State Agricultural Society in this State.

On motion, it was resolved to hold the first annual fair at Fairfield, Wednesday, October 25, 1854.

A paper being prepared, the following agreed to become members of the Iowa State Agricultural Society:

Charles Negus, J. M. Shaffer, D. P. Inskeep, Aaron Lapham, J. W. Frazier, Josiah Hinkle, J. T. Gibson, Stephen Frazier, Evan Marshall, Thomas Siveter, John Andrews, B. B. Tuttle, Eli Williams, P. L. Huyett.

The newly-elected officers went to work with enthusasm to prepare for the coming exhibition. Early in February, 1854, Judge Clagett, the President, issued a stirring address to the farmers of Iowa, which was followed in April by one from Secretary Shaffer, in which the officers were requested to meet in Fairfield on Tuesday, June 6, to arrange a list of premiums. The premium-list prepared at this meeting was small compared with the present abilities of the Society, amounting to $1,171. It was but natural that in preparing the first premium-list there should be many omissions. "Louisa" having complained in the Iowa Farmer that no award was offered for female equestrianship, President Clagett replied in the same paper:

I can assure your fair correspendent "Louisa," that the cause of her complaint was not overlooked by the officers of the society in making out the list of premiums, but we were afraid that our funds might be insufficient for the purpose. My gallantry, however, will not permit her appeals to go unanswered; consequently, I have directed a premium to be offered at my own expense, of a fine gold watch, to the boldest and most graceful female equestrienne who shall enter the list, each lady to be accompanied by a cavalier. The premium to be awarded under the direction of a committee composed of ladies and gentlemen.

Now, come on, Miss "Louisa," with all your female friends, as this is to be a fair test of superior horsemanship among the ladies of Iowa. There must be no backing out now, as the banter is accepted and the watch will be ready for delivery to the fair winner.

T. W. Clagett, President.

Caleb Baldwin, J. M. Shaffer, B. B. Tuttle, D. Sheward and J. M. Slagle were appointed a committee to prepare the grounds for the coming fair.

They secured six acres of ground adjoining the town, on land owned by Gage, now occupied by the Chicago & Rock Island depot, which they inclosed with "a substantial straight rail fence ten feet high," erected sheds and stalls upon all sides of the inclosure and sixty rail pens for sheep, hogs, etc. A track 1,500 feet in length and 20 feet wide was prepared, with a rope guard around the same. The amount expended for lumber, canvas, rails, labor, etc., was $322.20. The Secretary had received up to this time for membership fees $62, which was turned over to the committee, who borrowed $220 additional, to paid immediately after the close of the fair. The admission price was fixed at 25 cents for each visitor each day. Members of the Society and their families, except males over twenty-one, admitted free.

Such is a brief sketch of the primitive origin of the society. There were many difficulties to contend with. Predictions of failure were heard in every direction; but with all these embarrassments, with all these unfavorable auspices, with such discouraging coldness and indifference, the management looked foward to the fair day -- the final test of their labors -- with fear and alternate hope.

Too much praise cannot be said of the untiring energy and laborious attention of Judge Clagett, the President, nor to Messrs. Baldwin, Tuttle and Shaffer, the committee to procure and arrange grounds suitable for the exhibition. Without a dollar in the treasury, without the assurance of assistance, with the very doubtful credit of the Society, they prepared a place for the fair, as ample, convenient and comfortable as could be expected.

For some weeks previous, in common with many other parts of the United States, this region suffered a severe drought; a scarcity of water was anticipated, but, on Saturday before the fair, copious rains fell which filled up the wells and furnished an abundant supply of water. The weather during the whole exhibition was most delightful; every one, even the disappointed competitors, seemed cheerful; good feeling and harmony prevailed; no profanity shocked the sensibilities of those present; sobriety, decorum and good order marked the entire assembly.

From the list of premiums awarded, we note some of the successful competitors from Jefferson County, mentioning only those who carried off first premium: On cattle, P. L. Huyett, Moses Dudley, J. R. Parsons. W. B. Rowland exhibited the best through-bred stallion; William Pitkin, the best brood-mare and colt, in draught animals, and W. S. Lynch, same in horses of all work.

At that time very little attention was given to the breeding of mules, and the show in that class was meager. It was stated by an extensive dealer that at that time there was not a first-rate jack in Iowa. The best span of mules on exhibition was from Lewis County, Mo.

John Andrews was awarded first premium on long-wooled, and T. M. Finch for fine-wooled, sheep. Joseph Dale owned the best brood-sow.

The display of choice poultry was creditable. John W. Dubois, George Acheson and P. L. Huyett were the principal exhibitors. James M. Slagle was the best harness-maker, and J. Throckmorton excelled on boots.

