One might say that the Illinois Du Quoin State Fairground is the area's earliest and most successful reclamation project. Back in 1939 when William R. Hayes bought the Old Black Gold Strip Mine that joined his original 30-acre fairground tract and set to work filling, leveling, and landscaping the acreage, it probably never occurred to him that the 1400 trees he had transplanted to his abandoned strip-mined land might not grow.
Needless to say, they did grow, and today there are 1200 beautiful acres with 12 lakes and ponds (salvaged strip pits), and 30 miles of winding roadways, not to mention the showplace mansion and stables, the grandstand, and the mile oval track that yearly showcases the World Trotting Derby. In a report of the Du Quoin history, probably dated around 1948, a description of the fairgrounds stated, "The grounds of the Du Quoin State Fair are of the finest to be found. Fishing is good, the picnic spots are always full, and the drives are one of our community showplaces."
Obviously, the writer in TV Guide's August 28, 1976 article lacked the eye to discover nature's beauty when he called the area around the then home of the Hambletonian "...one of the most desolate wastelands beyond the east Bronx..." and used other less than complimentary phrases. The area abounds with natural beauty --beautiful lakes, rivers and parks; historic homes and buildings; rural landscapes and country hospitality; and, once a year, the Du Quoin State Fair.
Though the Hambletonian is no longer run at the fair, the tradition established at the fair's opening in 1923 continues. Harness racing is an essential component of the fair. Grand Circuit harness racing, a sports organization formed in 1871, joined the fair in 1942. Today the international championship, the World Trotting Derby, calls the fair home.
In 1923, W.R. Hayes visualized a state fair on a 30-acres tract of land just south of Du Quoin. His eye for the future saw the adjoining strip-mined areas as a place to expand, once the fair was established. An excellent businessman, Hayes convinced investors to contributed a share in his dream. It probably never occurred to him that rural southern Illinois has no drawing card to ensure the fair's success. He was always fond of saying, "If you're going to do something, do it all the way." And he did.
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