Jefferson County Online
The State Fairs

The following is a chapter from "The History of Jefferson County, Iowa - A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement", Volume 1, Pages 259-267, published by the S. J. Clarke Publishing Company of Chicago in 1912 (in 1914 according to some citations).




On April 11, 1853, the Fairfield Ledger editorially urged the holding of a State Fair in October or November. In May, the Iowa Farmer in its first number expressed the hope of seeing in a year or two "an Agricultural Fair at some central point like Fairfield for the whole of Southern Iowa." In June, this journal further proposed that all who felt interested in the subject meet at Fairfield at the time of the county fair "for the purpose of forming a State Agricultural Society" so that measures could be taken to secure an exhibition in 1854 creditable to the state. Fairfield was named because "probably quite as near the center of population of the state" as any point at which an agricultural fair was held. It its September issue, an intention to effect an organization as suggested was announced.

At the annual meeting of the Jefferson County Agricultural Society on October 13, 1853, at the instance of C. W. Slagle, its officers, P. L. Huyett, Caleb Baldwin and J. M. Shaffer were "instructed to take immediate steps to effect the organization of a State Agricultural Society" and to use their influence to hold its first annual exhibition at Fairfield. In compliance with this order the agricultural societies in the state were invited to send nine delegates each to meet in Fairfield on December 28, 1853, for a conference on the subject with other delegations. The urgency of the movement was briefly and well set out in a statement attached to the invitations.

"There is no free state in the union save Iowa, in which there is not a State Agricultural Society, organized and in successful operation, and they have been recently organized in most of the southern States. They have been productive of a vast amount of good and no one can estimate their usefulness.

"Is it not time for the farmers of Iowa to be aroused to the importance of such an organization in this state? Shall we be laggards in the race of improvement? Shall the resources of other states be developed, their wealth increased and their people elevated in the scale of intellectual being, and ours stand still?

"Farmers are not the only persons interested in this subject. Every citizen of the state has a deep interest in her prosperity and reputation. Let none suppose that it is for others to act and for him to remain a quiet and uninterested spectator."

On the day set, delegations wre present from five counties, Henry, Jefferson, Lee, Van Buren and Wapello. D. P. Inskeep of Wapello County was made chairman and D. Sheward of Jefferson County, secretary. Commendatory communications were read from Scott and Muscatine Counties and from James W. Grimes of Des Moines County. Thomas Siveter and J. W. Frazier both of Henry County, P. L. Huyett of Jefferson County, Josiah Hinkle of Lee County, and Timothy Day of Van Buren County were selected, with J. M. Shaffer as secretary, "to draft a constitution and by-laws suitable for a State Agricultural Society."

The organic measures, submitted and approved, were simple. The constitution, printed in ordinary type, would scarcely cover two pages of an average school book. Its main provisions may be stated in few words. The society was styled "The Iowa State Agricultural Society." Its object was "the promotion of agriculture, horticulture, manufactures, mechanics and household arts." All citizens of the state were eligible to membership. The fee was "not less than $1 and $1 annually thereafter," payable on or before the first day of June. The form of expression conveys a delicate intimation that "the fee," if larger, would be acceptable. The officers were a president, a vice president, and three directors from each county society, all constituting a board of control to exercise a general management. This body was given charge, as a special duty, of "communications designed or calculated for publication." The intent was to use this as an important means for promoting the purposes of the organization. There were also a recording secretary, a corresponding secretary and a treasurer. A meeting of the society was definitely set for October 25, 1854, "at the place for the fair."

Some details were cared for in the by-laws. The president was to deliver the premiums and diplomas to the persons entitled to them. Members whose dues were paid were to be admitted free to all exhibitions. Members who neglected to pay their dues till the day of exhibition were to be charged 25 cents additional. Prices of admission for others were to be determined each year by the board of control. "Competitors for crops" were required to "state in writing the character of the ground, the time and method of preparing it, the time of planting or sowing, the mode of cultivation, the kind of seed, the time of reaping or gathering it, with the number of bushels to the acre." This had to be cerfitied to by two disinterested persons, or "duly authenticated by oath of the competitor himself."

