Shelby County Fair

Intersection of Fair Avenue and Morris Avenue
Shelbyville, IN 46176


History :

In the early 19th century, annual farmers' picnics were held in two places in Shelbyville. The first place was on the west side of town, near present-day Montgomery Street. The second place, on the east side of town was in the center of the Walkerville district.
The first precise date of reference for the fair is a mention of the renting of the grounds starting in 1839. Any farmer who wished to exhibit animals, perform circus shows, or use the grounds to present any show for profit would be charged a forty dollar fee.

In the summer of 1848, forty acres of land east-southeast of the Shelbyville Distillery were purchased by the county commissioners for $5,000. This land has since been leased to the fair association at no cost, provided a fair is presented every year. The first fair was held in the autumn of 1848, with premiums paid for crops, stock, fruits, farm implements, flowers and domestic manufacturers.

On November 1, 1851, Judge J. M. Sleeth presented the constitution of the first Shelby County Agricultural Society. Thomas A. Hendricks (future Vice-President of the United States), Martin M. Ray, and James Elliot presented the by-laws.

According to state laws, the Society was forced to reorganize, and the stock in the new association was first sold in 1873, and the first fair under the Shelby County Fair Association was held the following summer.

The Amphitheater, commonly called the Grandstand, was built in 1879 when the race track was being renovated. The track was originally built in the 1860's for Union Army deserters who wished to spend the time until the end of the Civil War gambling. It owes it's reputation as one of the fastest tracks in the state due to it's design, modeled after the world-famous Kentucky Derby track at Churchill Downs.

A dancing hall, run by Ray Sexton, was old-time favorite gathering place for Shelby County youth. The huge pavilion held nightly dances during the 1800's, but was subsequently torn down when interest in the nightly dances faded.

The horse stalls were originally located on the west side of the Fairgrounds, until one local citizen initiated their move. D. S. Walker protested to the smell of the horse manure drifting onto his property, and resolved to do something about the problem. He habitually took his after-dinner walk outside, and upon returning to his house, threw his still-smoking cigar through the open barn window. One night the plan succeeded and the barns caught fire and burned to the ground. No horses or riders were injured in the blaze and the Fair Association rebuilt the barns on the east side of the grounds.

The most prominent recent additions to the Fairgrounds are the Women's Building, built in 1954, and the Cedar Ford Bridge, built in 1885 and moved to the Fairgrounds in 1975.

During the 1920's and 1930's, Stout's Circus was a major attraction, with its trained dogs, ponies, and horses. Touring with them were the Taylor Brothers Aerialists and Hardini, a handcuff and straight-jacket artist. One sideshow even offered fair-goers Sparkle the Horse, who challenged them in intelligence and/or endurance.

The most famous runner-up at the Shelby County Fair is Wilbur Shaw. In his first contest, at age 8, he came in second in the fair's Goat Races in 1910. He eventually went on to win the most famous race of all, the Indianapolis 500, three times.

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