"We Want A Fair"

One hundred years is a long time. An obvious statement? Maybe. What’s not so obvious is the early history of the Weld County Fair; how it began and what commitment was made to help the fair grow into a positive community event since 1918. Through research of old newspaper articles, state of Colorado extension reports, and Weld County Commissioner agendas from 1918 through 1928, the early history of the fair is explained and while parts of it are murky, one thing is constant throughout: Weld County has always had a passion for and placed value in its county fair.

The term county fair popped up a lot in research. Greeley Tribune articles mention the first county fair occurring in 1879 on a 40-acre plot between Greeley and Evans. Premiums were $1,200 and the fair as it does today, centered on agricultural, industrial, and homemaking exhibits. There was also a fair in Greeley in 1909 called the Weld County Fair and Races. However, to the best of our knowledge, pre-1918 fairs were sporadic, and independently run by businessmen throughout Weld County with no government or extension office support. These individual businessmen formed groups — the Weld County Industrial Association and Weld County Fair Association — and used investment money to put on the events.

The call for a consistent county fair came from a March 9, 1918, Greeley Tribune and Greeley Republican article titled, “We Want a County Fair.” In it the author, while not explicitly stating so, makes the case for a fair with county government support saying previous independent efforts failed. This is evidenced by the opening paragraph as the author expressed, “Weld County has tried a fair and exhibit in years past and have failed to make a go of it.” The author then eludes to the benefits farmers would reap from a county fair as the competitions and exhibits would foster “an exchange of ideas and the visible demonstration of methods and results.”1923 Weld County Fair (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Finch)

1923 Weld County Fair (photo courtesy of Jennifer Finch)) The article served as a launching pad in support of a county fair as things began happening afterward to create a unified, annual fair. According to 1918 extension reports, in May the Weld County Commercial Club pledged $200 toward the event and extension agents worked on securing land and equipment for a tractor demonstration. They also worked on securing exhibits and promoting the fair around Weld County. Trips were made to Ault, Nunn, Purcell and even Carpenter, Wyo., to encourage attendance and participation.

The Central Community Fair and Tractor Show was held in Greeley on Sept. 16, 17, 18, 19, and 20 in 1918 and was said to have fulfilled expectations regarding participation and interest. Several agricultural exhibits were shown and the livestock was of good quality. There was excitement for the 1919 fair as well, as the Farm Bureau budgeted more than $400 to $500 for the event.

Research didn’t show what, if any role Weld County government played in the first fair, but it did suggest county government took an immediate interest in supporting the fair as in October of 1919, a meeting was held between extension agents, the Weld County Commercial Club and Weld County Commissioners with $1,000 being “allowed” for the county fair. Although nothing specifically stated that the $1,000 came from the commissioners, significant changes to the fair in the fall of 1920 show that Weld County government was not only supportive of the fair but also wanted to ensure its continued success.

On Oct. 13, 1920 a “who’s who” of the Weld County community attended an extension meeting to decide the future of the fair as it related to Weld County government. In attendance were delegates from the Weld County Commercial Club, Greeley City Council, Greeley Chamber of Commerce, Weld County Farm Bureau, local farmers union, Purebred Livestock Association, Rotary Club, Lions Club, Driving Club, Press Association, and the Weld County Commissioners. Some of the most significant changes to the fair occurred at the meeting by a vote.

“Meeting voted to change Central Community Fair to Weld County Fair,” the extension report read. “To build all buildings on county property and to work toward county management.” The name change would go into effect beginning with the 1921 fair.
The name change wasn’t the most important aspect of the vote — the independent fairs of 1879 and 1909 also had Weld County in the name — rather the vote signified a commitment by Weld County government to manage the fair to ensure its financial well-being and prosperous future.

This commitment by the Board of Commissioners was shown shortly after the newly named Weld County Fair in 1921 failed financially. According to the minutes of the board meeting on October 5, 1921, the Weld County Fair Association reported a deficit of $1,500 needed to pay fair premiums and other expenses related to the 1921 fair. Commissioners A.F. Peters, Dan C. Straight, and F.L. Powers unanimously agreed to pay the deficit as they believed that the fair was a great asset to Weld County and preserving its future was necessary.

“The success of the fair is a credit to and of value to the whole of Weld County, and that it is to the interest of the whole of Weld County, that all premiums and expenses of conducting said fair should be honorably and promptly met to encourage further fairs, and that such need is a proper purpose for the advertising fund of Weld County,” according to commissioner minutes.

The board began keeping regular records of financial reports following each fair. It also appointed each fair manager. Commissioner minutes show that in 1923, Robert E. Hanna was appointed the new fair manager for the year and was paid $200 per month until all fair matters for 1923 were completed.

Besides helping financially, the Board of Commissioners also worked on improving Island Grove Regional Park. Home to the fair since 1919, in 1922 and 1925 the board sought bids from contractors to construct two separate exhibition buildings at the park. The contract for the first building in 1922 was awarded to W.H. Murphy, W.H. Hoffschulte and H.K. Chittock for the price of $2,095. The building in 1925 was also constructed by Hoffschulte. He was paid $640 for labor with materials being funded by the county.

Enrollment sheet from 1925 Weld County Fair.Island Grove Regional Park has always been shared by both the City of Greeley and Weld County, and steps were taken by county government to continually improve the entire park, beyond the construction of new buildings. One example of this occurred in August of 1925 when the board approved a resolution granting it the right to make improvements to the west side of the park without prior city approval. Still, while the county enjoyed using Island Grove for fair activities, there was nothing making it the fair’s permanent home.

That changed in 1928 when the City of Greeley and Weld County decided to construct a new set of steel grandstands at Island Grove Regional Park, complete with a bandstand and judges pavilion. On June 6, the commissioners passed a resolution to start construction.

To complete the grandstand, the commissioners pledged an amount “not to exceed $10,000” for two thirds of the construction of the grandstands, with the remaining amount of the project to be funded by the city. In part, by helping fund the grandstands Weld County earned the opportunity to lease Island Grove Park during the week of the fair and the week preceding it for 10 years. The county also had the option to extend the lease at the end of the term.

Securing a home for the fair was an important part of the resolution but perhaps the most important part was the paragraph listed at the end of the resolution as it specified the board’s long-term commitment to continuing the fair.

“It is further agreed that Weld County shall conduct a county fair at said Island Grove Park at least on each alternate year during the term and extension of said lease, and failure to do so shall, at the election of the city, work a forfeiture of said lease.”

The commitment by Weld County government in the beginning days of the fair has certainly helped it reach its centennial year. Today, the Weld County Fair has grown immensely and continues to engage, interest and excite all who attend and participate. And to think it all was put into motion by that simple and direct five-word headline: “We Want a County Fair.”