The election of executive officers resulted in the choice of Thomas W. Clagett of Lee County for president, of D. P. Inskeep of Wapello County for vice president, of J. M. Shaffer of Jefferson County for recording secretary, of C. W. Slagle of Jefferson County for corresponding secretary, and of W. B. Chamberlain of Des Moines County for treasurer.

Three directors were elected from each of the agricultural societies of the counties of Lee, Van Buren, Henry, Jefferson, Wapello, Mahaska, Polk, Des Moines, Louisa, Muscatine, Dubuque, Johnson and Scott. The three from Jefferson County were P. L. Huyett, John Andrews and B. B. Tuttle.

On motion of D. 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." There was no local member named.

Wednesday, October 25, 1854, was selected as the date, and Fairfield as the place for holding the "First Annual Fair."

A paper was prepared for the signatures of members. Those who signed at this convention were 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 and P. L. Huyett.

In February, T. W. Clagett issued "an address to the farmers of Iowa" appealing for their support and co-operation. As an inducement to liberality, he proposed on his part to give "$25 for the best five acres of Indian corn raised in the state, $15 for the second best, and $10 for the third best."

In April J. M. Shaffer sought advice from farmers, producers, mechanics and artisans in regard to articles worthy of premiums. Few responded. In June, the list of premiums was made up. It was based upon a list of the State Society of Pennsylvania. About $1100 were divided among thirty-three classes. The prizes ranged from $1 to $10, with the exception of three of $15 each. Two of the exceptions were on thoroughbred hourses, the remaining one was on "the most numerous collection of agricultural implements." This dignity was due to their relation to the chief industry of the state.

The list was meager enough both in the number and the value of its offerings, but in its aggregate it was of a size to cause its makers serious reflection. To meet the premiums as well as the necessary expenses, there were the membership fees alone to rely on. The risk was as fully realized as it was bravely incurred. It was assumed not as taking a venture but as rendering a valuable service. This point of view was put in fit words by A. R. Fulton writing in encouragement of local support. "The men of public spirit, who give freely and liberally for the public good, are those who build up the state." The aim of the proponents was nothing less.

The burden of preparation fell upon the resident officers and members. Caleb Baldwin, J. M. Shaffer, B. B. Tuttle, D. Sheward and J. M. Slagle had direct charge of the work. "Without a dollar in the treasury, without the assurance of assistance, with the very doubtful credit of the society," these men consciously took upon themselves personal responsibility for the obligations created. Henn, Williams and Company donated the use of six acres of ground now known as "Henn's Subdivision." It is the rectangle lying between West Grimes and West Lowe streets and North Second and North Fourth streets. This area was "enclosed with a substantial straight rail fence, 10 feet high." Such a fence is similar to a post and rail fence except that the ends of the rails are held in place between two posts. Within the enclosure along the north side was erected a shed "250 feet in length and 20 feet in width," protecting a table 5 feet wide extending quite from end to end. Next the fence on the four inner sides were constructed the stalls, of which 130 were 10 feet wide and 12 feet deep. About sixty rail pens were built for sheep and swine. An office 12x25 feet was provided for the board of control. A track 25 feet wide and 1500 feet around, "with a substantial rope guard," was laid out leaving "a space from 30 to 150 feet for visitors." In its center was placed a platform for the speaker, the chief marshal and the judges of "female equestrianism." In making these arrangements $322.20 were expended.

On these grounds and with these accommodations the Iowa State Agricultural Society began its notable career. A severe drouth (sic - drought) in the fall raised fears of a scarcity of water, but this was broken by timely rains. The weather was superb. Visitors came from all directions. The number of entries and the attendance surpassed expectations. The price of a daily admission was but 25 cents. Vehicles were not allowed within the enclosure. Members of the board of control were recognized by "a blue ribbon on the left collar of the coat." Marshals and wall-guards, with J. C. Ware as chief, were distinguished by "blue sashes" worn round the body. The former attended to the disposal, arrangement and safety of stock; the latter prevented trespassers from crosing or sitting on the "wall" and preserved order.

