History of The Linn County Fair
1855 – 58:
Early Linn County Fair was held alternately in Cedar Rapids and Marion. Finally the fair board bought land halfway between the two towns to alleviate the rivalry between them.
The Linn County Fair relocated in Marion.
1871 – 1878:
The Iowa State Fair was held in Cedar Rapids and created a lack of interest in the Linn County Fair, which temporarily died.
“For about the past year, Jordans, Bowdish Bros., Huston Bros, and many others in and close to Waubeek have been meeting at each other’s houses to read essays and debate the best methods of conducting the farm. It was at one of these meeting that J.P. Bowdish suggested that they have a little fair the coming fall.” (Gazette Sept. 10, 1889)
The site considered for the fair was a toss-up between Central City and Springville. Central City won because it raised the most money by subscription. The site was 50 acres along the Wapsipinicon River.
Sept. 10 – 12 1889:
The first Wapsie Valley Fair was held.
The Wapsie Valley Fair Association becomes incorporated.
Sept. 17 1890:
More than 1,000 teams of animals were on the grounds. It was said “It is an enterprise just in its infancy, and does not stand second to any county fair ever held in Iowa.”
Sept. 15 – 18 1891:
A baby contest with over 200 baby entries was held with an elegant $5 rocking chair for the “finest baby”; the Martin Mills G.A.R. Post band furnished music for the fairgrounds.
Sept. 13 – 16 1892:
A large amphitheater was built on the fair grounds.
Sept. 12 – 15 1893:
Entries were a third larger from previous year. Events included; trotting races, a Grand parade of prize-winners and bicycle riding competitions.
Sept. 10 – 13 1895:
On Sept. 12, 1895 more than 3,000 people attended the fair, despite excessive heat and dust. A new amphitheater about 120 feet long with dining halls and two stands underneath was to be built. Fences were also to be built to keep the crowd off of the race track.
Sept. 1 – 4 1896:
Balloon ascension was a part of the entertainment. A baseball diamond was constructed inside the race track and ballgames played while horses raced. Thursday the receipts at the gate exceeded anything in the history of the association. In addition to horse racing, events also included a one-mile bicycle race.
Events consisted of the ball and spiral tower act, drill team of the Mentzer hose team of Marion, football and baseball games, bicycle races and horse races. Attendance eclipsed all former records.
Aug. 30 – Sept. 2 1898:
The Exposition hall blew down during a windstorm in July. The new structure is in the form of a cross, with an extreme length of arms of 60 feet. Attendance is the largest in the history, over 7,000 on one day.
Sept. 5 – 8 1899:
The first display of automobiles in the state of Iowa at the Wapsie Valley Fair.
Sept. 11 – 14 1900:
The 1900 fair was held in the fall during the daytime, as there was electricity to light the grounds. In the evening, fairgoers would attend the opera house located above the Mills Hardware building. A new horse barn, 84 x 28 feet was built for the 1900 fair.
Sept. 3 – 6 1901:
A band stand, ticket office, cattle sheds, sheep and hog pens and horse stables were completed.
Sept. 2 – 5 1902:
Mentzer Drill Corps gave an exhibition in drill “unsurpassed in the west.”
Sept. 15 – 18 1903:
4-H was created in Linn County with the first exhibits at the fair made by commodity groupings. For example, 4-H members were members of the Holstein Club, the Jersey Club, or the Market Pig Club. The fair made $300 after payo u ts, premium and attractions paid.
Sept. 14 – 17 1904:
The fair featured an “Old Time Cabin” and was called “The Greater Wapsie Valley Fair of 1904.” The improved French coach horse, Questioner, was sold to the highest bidder at a public auction during Old Settlers’ day.
Sept. 13 – 16 1905:
The Wapsie Valley Fair was the one remaining county agricultural fair in the state of Iowa. Entertainment that year included Hildebrand the strong man.
Sept. 11 – 14 1906:
The 1906 fair had the largest livestock exhibit in the state, except for the State Fair.
Sept. 10 – 13 1907:
Three new large cement horse and cattle barns were built. Events included a seed corn judging contest, eight free vaudeville acts held daily, and baseball each day.
Sept. 8 – 11 1908:
A special premium for boys and girls under 16 was offered for the best display of grains and grasses. The top premium was $5. The fair also boasted the fact they had the largest annual baby show west of the Mississippi.
Sept. 7 – 10 1909:
Free acts at the fair included the celebrated Guthrie troupe, the Great McHale (aerial artist), Lowe and Teressa, the Reeds and others.
Sept. 6 – 9 1910:
New box stalls were built for horses; Entertainment included: Round’s Celebrated Ladies’ Band, The World Famous Wakahama Japanese Troupe; 53rd Regimental Band of Cedar Rapids and Professor Eastman’s Daily Flight to the Clouds.
