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First Fairs Exhibit Different, Emphasis Same – Promoting Farm Life

By Rose H. McIlVeen 7/31/82

A program from the 1980 Monroe County Fair from the MCHC Collection (2006.068.0001-26)

“An act for the encouragement of agriculture” was approved by the Indiana Legislature in February 1835.

According to to The History of the Counties of Morgan, Monroe and Brown, Indiana, the following June a meeting was held in Bloomington for the purpose of organizing a local agricultural society. Participants in the public meeting came in response to 300 flyers distributed over the county at the request of the “County Board.”

The first order of business at the organization meeting was the election of a chairman, Michael Buskirk, and a secretary, Craven P. Hester. It is likely that the meeting was held solely for the purpose of complying with the new state law mandating county agricultural societies, rather than the actual planning of a county fair. If indeed there was a fair held in Monroe County in the 1830s, there is no record of it in existence today. The above-mentioned county history, written in 1884, indicates that one or two fairs were held in the early 1850s, but no records were kept of them, either. However, in 1855 the Monroe County Agricultural Society was revived, and the following board of directors elected: Michael Buskirk, C.P. Hester, Austin Seward, Lewis Bollman, Henry Eller, Asher Labertew, W.S. Stormont, Joshua Shreve, Luke Sanders, Joseph Bunger, James Givens, Edward Blakely, Richard Moore, Willis Spencer, Monroe Houston and Thomas Payne. Although residents of Bloomington Township outnumbered the others on the board, Van Buren, Richland and Benton townships were also represented.

The first county fair of record was held Oct. 10-11 in 1855. A complete premium list is contained in the 1884 county history. Many of the judging classes are still in existence today in slightly updated form, but the list also includes some items discarded through the years as outmoded or old-fashioned.

For example, ribbons were awarded for the best farm implements such as the horse rake, cider mill, cheese press, churn, straw cutter and apple parer.

In the “domestic manufactures” division, prizes were given for the best tow cloth, rag carpet, knit stockings or socks, lady saque and mantilla.

All competitors were obliged to be members of the Agricultural Society, which cost $1 per family. On-members who went to the fair paid the following admission fees: 20 cents per person; 20 cents per one-horse buggy; 10 cents on horseback; 25 cents for a two-house buggy or wagon, and children under the age of 10, free.

In addition to the directors, some of whom served as judges, the following persons were selected to help with the judging:

Bloomington Township – Eli Worley, John Orchard, Thomas Smith, Joseph McPheeters, Michael Helton, John Garrison, W.O. Fee, William Millen, Paulina Hardin, Louise Maxwell, Miss Mcginnis and Milton McPhetridge.

Perry Township – Lewis Shryer, Hugh Campbell, John C. Campbell and Benjamin Rogers.

Van Buren Township – I. Crohn, John Dinsmore, Ellen Stone and Benjamin Neeld.

Richland Township – David Byers, Samuel Houston, Sol HIckman, J.W. Coffey, N.S. Mayfield and I.W. Sanders.

Indian Creek Township – Peter Caramichael and Thomas Carter.

Bean Blossom Township – James Buskirk and David Buskirk.

According to the county history, the early fairs were held just east of Bloomington. Also surviving on record was an account of the receipts and expenditures for 1856. In that year, the fair board took in $415.75, but spend $594.75.

Undated photo from the MCHC Collection of the Monroe County Fair (1992.082.0086)