The first event was a sort of prelude. An immense cheese, weighing 360 pounds, made at Denmark, Lee County, was publicly presented to James W. Grimes, the Governor-elect. At the conclusion of this ceremony, the exhibition was formally opened by President Clagett.

In the various classes of cattle, horses and mules, animals from the counties of Des Moines, Lee, Henry, Van Buren, Wapello, Decatur, Marion, Polk, Pottawattamie, Mahaska, Keokuk, Washington, Jackson and Scott, obtained premiums. The competition was liveliest in this department because the animals transported themselves. None but those of supposed superior merit were subjected by their owners to the hardships of a considerable journey for the sake of a small reward and the prestige that afforded.

It was to be expected that a large share of the premiums would fall to the lot of the people of Jefferson County. Out of thirty-three awards on cattle, nine were given John Glenn, E. S. Gage, P. L. Huyett, Moses Dudley, J. R. Parsons and S. Pancoast; out of thirty on horses, eleven were given Joseph Fell, Wm. Pitkin, W. S. Lynch, David Bush, Mr. Cook, John Graber, G. W. Honn, J. C. Ware and W. B. Rowland; out of eleven on mules two were given H. B. Mitchell and Jacob Webb; out of seven on sheep, three were given John Andrews and T. M. Finch; out of eight on swine, three were given Joseph Dole and John Andrews; and out of thirteen on poultry, nine were given John W. DuBois, Ab. Morrison, George Acheson, P. L. Huyett and E. A. Harbour.

In farm implements and machinery, awards were made to B. B. Tuttle on a fanning-mill, to Rea and Gray on a reaper and mower, to Adam Steever on a threshing-machine; in leather and its manufactures, to James M. Slagle on farm harness, to W. S. Lynch on harness leather and side leather, to James Throckmorton on a pair of boots; in stoves, to J. M. Slagle on a grate; in dairy products, to Mrs. L. F. Boerstler, first, and to Mrs. John Townsley, second, on butter; on flour and its products, to P. L. Huyett on corn-meal and to Mrs. George Acheson on homemade bread; in grain and seeds, to Adam Steever on spring wheat, to L. T. Gillett on Irish potatoes, to J. L. Scott on sweet potatoes, and to John Snook on timothy seed; in vegetables to Moses Dudley on cabbages and to David Switzer on sweet pumpkins; and in fruits, to R. M. Moyer on apples, to John Snook on grapes, and to David Switzer on a watermelon.

Cured hams were a separate class, denoting their importance in the economic order. In this the first and third awards respectively went to P. L. Huyett and L. F. Boerstler.

In domestic manufactures there was "a wonderful array" of flannels, carpetings, coverlets, shirts and hosiery. Awards fell to Mrs. D. McClean on mixed full cloth, to Mrs. P. L. Huyett on fringed mittens, to Mrs. G. W. Sinclair on rag carpet, to W. F. Campbell on a double coverlet, to David Van Winkle on a barred linen, and to Mrs. L. F. Boerstler on white hose. These articles were "family made" and illustrate household activities which no longer exist.

In needle work there was an exceptional display. A dress "wrought in the highest style of artistic elegance and perfection," and "the variety, number and beauty" of the quilts excited much comment. In this class, Miss S. L. Boerstler was preeminent. She received awards on work for a chair, on an ottoman cover, on a pin-cushion, and on nine ornamental pieces. Miss Woodward received one on a lamp-stand mat, J. R. Parsons one on a counterpane, Mrs. Ann Eckert one on a work-case, and Miss Wheeler one on plain work.