Sept. 5 – 8 1911:
Kaichi Troupe of performing Japanese artists were featured; Automobile admission, with driver, was 50 cents.
Sept. 2 – 6 1912:
A high school track and field contest was held.
Sept. 1 – 5 1913:
Grounds lighted by electricity; a big new dining hall was built. Racing was eliminated from the fair and the fair became a purely agricultural event.
Aug. 31 – Sept. 4 1914:
Entertainment included: Miss Viola Gliarmo in her Flying Ladder Act and the Ferris Wheel Girls.
Aug. 30 – Sept. 2 1915:
Events included: Harvest home, parade day, automobile races, the Great Linn Co. Sunday School Demonstration, Old Soldiers’ day and Children’s Day, which had something for everyone.
Aug. 29 – Sept. 2 1916:
Emphasis was put on Linn County farmers feeding the world through the boys and girls 4-H clubs and township booths. The third annual light horse show was also held.
Aug. 27 – Sept. 1 1917:
A large baby beef and baby pork exhibit by Linn county boys was featured as well as canning demonstrations every day. The great Thearle-Duffield Company provided the firework program.
A new rival of the Wapsie Valley Fair, the Interstate Fair, was organized in Marion, however, the Interstate Fair disbanded in 1926.
Aug. 27 – 31 1918:
A great patriotic firework display “Battle of the North Sea” was set off Friday night of the fair. The vaudeville act “The Kaiser, The Beast of Berlin-Germany Butchery and Kultur Revealed in all their Hideousness,” was featured. All premiums were paid in war savings stamps.
Sept. 2 – 6 1919:
The battle of the Darnanells, a sham air battle, took place over the fairgrounds; free airplane rides were drawn daily.
Aug. 26 – 28 1920:
The Grandiosa band of Dubuque provided the music as well as many vaudeville attractions and special stunts.
Aug. 23 – 25 1921:
The 1921 fair included a Farm Bureau Day with a $25 premium for the township with the best booth. A horseshoe pitching tournament was also held.
Finley’s Famous Kiltie Band performed as sis the Cairo Sisters, the Yama Yama Girls, The Three Steele Sisters and Miss Irene Baldwin were also featured. The fair was advertised as “Open to the World.”
A five-mile match race between Iowa State Champion and Canadian Champion with a $300 purse was raced, as was a chariot race. Events also included vaudeville acts and a big night show.
Sept. 1 – 6 1924:
Jimmie Lusk, the Canadian champion and holder of the ½ mile dirt track record was on hand for the races. Hart’s Famous Ohio Girl band and a $10,000 merry-go-round were also on the grounds.
4-H community clubs were formed according to townships.
Sept. 7 – 12 1925:
Baseball games were featured everyday; the famous Cherry Sisters performed – their only appearance in eastern Iowa.
A baby pork club was formed, backed by the Wapsie Valley Fair Association. The barns of the fair were filled with entries even before the fair started. An estimated 10,000 people came to the Linn County Fair with 5,000 in one day.
Sept. 6 – 10 1927:
The fair in Marion was no longer in operation, leaving the Wapsie Valley Fair and the All-Iowa Fair in Linn County. Mr. A.R. Hoffman, secretary of the fair arranged a cow-calling contest with the winner to receive an old time cow bell.
Sept. 4 – 8 1928:
Saturday afternoon had a series of auto races with some of the best dirt-track drivers in this section of the country competing. Gus Schrader in his Dodge was among the featured drivers on the fair’s faster half-mile dirt track. Another attraction was Hart’s Famous 21-member Ohio Girl Band.
Aug. 31 – Sept. 3 1930:
1,000 people attended the second annual sacred services, which opened the Wapsie Valley Fair. The fair held a record of 7,000 people on Wednesday of the fair to witness Farm Bureau day events. When all expenses were paid, the fair netted a profit of $897.58.
Aug. 18 – 22 1931:
A riot broke out between some concession men and their customers over a crooked blanket wheel game. The concessioners were fined $50 and costs for operating a gambling stand.
Aug. 16 – 20 1932:
A public wedding was held at the fair for a Central City couple. The admission price was 35 cents for adults and 10 and under were admitted for free.
Aug. 15 – 18 1933:
A full line up consisted of: A band concert, Al Gerardi’s nine-piece plane accordion band, the Four Original Horsemen, Geyer and Abbott (sensational equilibrists) Alice Cones (sensational girl contortionist), Berlo Magine and Irving, pianists and rapid fire rope walkers. Additional events included: Miss La Blanche, an aerial ring and web act and Rita Cordova, the sweet singing senorita.
