Jefferson County Online
Early County Fairs

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa - A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement", Volume 1, Pages 253-257, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company of Chicago in 1912 (in 1914 according to some citations).




The development of the resources of the county was sought with an earnestness and an intensity now hard to measure. In encouragement of this desire, the first territorial Legislature, in 1839 "provided for the incorporation of agricultural societies," which were authorized to confer prizes solely on articles, animals, modes of husbandry and improvements of any kind connected with agriculture and domestic mechanism.

In 1842, the third territorial Legislature, anticipating Congress would provide a fund for the "promotion of agriculture and household manufactures" apportioned $1200 among the several counties, of which the share of Jefferson County was $60. Of this sum a local society was entitled to receive only an amount equal to its voluntary subscriptions, and then, if there were several societies, but pro rata. The design was to help those who help themselves. It was required, too, that premiums should have "especial reference to the net profits which accrue, or are likely to accrue, from the mode of raising the crops or stock, or the fabrication of the article," and that the successful competitor should deliver "a description of the process in preparing the soil, raising the crop, or feeding the animal," stating "the product of the crop or of increase in the valuation of the animal" in order to show accurately the profit.

In 1843, the fourth territorial Legislature perfected to some extent the form of such organizations and enlarged their scope to permit them to "offer premiums for the introduction or improvement of any breed of useful animals, or of any tools or implements of husbandry - or for introducing, raising and preserving any valuable trees or for the encouragement or advancement in any way of the several branches of agriculture or household manufactures." Legislation of such character, whether made use of or not, glimpses the laying of broad foundations for the future and bears the impress of the spirit of better things.

The fostering care of territory and state, as set out in the statutes, was long largely the expression of fervent hope. In Jefferson County, at least, it was not till (sic) 1851, probably in the fall, that the formation of an agricultural society was successfully mooted. On January 15, 1852, was published a call for a meeting at the courthouse on the 24th to effect an organization. It was signed by J. D. Stark, W. P. Pearson, W. B. Goodall, P. L. Huyett, G. G. McCormick, John Shuffleton, W. E. Groff, John T. Huey, David Switzer, Joseph Junkin, Jr., John Beall, John Park, George D. Temple, Ephram Bates, W. I. Cooper, Benjamin Milliken, Daniel Rider, Wm. Alston, Samuel S. Walker, Wm. Parr, C. W. Slagle, George Stever, Alexander Ramey, George Acheson, James M. Slagle, J. A. McKemey, M. B. Shamp, R. F. Ratcliff, F. H. Burroughs, Charles Negus, N. Steel, John Swope, D. C. Brown, James Williams, Samuel Walker, George Craine, Henry Stoner, John Snook, Wm. Baker, John W. DuBois, John Stuck, Orlando McCraney, Caleb Baldwin, A. R. Fulton, W. L. Hamilton, George W. Byrkit, Sawyer Robinson, James McFee and Moses Black.

Of this meeting Daniel Rider was chairman and Caleb Baldwin, secretary. The preparation of a "constitution and by-laws" was referred to P. L. Huyett, David Switzer and J. T. Huey. Their report was acceptable. The organization was styled "The Jefferson County Agricultural Society." The officers were the statutory number, namely, a president, vice president, a secretary, a treasurer, and five managers, all to constitute a board of directors. These positions were to be filled at once. Regular elections were afterward to take place on the second Wednesday of October annually, which day was also fixed as the time of the "Annual Fair." Membership dues were $1.00 payable before April 1st each year. Premiums were to be "awarded to articles of merit in the various departments of agriculture, mechanism and domestic economy." None but members could compete. Competitors in crops were required to have the ground accurately measured by two disinterested persons whose statements were to be properly verified. Awards were not to be made on less than one acre of corn and grain crops, nor on less than one quarter of an acre of a root crop, the produce to be weighed or measured according to the standards of the State of Iowa. Members whose dues were paid were to be admitted free to all exhibitions. All others for admission were to pay a charge fixed by the board. These, in brief, were the principal features.

Benjamin Robinson was chosen president; James Beatty, vice president; Caleb Baldwin, secretary; Charles Negus, treasurer, and W. P. Pearson, David C. Brown, P. L. Huyett, David Switzer and L. T. Gillett, managers.

The premium list, with total offerings of $125, was distributed in April.

The first "Annual Fair" was held on October 13th in E. S. Gage's barn and barnyard. These were located opposite the west end of Madison Street, which then terminated at the present intersection of West Broadway and North Fourth Street.

Its success was not as great as hoped for. In stock alone there was any material competition. The winners in this department were J. Fletcher, P. Cloffenstine, W. D. Stephens, J. W. McCormick, B. Travis, L. T. Gillett, H. B. Mitchell, M. Ramsey, D. Mowry and J. Gillett. W. D. Stephens and S. S. Clapp brought "butter;" J. Gillett and L. T. Gillett, "oats;" and T. Dare and J. W. Runnells, "tin and sheet iron ware." Forty-five dollars was the sum of all premiums awarded.

