The Putnam County Fair has had a long and rich history. This page is our attempt to bring you a little bit of that history.
There has been a fair in Putnam County for over 100 years. The first fair was organized after the Civil War as a County Agricultural and Mechanical Society and served as a reunion of sorts for those soldiers. There were some livestock at these early fairs (mainly horses and mules) as well as food exhibits. One of the more interesting facts about this fair is that the horse race held during it was started for years by the legendary Frank James (Jesse's brother). The fair was held just west of Unionville for many years on the Wille King farm. However, this fair eventually died out in the early 1900's. The modern version of the Putnam County Fair started up again in 1937 by Conrad White, the Vocational Agriculture teacher at the time. The fair was held on October 7th through the 9th. The livestock were kept in the old community stock pens on South 19th street (the trailer park across and south of the Dairy Lane). Other exhibits (crops and home economics) were in the building that is now the Putnam County Historical Society and Museum's. A band concert was also a part of this fair.
The Unionville Rotary Club was organized in 1937 and they began a major association with the fair for many years from that time on. In 1938 city merchants raised $255.00 for prize money. High School students served as livestock superintendents. They were: Ed Hudson - Beef Cattle; John Mower - Sheep; Marvin Steele and Bob Maulsby - Crops; Irene Carter and Valee Sparks - Home Economics; James Minear - 4-H; and Margaret Shelton - Extension Clubs. The fair in 1939 had a parade around the town square and tents for the livestock exhibits.
In 1940 and 1941 there was a fair, however, there were no livestock shows those years (just crops and home economics exhibits). It is not completely clear why their were no livestock exhibits for those years except that Conrad White (Vo-Ag instructor) and C E Neff (County Agent) had both left in 1939. In 1942 the Rotary Club appointed members to the fair committee. These included Paul Melton, Clare Magee, Johnnie Jones, and Glenn Thacker (the Extension Agent here at the time). These persons raised $1700.00 from the community and the 1st Fair and Calf Sale Barn (Agricultural Building) was built that year. It later burned down. The 1942 Putnam County Fair was held on September 24th to 26th and also marked the 1st talent show held. It is listed on the flyer as the 4th annual Putnam County Fair. No one is sure if the fairs before they were held at the park ('37 & '38) weren't counted or the 2 years, 1940 and 41, without livestock were not counted as 1942 was actually the 6th year a fair of some kind was held. However, it snowed (yes snowed) and so that year's fair was not very successful.
1945's fair was also the county's centennial so a large celebration was planned. Professional entertainment from KMBC and WHO in Des Moines were secured for the 1st time for shows at 2:30 and 8:00 p.m. Anitques that were from Ed Gorman were displayed at the fair that year also. Mrs. Nathan Wells gave a presentation on the history of Putnam County. The daily admission charge that year was 40 cents. It is after this fair that a fairboard was officially organized after it was discovered that premium reimbursement money was available from the state. A public meeting was held at the courthouse and the 1st fairboard members were elected. The board consisted of Maurice Fowler, Joe Thompson, Jack Nickleson, Russell Hauck, Homer Dickerson, and Marple Wyckoff who served as the Secretary. The Unionville Rotary Club continued to be involved with the fair after this as well. 1946 marked the 1st year of the flower show at the fair. They used a tent and it blowed down 2 times that year.
1947 was the 1st year there was an eating stand and the 1st time season tickets were sold. Henry Feldman served as the first chariman of the food stand. This was also the 1st year that the merchandise prizes were given away as part of the fair. up until then tickets had been sold on a Shetland pony that was given away. In the late 1940's the dates op the fair were changed to right after Labor Day (where it is today). An earlier date would have been preferred but conflict with other fairs close by and with the Missouri and Iowa State fairs made this impossible. 1949 was the last year that the local merchants contributed for the prizes as that has been self-sustaining since that time.
cattlebuilding.tif (192364 bytes)The 1st Fair and Calf Sale Barn that was built in 1942 had burnt down. In 1950 a new Calf Sale Barn was built (the one at the right of this picture) for $12,000 in cooperation with the feeder calf board. It is still used today for the swine show and junior livestock sale during the fair. The upper portion housed the flower show for many years until a building was built for them. The building on the left in this picture was used for cattle and had hay and other storage above. It burnt down in a fire in 1979 and was replaced by the present open cattle barn. From the 1940's on the fair has tried to keep adding to the buildings up at the fairgrounds to make our fair the best it possibly can be.
The Putnam County Fair continued its growth in the 1950's. Our status as a fair with great country music entertainment continued to rise during the decade. The 1950's also had a large increase in 4-H and FFA numbers and as such an increase in participation at the fair. 4-H numbers reached to over 300 during this decade, the highest they've ever been in our county. One of the activities that was very popular and competitive in the 1940's and 1950's was the Saint Joseph Interstate Show. Putnam and
50scattleshow.tif (279534 bytes)Sullivan Counties began a competitive relationship partially due to this show. These counties ( and others) fought back and forth at Saint Joe for several years. The picture to the right is the 5 calves picked to go to the Interstate Show in 1959. Those showing (from left to right) are: Lonnie Whitacre, Sharon Noel (Tubbs), Bobby Whitacre, David Noel, and Shirley Richardson. This picture was taken in front of the feeder calf barn. Notice the size of these calves in relation to the kids and how that compares to the cattle that are exhibited today!
During the 1950's the first permanent stage was erected at the fairgrounds. Before that barrels with planks donated from the lumber yard were used for the entertainers. It was also during this time that the need for a building to serve 4-H, the fair, the feeder calf sale and the community was seen as a real need. A comittee was formed to look into this. The way funds were raised for this building was truely 4-Hbuilding.tif (100076 bytes)unique. County farmers took calves that were bought at the feeder calf sale and kept them at their farm for a year. The next year they brought them back and the profit made went into the building fund. Also, the county 4-H clubs provided 1 night of the entertainment at the fair and the money that would have been spent on it went into this fund. Finally in 1963 the building (shown at the right) was completed. It is used for the fair office, home economics, and booths in addition to the 4-H projects. This building is dedicated to Lonnie Whitacre, who was killed in an accident and whose dad, Bryce, was one of the main comittee members when the building was begun.
The Putnam County Fair continued to improve during the 1960's and 1970's. The 1960's saw the building of another entertainment/events stage which is still there today. Country music stars continued to come and play at the fair as our status in that regard grew even more. The flower and vegetable building was completed during these years as well which allowed them a much better 70scattleshow.tif (236507 bytes) space.
Livestock shows (cattle in particular) had also changes by the 1970's. Judges were looking for taller, larger framed cattle, as you can tell by the picture on the right. Sharla Fleshman to the left and Richard Morrow to the right show their steers in the mid 1970's. Notice the difference from those shown in the 1950's picture. The Putnam County Fair began an Open Steer Show during this period also that became known far and wide as steers and exhibitors came from several states to show in this Open Show.
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