Fairgrounds increased in size throughout years

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Ginny Hall | December 20, 2013

This week, we continue our history of the Walworth County Fair from 1882. Some folks likely will remember that the treasurer's office building housed floral displays in past years. Dewey Sleezer used to have a wonderful exhibit of gladiolas. I especially remember his flowers because he would allow us to borrow some of them to decorate the 4-H Style Revues back in the '60s and '70s.

Photo gallery of Mystery Places.

The fair board voted in 1882 to purchase an additional four acres of land and to appoint a member from each township to  the executive committee. They also voted to have the secretary be the custodian of all society records. That person should purchase a “cheap pine desk” in which those records should be stored. An amphitheater was to be built not to exceed more than $1,500.

Following all of these decisions, elections were held with W.A. Knilans as president, Orris Pratt as vice president, W.H. Morrison as secretary and Hollis Latham as treasurer. 

At the 1883 annual meeting it was resolved that a committee of three and the officers be charged with building as “much more amphitheater on the south end of the one already built, not to exceed a cost of one thousand dollars.” 

In 1884 Latham declined to run again as treasurer; W.D. Lyon took his place. The treasurer also was the general superintendent of the grounds. Fair membership was decreased from $1 to 25 cents, and the secretary maintained a list of all complementary passes that would be good for only one admission.

In 1885 George Allen became the new president, and the society voted to change the ribbon placings to blue, red and white for respective placings of first, second and third.

In 1886, A.H. Allyn became the president and the society voted that the officers should purchase additional land for the fairgrounds. The executive committee set the fair for Sept. 28 through Oct. 1.

In 1887 the society voted to appropriate $350 for a ladies reception hall and $100 for a men's reception hall. 

In 1889 the executive committee decided that the treasurer could not pay out any monies without the president's approval except for premiums. They voted to improve the track so it could be the best half-mile track around, and they accepted the offer of the village concerning the removal of graves and use of that land for the fairgrounds.

In 1890, department superintendents were named for floral, horse, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry, machinery and agriculture. A decision was made to hold a stake race and to hire an expert starter for the races.

In 1892 the society voted erect seats for 500 people during the fair and appointed a committee to ascertain the need for new buildings and repairs.

In 1895 a resolution to reimburse Martin Moran for horses lost in a fire on the fairgrounds passed. Later that year there were two more bills for horses lost in the fire, but then the committee voted to disallow all of these bills in the future.  

At the 1896 annual meeting,  there was concern about overcrowding in the amphitheater and abuse by those selling peanuts and lemonade. A group of 11 ladies petitioned the committee for an art hall and revision of some of the premium classes. 

We will continue with the fair history next week, showing how the society gradually improved the rules for exhibit and the buildings for the same. I hope you find this progression interesting.

Ginny Hall, a historian from Delavan, is author of the “Walking around ...” and “Meandering ... ” books, which highlight the history of Walworth County communities.

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