Aug. 14 – 17 1934:
“Mine,” the State Fair elephant, weighing 3,500 lbs. entertained as did Roy Schwas and his 90-piece band.
July 30 – Aug. 2 1935:
Tille Boggs and Sheriff Quigley, were featured as were the Hill & Dale Company of artists performing “rip-roaring comedy.”
Aug. 4 -7, 1936:
The WHO radio station out of Des Moines, IA held the “WHO Barn Dance Frolic” during the fair. The fair also featured a society horse show.
The Wapsie Valley Fair Association became the Linn County Fair Association.
Aug. 3 – 6 1937:
Baby beeves set a new high price average of $141.27.
Aug. 4 – 7 1938:
Allis-Chalmers tractors and farm equipment were on display at the fair. The 4-H club girls modeled old dresses at the fair with the oldest dress being 112 years old at the fair. The grandstand burned to the ground after the fair closed as a smoldering cigarette stub supposedly fell among the accumulation of debris under the seats.
Aug. 4 – 6 1939:
A new grandstand was completed. The Sunday horse show brought almost one hundred of the best horses in Iowa to Central City.
Aug. 1 – 4 1940:
The Linn County Fair was advertised having the largest and most complete 4-H achievement show ever held in the country.
July 31 – Aug. 3 1941:
The Linn County Fair Association planned their fair program with the tastes of Cedar Rapids folks in mind. A “Parade of Modernism” was held by the Marion band along with fireworks being shot off. Harness races were held, with the track being proclaimed as the “fastest in the state of Iowa.”
July 30 – Aug. 2 1942:
The fair was almost cancelled on account of the wartime tire rations. Even though the proclamation came but a month before the fair’s start, the Linn County Fair was given permission to be held. Without the fair, it was argued, the 525 club members in Linn County would have no place to show and sell an estimated $25,000 worth of livestock and products.
Aug. 6 – 7 1943:
All business, except three restaurants, closed during the afternoons of Friday and Saturday and everyone went to the fair. The 1943 fair drew 4,411 at the gate and 3,056 at the amphitheater.
A Society Horse Show was held.
Aug. 10 – 12 1945:
During the horse show, a false alarm of the Japanese surrendering the war was announced. A 10-minute memorial service was given for the memory of those who made the extreme sacrifice.
Aug. 1 – 4 1946:
81 4-H girls took part in the closing exhibit, showing over 300 articles.
Aug. 1 – 3 1947:
Entertainment included a Hollywood Girl Revue and the Musical Vaughns. The Boy’s and Girl’s 4-H exhibits are stated as giving a graphic picture of the role Linn county agriculture has in feeding a hungry world.
Aug 6 – 8 1948:
Events included: Big Car Races, The Don Morris Troupe and two days of baseball, while Model shows provided a glittering midway. Top quality animals were exhibited by 4-H members.
Aug. 5 – 8 1949:
Tumbling and juggling, harness racing, baseball games and hitched teams were big draws. The 4-H girls club exhibited their projects in the building directly west of the art hall. The art hall was used for both commercial and domestic exhibits. Security was provided by Public Safety Unit No. 1.
Aug. 4 – 6 1950:
Harness races, baseball, stock car races, Jerry Smith and his WMT radio stars, a draft horse show with a hitched team contest, a platform act starring the Four Millers, along with a midway, went along with the featured boys and girls 4-H livestock exhibitions and demonstrations.
Aug. 3 – 5 1951:
Entertainment included the famous Grand Ole Opry from WSM, Nashville, TN and an albino Horse Revue with over 200 saddle horses. Gate admission was 50 cents.
Aug. 1 – 3 1952:
Advertised free gate and free amphitheater entertainment which included the Flying Hoofs Drill team, baseball, harness racing, draft horse show and two rodeos.
July 31 – Aug. 2 1953:
The 1953 fair had dog races, running races, harness races, the WHO program and the annual draft horse show.
July 30 – Aug. 1 1954:
A midget baseball game, a wrestling show with well known TV wrestling personalities, the Jerry Smith show and three rodeo performances entertained those not watching the many livestock shows and demonstrations.
Aug. 5 – 7 1955:
Entertainment programs included stock horse and pony races, a wrestling show, the Jimmey Downey variety show, the Pete Bailey thrill show and the Venita Rich Television talent contest. Wrestlers were Jack Allan, Roy McClarity, Emil Dusek, Gypsy Joe, Benito Gardini and Art Bull.
Aug. 2 – 4 1957:
Circus acts were performed in front of the grandstand both afternoon and evening. Added attraction was the crowning of the Linn County Dairy Princess.