There were single exhibits in various classes which under the rules could obtain no awards. J. Throckmorton exhibited "a pair of boots;" J. M. Slagle "a double set of Yankee harness;" B. B. Tuttle, "a fanning mill;" Gray and Rea "a Manny's reaper and mower." All these were articles of local manufacture. Thomas Duncanson displayed a variety of fine apples. "Specimens of drawings" were shown by the Misses Walker and the Misses Stark.

In the manner of crops, W. D. Stephens submitted proofs of producing "14 tons of hay from three acres of ground," and Joseph Fell of producing "127 bushels of corn from one acre of ground."

At the annual meeting, P. L. Huyett was chosen for president; J. W. Culbertson for vice president; Caleb Baldwin for secretary; Charles Negus for treasurer, and H. B. Mitchell, Robert McCoid, James Beatty, D. Switzer and B. B. Tuttle for managers.

October 12 and 13, 1853, were the dates of the second "Annual Fair." Despite stormy weather, much interest was manifested. The opening day was devoted to poultry, stock and farm machinery. These were exhibited at Gage's barn. The second day's exhibition was at the courthouse. There were displayed fruits, preserves, jellies, cakes, needlework, samples of the skilful handiwork of women in the many things that add variety, comfort and attractiveness to home life. Not the least pleasant feature was the social opportunity.

There was an active competition in "corn crops." David Mowry carried off the honor for "the best two acres." The yield was not recorded. On a like acreage, Wm. Pope raised 206 bushels of corn, W. S. Lynch 222 bushels, and Joseph Fell 218 bushels. L. T. Gillett obtained 109 bushels of Irish potatoes from one-fourth of an acre and 54 bushels of sweet potatoes from one-eighth of an acre.

In all, out of $301 in offered premiums, $274 were awarded.

The officers selected at the annual meeting were P. L. Huyett for president, Caleb Baldwin for vice president, J. M. Shaffer, for secretary; Charles Negus for treasurer, and Joseph Andrews, Joseph Fell, Jacob Ramey, W. S. Lynch and James Beatty for managers.

The third "Annual Fair" was held on October 11 and 12, 1854, on the grounds secured for the first state fair which was to occur two weeks later. The daily admission fee was 15 cents for each person not a member.

There were many entries of cattle, horses, mules, sheep and swine. Either to stimulate interest or to advertise his stock, John Andrews of Penn Township in the summer had published "a banter" that at the coming fair he could and would exhibit "a six months' pig larger and in better condition than any other man in the county." He made his "banter" good.

There was a varied display of grain, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and "household manufactures." Except in fruit alone, it surpassed that of the previous exhibition.

Secretary Shaffer indicated surprise that "not a single crop of corn, rye, springwheat, flaxseed, etc., was entered." On "two acres of winter wheat," Alexander Fulton took both first place and second place. The affidavits showed the ground was rolling prairie, that it was broken up in June, 1853, sown on August 20th, in part to Gennessee white wheat and in part to Mediterranean wheat, and then harrowed three times. The yield by weight of the Gennessee was twenty-six bushels per acre and of the Miditerranean twenty-one bushels per acre. On "one-fourth acre of Irish potatoes," James A. Galliher took both first place and second place. The affidavits showed that he broke up and manured the ground in the fall, planted on the 1st day of may, plowed three times, hoed once and dug the crop the 1st day of October, obtaining 216 bushels of potatoes. On ground prepared in the same manner, thrown up in ridges, planted on the 1st day of May, and afterward hoed twice, he grew 456 bushels of sweet potatoes per acre.

The largest prize offered was for "the best farm." The judges Henry B. Mitchell and John Vanostrand, after a personal examination, awarded this to Friend John Andrews of Pleasant Plain Township. Their report probably paints a typical picture of the period. "His farm," they write, "consists of eighty acres in the prairie (known as Pleasant Plain Prairie), all of which is under good rail fence, with quite a quantity of young Osage Orange hedge in a thrifty condition. His farm is suitably divided into fields and lots; is so situated that stock can readily be watered from the wells on the place. About eighteen acres in grass; twenty in corn; the remainder in wheat, rye and oats, except that used for orchard, garden, barnyard, etc. His crops give evidence of superior cultivation; his buildings are conveniently arranged, and consist of a neat and commodious dwelling, a large and spacious barn, milk-house, smoke-house, hen-house, piggery, and carriage-house, workshop and shed for farming utensils, of which there was a large quantity in thorough repair, and well housed when not in use. Maure all saved and properly distributed over the farm. A fine thrifty young orchard of apples, pears, plums and cherries; a farm garden with every variety of fruit and vegetables adapted to this country. The front yard well laid down in grass, and interspersed with shrubs and flowers, find shade trees around the house, all in a clean and thriving condition."