In pantry stores, awards were bestowed on Mrs. Caleb Baldwin's pound cake, on Mrs. L. F. Boerstler's preserves, tomato preserves, apple butter, peach butter and jelly, on Mrs. P. L. Huyett's pickles, and on Mrs. Charles Cox's home-made hard soap.

In fine arts, C. D. McCaughey was given an award on a monochromatic painting, and Miss Jane Funk on a floral painting.

Diplomas were awarded to W. Marion on one pair elk, to J. M. Shaffer on a collection of snakes, to Wm. Parr on paper hanging, to A. R. Gaines on Atkin's Self Raker and Reaper, and to Elijah Dollarhide on farmyard gates.

The results of the crop contests deserve to be chronicled to provide standards for comparison. In the fall wheat contest, Alexander Fulton of Jefferson County won first place with a production of 26 bushels per acre; in the spring wheat contest, H. G. and J. Stuart of Lee County won first place with a production of 33 bushels per acre; and in the corn contest, Hezekiah Fagin of Polk County won first place with a production of 139 bushels, shelled, per acre. He grew on five acres 697 bushels by measure, and 759 bushels and 41 pounds by weight, the latter being 151 bushels and 53 pounds per acre. D. P. Inskeep of Wapello County won second place with a production of 136 bushels per acre.

On Thursday morning, George C. Dixon of Keokuk, delivered an address of which the theme was the art of husbandry. A brief extract will reveal its admirable quality. "The time has arrived when the farmer must be educated for his calling. The age in which we live and the circumstances surrounding us, demand that educated mind should become more closely connected with rural pursuits. Apprenticeship, or preparation of some character, must be adopted as a necessity to successful agriculture. Intelligence and energy, must characterize every one of its departments and all its operations. There is no mistaking the admonitions of the present and the indications of the future on this point. And why should not the husbandman be prepared for his manifold duties as well and as thoroughly as the lawyer, the minister and the physician? Surely, no sufficient reason exists. His occupations are equally important, equally reputable, and are equally benefited by the lights and influences of mechanical and experimental knowledge."

Shortly after the publication of the premium-list, a young woman wrote the Iowa Farmer complaining that nothing was given for "female horsemanship." President Clagett thereupon gallantly offered at his own expense a fine gold watch to "the boldest and most graceful female equestrian."

For this prize there were ten competitors, Miss Maria Minton of Van Buren County; Miss Eliza Jane Hodges of Johnson County; Miss Belle Turner and Mrs. Louisa Parker, both of Lee County; Mrs. Ann Eckert of Jefferson County; Mrs. Green of Lee County; Miss Kate B. Pope and Miss Emma Porter, both of Henry County; and Miss Hannah Ball and Miss Cynthia Ball, both of Jefferson County. They displayed their skill in the order named, but were announced and known by the colors of their ribbons.

The first trial was on Thursday afternoon. "Splendidly arrayed in long and sweeping riding habits, with feathers and ribbons to match," accompanied by their cavaliers, the contestants entered the ring at a dashing pace, then galloped in a long column to the front of the committee's stand, where they halted and wheeled into line. The president congratulated, but admonished against the dangers of recklessness and advised that excellence in riding consisted in "coolness, self possession, gracefulness and posture, and the perfect management of the horse."

Each lady then, in her turn, with a cavalier at her side, rode once around the circle, after which she alone made the circuit four times at any speed she chose. To know what gaits to employ or permit was an exercise in judgment. The spirit and action of the mount gained or lost the popular favor. Some steeds were too tame and some too uniform in their paces for their riders to show their capabilities to advantage.

The second and final trial was Friday morning. It was vigorous and full of excitement as the riders were ambitious to do their best. Partisanship also had developed and kindled enthusiasm.

A single ballot by the judges disclosed that all of them had selected Miss Belle Turner as the winner. To each of the other contestants, President Clagett presented a gold ring as a memento of the occasion.

