'Dry' fair established by committee in 1872

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Ginny Hall | December 13, 2013

The first agricultural fair in Walworth County was held by the East Troy Agricultural Society in 1849 in East Troy. Augustus Smith acted as president, Jacob Burgit as vice president, Seymour Books and C.L. Oatman as co-secretaries and T. Mower Jr. as treasurer. The executive committee included Emery Thayer, Elias Hibbard, Joseph Bishop, William Child, William Pratt, S.P. Cole, J.W. Bartolf and John Mather. 

Photo gallery of Mystery Places.

The first year the society could boast of 130 listed members. The cost of membership was 50 cents. They had collected $62.

The next fair and cattle show was held in East Troy on Oct. 16. Because it rained that day, the plowing contest was postponed until Oct. 25. In a written history of the event, Maude Totten reported that Franklin Kelsey Phoenix of Delavan exhibited 25 apple varieties and Josiah F. Brooks sold two bulls — one at $230 and the other at $150. 

A meeting was held in Elkhorn in April 1851 to change the society's name to Walworth County Agricultural Society. The group developed a premium list and set the next fair to be held Oct. 14 and Oct. 15, 1851, in Elkhorn.

In 1854 Edward Elderkin gave the society a 10-year contract to purchase six acres of his land for a permanent fair site. The price was $100 an acre with 10 percent interest, which was high for that time. The six acres was on the plank road leading to Spring Prairie, which is now Wisconsin Highway 11. 

The land was high and dry and covered with hickory and burr oak trees. Elkhorn donated $300 to fence the land, erect pens and sheds and dig wells. 

In 1855, 3,000 people attended the fair. The society voted to incorporate. Members also found themselves to be in debt. They needed to get more people involved in working for the fair.

Totten's history reports that during the depression year of 1857 the receipts were $850, which covered all expenses. They also voted to purchase another five acres or more, giving the mortgage to Elderkin. In another resolution they voted to change the number of managers from nine to 17 so each township could be represented. In 1859, life membership in the society was established at $10. 

In 1862 the society decided that judges would be selected from the best men in the county. It was further decided to label exhibits with a number, not a name.

In 1865, the committee decided to designate placings with ribbons: red for first, white for second and blue for third. This was during the Civil War, and red, white and blue, in that order, were very patriotic.

At its 1872 annual meeting it was resolved that “… all intoxicating and malt liquors and cider shall be totally suppressed and prohibited on the grounds of the society and the grounds adjacent to them; and for each violation of the rules each offender shall be liable on conviction before a proper officer of said society to the highest penalty known to the law and shall also be forthwith expelled and prohibited from any future participation in the interest of said society. And all lotteries and gambling devices are equally prohibited and forbidden by said society.”

The premium list for 1881 had 31 classes.  This included cattle, horses, sheep, wool, swine, poultry, cereals and vegetables, pantry stores, fruit, youth department, fine arts, two classes of plants and flowers, dairy and speed trials for horses. 

Back in 2005 and 2006 I reviewed the agricultural society's records of proceedings and wrote a 200-page-plus history. In the next few weeks I will continue giving you a bird's-eye view of that history.

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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