In the departments of household manufacture, pantry stores, etc., the good housewives of Jefferson County were highly honored. Mrs. L. F. Boerstler was first on butter, fine white hose, preseves, apple and peach butter and jelly; Mrs. D. McLean, best mixed full cloth; Mrs. P. L. Huyett, best fringed mittens and pickles; Mrs. G. W. Sinclair, best rag carpet; Miss S. L. Boerstler excelled in ornamental needle-work, and Miss Wheeler in plain needle-work. Mrs. Caleb Baldwin baked the best pound-cake. Alex. Fulton exhibited the best fall wheat in 1854, and has maintained his reputation down to the present time. P. L. Huyett was awarded $5 for the best ham. E. O. Stanard, then of Van Buren County, but now a distinguished citizen of St. Louis and ex-Lieutenant Governor of Missouri, was one of the committee.

In those days, the people had little opportunity to cultivate the fine arts, but Miss Jane Funk earned the $1 award for best floral painting. Dr. J. M. Shaffer had, at that early day, laid the foundation for his present extensive collection in natural history, and was awarded first premium for best collection of snakes.

A prominent feature of this exhibition was a 360-pound cheese presented to Hon. James W. Grimes by certain citizens of Lee County.

The contest for the prize in female equestrianism was not concluded until the last day of the fair. The contestants were: Miss Eliza Jane Hodges, Johnson County; Miss Emma Porter, Henry County; Mrs. Louisa Parks, Lee County; Mrs. Green, Lee County; Mrs. Ann Eckert, Jefferson County; Miss Kate B. Pope, Henry County; Miss Belle Turner, Lee County; Miss Maria Minton, Van Buren County, and Misses H. and Cynthia Ball, of Jefferson County.

The order of riding was as follows: A lady to ride once around the circle with a cavalier at her side; the second time, the cavalier to ride around at some distance from the ring, then the lady four times around. Each lady was known by a ribbon of a particular color. After each lady had completed the exercise, all were called in front of the stand. Gen. Morgan, Chairman of the Committee, then addressed them in the following language:

Ladies: It affords me great pleasure to express to you assurances of the unqualified admiration of the committee, and of the entire association, for the elegant and triumphant manner in which you have each and all acquitted yourselves on this occasion. Your performances, while novel in character, have been eminently gratifying to the thousands whose good fortune it has been to witness them -- performances which we shall remember -- as among the most pleasing reminiscences of the past, and to which you may ever recur with feelings of just pride. You have, by your courage and skill, added a new and brilliant wreath to the brow of beauty which already adorns our State, and at the same time won for yourselves a most honorable distinction and a most enviable applause. When there is so much to challenge admiration, it is, of course, difficult to decide. The committee, in the delicate duty assigned them, feel the force of this embarrassment. You have had your trial, ladies; ours is about to commence. Congratulating you once more on the beauty and excellence of your achievements, we beg you to be assured that we shall seek through the utmost impartiality to arrive at a proper judgemnt (sic).

The whole troop then rode slowly around the circle during the decision of the committee. All were again brought to the stand, and the prize awarded to Miss Belle Turner, of Lee County. Judge Clagett, with his usual liberality, then presented each lady with a gold ring.

This decision was not received with satisfaction by a large portion of the audience, and we quote from the Fairfield Ledger of November 2, 1854:

The great attraction of the day was the female equestrianism, which came off at 2 o'clock in the afternoon of the second day and at 10 o'clock A. M. of the third day. The prize was a gold watch, valued at $100, and ten ladies, accompanied by their cavaliers, entered the list to contend for it. The number of persons who were present to witness this attractive feature of the fair was immense. The committee awarded the prize to a Miss Turner, of Keokuk, much to the disappointment of the people, who were decidedly in favor of awarding it to Miss Eliza Jane Hodges, "the Iowa City girl," and we were one of the people.

We had intended saying something about how they were dressed, but so soon as we learned how the prize was awarded, we were so "put out" that we had no inclination to note their dress, and forgot every thing else but the "Iowa City girl." In our humble opinion, Mrs. John Eckert, the lady dressed in blue, was decidedly the most graceful rider on the ground. When the award was made known, the people set about it and made up a purse of $165 for Miss Eliza J. Hodges, and some other presents, and further made provisions for her attendance, free of all charge, for three terms at the Female Seminary at this place and one term at the seminary at Mt. Pleasant, all of which she gratefully accepted, as a sensible girl would -- particularly the educational portion. Miss Hodges is quite young, being but thirteen or fourteen years of age; but she certainly displayed the best horsemanship we ever saw displayed by any female. The bold manner in which she fearlessly galloped around the inclosure was intensely exciting. The Marshals could not keep the people from showing their approbation in loud shouts. Miss Kate B. Pope was there. We know Kate to be a fine rider, but she rode a miserable back for a horse; she did well, however. We suppose the committee, in awarding the prize, acted conscientiously, but there was a large majority of the people against them; and we want it distinctly understood that we were one of them.

In his report after the close of the fair, Dr. Shaffer, the Treasurer, pro tem., has to say that "owing to the very irregular manner in which the money was handed him, he is unable to make a perfectly accurate return of the receipts," but they amounted to not less than $1,000, about $50 of which was counterfeit or other worthless money. At any rate, they had enough to pay all expenses and premiums, and what more did they care for at the first fair? Its success was beyond their most sanguine expectations. They had a gloriously good time and everybody was happy.

The opening address was delivered by George C. Dixon, of Keokuk.

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