The official decision did not please the crowd. Miss Eliza Jane Hodges, "the Iowa City girl," by her youth and fearlessness, had caught its fancy. Impulsively it supported its opinion by making up for her a purse of $165 with other presents and providing for her attendance without cost at the Female Seminary of Fairfield for three terms and at the Female Seminary of Mount Pleasant for one term.

The essential success of the fair was unquestioned. The receipts aside from "$50 of counterfeit or otherwise worthless money" were approximately $1,000 which covered the expenses and premiums and left over a balance of $50. It was an encouraging outcome.

The officers chosen for the succeeding year were Thomas W. Clagett of Lee County for president; D. P. Inskeep of Wapello County, for vice president; J. M. Shaffer of Jefferson County for recording secretary; P. L. Huyett of Jefferson County for corresponding secretary, and Caleb Baldwin of Jefferson County for treasurer. P. L. Huyett, John Andrews and H. B. Mitchell were the selections from Jefferson County for members of the board of control.

It was decided that the second annual state fair should be held on October 10, 1855, at Fairfield.

The premium list was not issued till (sic) June. It did not materially differ from the first one. The changed consisted in adding minor items to several classes and in increasing the amounts of the more important prizes.

The grounds were those acquired by the Jefferson County Agricultural Society and were opposite the southeast corner of the city limits. Although but ten acres, they were deemed spacious. Accommodations were provided ample for all forseen requirements. The Bloomfield Brass Band was in attendance to enliven the entertainment with music. Evening meetings at the courthouse were arranged for the discussion of agricultural subjects.

In general a wide ineterest was manifested by a noticeable variety in the exhibits. The people of Jefferson County, partly on account of the local advantage, held a prominent place in the displays of most departments. In cattle, Durhams predominated. In horses, Morgans were esteemed the choicest. It is probably that the long vogue of these breeds here received its impetus. Sheep were distinguished as "fine wool" and "long wool." Swine were not yet defined by well marked family characteristics, but were still just common animals.

The poultry was quite aristocratic. There were Shanghais, Dorkings, Polands, Chittigongs and Brahmapootras. They were honored in the selection of their judges, who were no less personages than Senator James Harlan, Chief Justice George G. Wright and C. W. Slagle. A visitor who observed them at their task, thought them "as much a curiosity as the Shanghais themselves." In his eyes the senator was "as grave as though he was amongst his peers in the Senate," the chief justice "as dignified as thought he was at the head of the supreme bench of the state, examining some 'Philadelphia lawyer's case,'" and Slagle "as sharp as though he was preparing to pitch into some jury and carry away their better judgments by storm," while the Shanghais lustily crowed and picked corn unabashed.

Among the implements was shown "a superb silver-mounted plow." The laughter of some farmers at what they conceived to be injudicious ornamentation called forth this published caustic comment. "Was it because they were accustomed to leave their plows in the fence corner until the spring plowing reminded them of the old rusty occupant of the corner, devoid of paint and all overgrown with weeds? If so, they should have been laughed at, not the plow. That plow was sold on the ground, and we will guarantee that the man who bought it has a farm of which one might be proud, for the farmer who buys such articles generally expects to take care of them, and he who takes care of his plows, harrows, fanning-mill, and other instruments of husbandry, keeping them safely housed from the effects of the weather, is, almost invariably, the possessor of a nice clean, tidy farm, on which grain grows ranker than weeds, and where the fence corners are as clean as the meadows. A silver-mounted plow is not so far out of the way after all."

Eighty-three varieties of apples were exhibited. Nine varieties were shown from the orchard of F. T. Humphrey, ten from that of A. Pattison, and forty-nine from that of Charles Cox.

There were vegetables of extraordinary size. Two sweet pumpkins, grown by Wiley Jones, weighed, one 60 pounds, and one 72 pounds. A squash grown by George Frush was 4 feet in length and weighed 27 pounds. A cabbage without the root and outer leaves, grown by Moses Dudley, weighed 17 pounds. Various specimens, grown by David Switzer, were even more remarkable. A blood beet was 2 feet long and 14 inches in circumference. The weight of another was 13 pounds; of a sugar beet without the top was 19 pounds and 1 ounce; of a mangel wortzell was 13 pounds and 3 ounces; and of a squash was 69 pounds. A gourd measured 3 feet in circumference. A potato measured 16 inches about the ends and 9 inches around the center. A parsnip was 15 inches long and 13 inches in circumference.