Not quite three hundred dollars were distributed in premiums.

At the annual meeting Caleb Baldwin was elected president; John Andrews, vice president; J. M. Shaffer, secretary; Charles Negus, treasurer, and B. B. Tuttle, Benjamin Robinson, J. R. Parsons, W. S. Lynch and W. W. Reed, managers.

The fourth "Annual Fair" was held on October 3 and 4, 1855, to avoid a conflict with the dates of the state fair on grounds the society had purchased for a permanent home just without the southeast corner of the city.

There was a noticeable improvement in the character of the stock placed on exhibition. It was remarked that the introduction of blooded strains was beginning to show its effect.

There were vegetables in profusion. This was due to a favorable season for their growth. John Clinton brought a watermelon weighing thirty-three pounds and an Indiana squash measuring 5 feet in circumference. A gourd cucumber some 3 feet in length, brought by a Mr. Eastman, was outdone by another 4 feet in length brought by W. F. Campbell. Samuel Reed brought two turnips, each weighing over 8 pounds. One of them was 34 inches around. A beet brought by J. C. Rickey weighed ten pounds; another brought by Moses Dudley weighed eleven pounds.

There were a number of remarkable ears of corn. One belonging to John Clinton contained twenty rows of fifty-nine grains each, or 1,180 grains. It was 10 inches in length and 7 inches in circumference. One belonging to Bartley Travis contained 1,020 grains. It was 11 inches in length and 8 inches in circumference. An ear of white corn, belonging to Wm. Overturf, contained but 910 grains, although it was 15 inches in length and 8 inches in circumference. An ear of "the horse-tooth" variety, belonging to Samuel Robb, on the other hand contained 1,276 grains, although it was but 10 inches in length and 8 inches in circumference; another, belonging to Daniel B. Clapp, contained 1,044 grains and was 11 inches in length and 8 inches in curcumference. An ear of Inskeep corn, belonging to Thomas Moorman, contained 938 grains and was 13 inches in length. The growers asserted their fields held many more such ears.

For entertainment and instruction in natural history, there was a cabinet of reptiles and snakes collected by Dr. J. M. Shaffer and a cabinet of birds mounted by Mrs. Robert McElhinny.

A number of entries were made in the "crop contests." Decisions were rendered on these after the yields were determined. Of corn, David Mowry produced per acre 160 bushels; T. J. Hill, 144 bushels; Wm. S. Lynch, 122 bushels; and Moses Dudley, 113 3/8 bushels. Of fall wheat, Jerome Parsons grew 47 bushels per acre. Of Irish potatoes, L. T. Gillett raised 560 bushels per acre, Adam Stever 480 bushels per acre, Moses Dudley 314 bushels per acre, and J. A. Galliher, 300 bushels per acre. J. A. Galliher also raised 440 bushels of sweet potatoes per acre.

Some young men for amusement and excitement provided a lady's saddle and bridle and a riding hat and whip as prizes for a display of skill in horsemanship by young women. There were seven contestants: Miss Hannah Ball, Miss Bell Brown, Miss Lizzie Uttz, Miss Cynthia Ball, Miss Margaret Clark, Miss Mary McCauley and Miss Lizzie Minear. The first prize was given Miss Minear; the second was given Miss Brown.

A large portion of the premiums were donated to the society to aid in paying for the improvements. It had won regard and established a claim to existence.

Subsequent fairs, though differing in details, were much like those described. They were excellent or poor as the weather was favorable or unfavorable, as the seasons were fat or lean. Their value lay in furnishing a common social center, and in binding together the community as a whole. In this respect what they effected is inestimable.

This account may well close with a comparison drawn in 1857 by Dr. J. M. Shaffer to show what the soceity had accomplished since its organization. "At that time," that is, the beginning, "not quite $50 were awarded in premiums; now, nearly $500 are distributed. Five years ago, scarcely forty persons could be found, engaged in this enterprise; now, we enroll a membership closely approximating to five hundred. Five years ago, a small barnyard was amply sufficient to accommodate all the visitors and exhibitors of our County Fair; now, ten acres are not too large an area for its use. Five years ago, it was a difficult matter to collect $50, that the society might draw an equal sum from the state; now, we are allowed the full extent of the appropriation. Five years ago, it was a difficult matter to pay even a small premium list, and then only by the aid of the state appropriation; now, the fair almost pays its own expenses, and enables us to sink upon our indebtedness, $150. Five years ago, the society had not even the shadow of a property; now, we have land and improvements sufficient to pay our debts and leave the society a sum of not less than $1,000.

There was reason for pride.

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