1958 – 66:
Two 4-H and FFA fairs were held in Linn County. One fair was the traditional fair at Central City. The second show was held at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids. The 4-H horse show started at Hawkeye Downs.
Aug. 1 – 3 1958:
A large mural was painted by local artist.
Aug. 7 – 9 1959:
Livestock shows, sales and demonstrations by the 4-H exhibitors dominated the program but the fair also offered a tractor pull, a quarter horse show, a talent revue and a short platform show.
Aug. 5 – 7 1960:
A free jet liner trip to Hawaii for two people was given away during the fair and three rodeo performances were held in front of the grandstand. The art hall was used for commercial exhibits instead of an exhibition hall. 4-H livestock exhibitors competed for trophies in addition to cash premiums.
March 5, 1961:
The Linn County Fair conservation building was built at the fairgrounds and was housed in a 36 by 61 foot structure.
July 20 – 23 1961:
A fallout shelter was on display and manned by the Linn County Office of Civil Defense. It was called “the Wonder Building Living Shelter.”
July 17 – 21 1962:
Attractions included the Johnny King Thrill Show, Siros Thrillarama and free steam engine rides. The grandstand events were all free.
Aug. 1 – 4 1963:
Over 400 4-H boys and girls were expected to exhibit. An auto thrill show and a magic circus were some of the highlights. Fair organizers were to shoot a girl from a cannon at 1 P.M. Saturday afternoon.
July 30 – Aug. 3 1964:
171 dairy animals were shown at the fair and free milk was dispensed by the Linn County diary promotion committee.
Aug. 3 – 6 1965:
The Linn County Fair board provided a free barbecue for the 4-H and FFA members and a dance for junior exhibitors.
The last open show was held at the Linn County Fair.
July 29 – Aug. 1 1969:
A new building was constructed (Morton Building) which allowed the 4-H and FFA exhibitors to remain at the fair during the entire fair.
July 30 – Aug. 2 1970:
Dave LeClere of Coggon won the Beef show with his 1,068 pound Charolais-crossbred steer. A very rainy and muddy fair didn’t dampen spirits or any events.
July 27 – 30 1971:
Free emphysema testing was offered.
July 25 – 28 1972:
A small ad stating free gate and free parking was placed in the Cedar Rapids Gazette.
July 23 – 26 1974:
Milkmaid honors for milking her goat the fastest went to Carol Tesar of Marion.
July 22 – 25 1975:
The fair, purely a 4-H and FFA show now also provided a greased pig contest and tug-of-war between clubs/chapters.
July 26 – 30 1976:
The fair was filled with all types of exhibits – “from beef heifers to macrame, swine to tomatoes, with a few models thrown in for good measure.” The four big exhibit areas were home economics, science, horse and rabbit competitions.
July 25 – 29 1977:
A fair prank overnight at the fair left pigs hurt and one rabbit dead when someone let about 25 swine and 30 rabbits out of pens.
July 25 – 28 1978:
Dairy goats became the fastest growing livestock division with 54 goats shown by 15 exhibitors.
July 23 – 26 1979:
A Father’s Day Chuck wagon and chariot race echoed the times by advertising “No Gas Used in our Races.”
July 20 – 23 1981:
The home economics show attracted 2,000 exhibits in the 4-H show.
July 26 – 29 1982:
The 4-H theme was “4-H is a Barrel of Fun.” The Monroe Merry Maids and Lads 4-H Club painted 25 trash cans as part of their citizenship project.
A 4-H Rocket Launch was added to the fair.
A carnival was brought back to the fair after a 40-year break along with the growth of grandstand events. Grandstand events ranged from a truck and tractor pull, demolition derby, motocross, harness racing, thrill stunt car show, draft horse pulls, fun horse shows and both Country and Christian music concerts. A free entertainment tent also offers a wide variety of shows for every age.
Friday the 13th of June was the day the Wapsipinicon River met the Linn County Fairgrounds. This was the crest of the flood waters in Central City. Luckily the Fair Association had some time to prepare. A meeting was held that Tuesday at the fairgrounds in preparation by the time the water had made it into the infield. The water had moved quickly and so did the fair association. It was decided to move all items possible to higher grounds. Refrigerators and freezers along with bleachers, tractors, a water wagon and cattle gates were moved. Needless to say, the teamwork displayed by the Linn County Fair Association made the flood much easier to swallow by acting early. Luckily the fair grounds didn’t sustain much damage except for the grandstands. Following the flood, the fairgrounds were cleaned up and the fair was able to kick off on July 11th.
The Linn County recipients in Monsanto’s 2010 America’s Farmer Grow Communities Projects were Al and Kathy Moorman from Coggon. They gave the $2,500 received through the project to the Linn County Fair Board, which was earmarked for 4-H members.