An entertainment which drew criticism was the appearance on the second day of a company of young men in "Calathumpian" disguises as "Chinch Bug Guards or Earthquake Volunteers and Flying Artillery." Their odd attire and ludicrous behaviour as they circled the track so shocked the nerves of some super-sensitive persons as to impair for them beyond measure the proper dignity and sobriety of the occasion. These styled the funmakers "ragamuffins" and "rapscallions," and termed their performance "palpable nonsense" and "idiotic tom-foolery." "Boys and some men were tickled, timid ladies frightened, and the rest of mankind looked on with mingled emotions of surprise and mortification -- not to say disgust," wrote "Regulus of Mount Pleasant" a few days later in relieving the feelings of indignation inspired by the "inglorious host." He was particularly severe in his strictures. "Such was the disguise of dress and the covering of false faces," said he, "it was impossible to know the performers; and it was well for their honor, if they had any, that they were disguised." This attack evoked an equally strong response from "Captain Sky High," who asserted that "the mission of the company was accomplished, and those who were 'really wise, refined and religious' either enjoyed it or had the good sense not to say anything about it."

The attraction of the last day was "female equestrianism." A repetition of the experience of the first contest was carefully guarded against. "Breakneck or otherwise daring riding" was strictly prohibited under penalty of expulsion from the competition. "It is not the design," was the explanation, "to encourage ladies to train themselves for the circus or to perform daring feats of horsemanship but it is the earnest desire of the board to encourage graceful easy riding, such as may be practiced in our cities, in our towns, on our highways, without danger or fear, and with perfect regard to graceful and healthful exercise." Seventeen ladies participated. Those from Jefferson County were Miss Hannah A. Ball, Miss Cynthia Ball, Miss M. Clark, Miss Mary McCauley, Mrs. Julia A. Smith, Miss Bell Brown, Miss Nancy Hurd and Miss Eliza Hurd. None of them had the good fortune to obtain an award. Miss Eliza Jane Hodges rode again, but won neither the approval of the judges nor the favor of the spectators.

A comparison of the number of visitors at the two exhibitions suggests, if it does not prove, a growing sense of their value. At the first one it was estimated there were 8,000 people on the grounds the day of greatest attendance; at the second one on the like day, the estimate was 12,000 people. The distinct and signal success achieved in the two years may be accepted as justifying the effort to organize and to impart life to the Iowa State Agricultural Society. There is no detraction from the part performed by others in saying that credit for the result belongs largely to the local men who were charged with the direct administration of its affairs. The moving forces were their earnest activity and contagious enthusiasm.

The Iowa State Stock Importing Company sprung directly from the Iowa State Agricultural Society. It was incorporated June 6, 1855, "not for private or pecuniary benefit, but for the purpose of introducing and distributing throughout the State of Iowa stock of all descriptions of a superior breed." The incorporators were Thomas W. Clagett, P. L. Huyett, W. Duane Wilson, J. H. Wilson, Caleb Baldwin, John Andrews, J. M. Shaffer, B. B. Tuttle, H. G. Stuart and H. B. Mitchell. The design failed, perhaps because too altruistic. Nevertheless it shows the possession of a wholesome regard for the general welfare.

Closely related also, if not an actual outgrowth, was the establishment in 1858 of a "State Agricultural College and Model Farm to be connected with the entire agricultural interests of the state." Of the first board of trustees, eleven in number, named in the legislative enactment, Wm. Duane Wilson, one time a resident of Fairfield, and Richard Gaines, a farmer of Blackhawk Township, were members. This institution exists now as the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts.

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