Join us for the 2020 Bourbon County Fair, July 11-18!
History of the Bourbon County, Kansas Fair
History of Bourbon County Fair is taken from two articles originally published in the Bourbon County Review by noted historian Arnold Schofield. Illustrations courtesy of Kansasmemory.org.
The First Fair
The tradition of the Bourbon County Fair continues as it has for more than 150 years. It was on Oct. 24 and 25, 1860 when the first Bourbon County Fair occurred. There were a number of years when there was no Fair, the last of which was from 1942 – 1945 during World War II.
Before the first Fair, the Bourbon County Agricultural Society (predecessor of the Bourbon County Fair Board) was organized at the village of Marmaton on May 14, 1860. The following officers were elected with Dr. A. G. Osbun as President and W.R. Griffith as Secretary. A committee was appointed to draft a constitution and a committee of two in each township was appointed to give notice of the date and time of the next meeting.
The June 30 and Oct. 27, 1860, editions of the Fort Scott Democrat published the following from the minutes of the 2nd meeting of the Agricultural Society organizing the first Fair: The committee appointed to draw up a constitution, submitted their report, which was accepted. 22 persons gave their names for membership. The Society ordered its first annual exhibition [Fair] to be held on the 24th and 25th days of October next to the Residence (Farm) of William R. Griffith near Marmaton.
The payment of $1.00 into the Treasury constitutes any citizen of the county as a member of the society and is entitled to all privileges of the same. A resolution was adopted, inviting the cooperation of all citizens interested in the promotion of the interests of agriculture and the mechanic arts.
An account of the first Fair: “We arrived at the Fair Ground Thursday morning about 10 o’clock and were pleased to find a large crowd already in attendance, particularly of the fair sex. The display of stock, farm produce, fancy articles, etc was far beyond our most sanguine expectations and would have done credit to much older and more wealthy counties. Large handsome potatoes were exhibited which have been grown since July. The stock exhibition, however, was the most interesting. Our friend Caldwell, over the Branch, carried off the first prize for horses and mules”.
Published results for the first fair included the following number of classes: 14 Horses, 10 Cattle, 1 Hog, 1 Farm Wagon, 1 Farming Utensil, 1 Butter, 1 Cheese, 1 Vegetable, 1 Sorghum Syrup, 3 Preserves and 1 Ornamental Cake.
By a vote taken on the ground, it was decided that the next Fair would be held in Fort Scott. “Profiting by past experience, we have no doubt the Society will be enabled to make it an honor to the county”.
Move to Fort Scott
In 1861, the Fort Scott Town Company provided the Bourbon County Agricultural Society with 10 acres of open land South of the platted lots of the town for use as the New Fair Grounds. The Northern boundary of this land was from what is now 1217 National Avenue – 1217 Scott Avenue, the Southern boundary was 1401 South National – 116 E. 14th Street, the West, along the alley East of National from 12th to 14th St. and on the East, half a block East of Scott Avenue from 12th to 14th St. Today all of this land is occupied by residential housing. The Fair was located on these grounds from 1861 – 1868, but unfortunately it is not known how many Fairs occurred on these grounds during this time because no written accounts have been discovered to date. It should be noted this was the time of the American Civil War (1961-1865).
On July 16, 1869, the Fort Scott Monitor published the following article that indicated that the Fair Grounds was being moved to its third location further south of Fort Scott.
Agricultural: The Bourbon County Agricultural, Horticultural and Mechanical Society, have made satisfactory arrangements with the City Council to sell the 10 acres near the city to this society, with a view of purchasing 40 acres near the city to be used for all-time as Fair Grounds. Immediate steps will be taken to put the Fair Grounds in order for a Fair this fall.
These Fair Grounds were used from 1869 – 1900 and were located on the east side of 69 Highway from 23rd St. to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, south including where Taco Bell, War Kraft, Labconco, Peerless and Extrusions Industries are now located.
The initial improvements included enclosing surrounding the entire Fair Grounds with a vertical board fence, the construction of a Floral Building, a Mechanical Building and a half mile Race Track for flat and trotting horse races and a grand-stand.
The 1869 fair was much larger than the earlier fairs and included 149 classes. These included 39 Horse Classes, 16 Cattle, 5 Hog, 11 Agricultural implement Classes, 6 Saddle and Harness, 2 Boots and Shoes, 2 Cabinet Work, 6 Domestic Manufacture, 5 Factory Made, 16 Ornamental Sewing, 4 Bread, Butter, Soap and Cake, 3 Preserved Fruits, 6 Flower, 11 Fruit (7 different grapes), 10 Grain (5 types of corn), 1 Mineral, 5 Fine Arts and 1 Class of Discretionary (Miscellaneous) with 36 entries. This fair was very successful and plans began for the 1870 Fair which included a major improvement in transportation to the Fair Grounds with the coming of the “Iron Horse!”
The Missouri River, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad arrived in Fort Scott in December of 1869, too late for the Fair, but by the fall of 1870 its track extended south beyond the Fair Grounds so it was available to transport patrons and livestock to and from the fair. Before the fair, special unloading pens for cattle and horses were constructed immediately adjacent to the railroad tracks for the convenience of the exhibitors.
Special excursion trains were provided throughout the day bringing folks to and from Fort Scott for a nominal fare. Another way to get to the fair was to ride the mule-drawn streetcars down to the southern end of main St., where the intersection of National Ave. and 69 Highway is today and then board an omnibus (large stagecoach) going to and from the Fair Grounds.
The most successful Bourbon County Fairs of the late 19th Century were between 1885 and 1895. In the late 1890’s the Bourbon County Agricultural Association found itself in a difficult financial position and it was forced to sell the Fair Grounds. The Race Track on the former Fair Grounds continued to be used for Flat Horse and Pacing Races for a number of years until it was replaced with a new track constructed in the Athletic Park located on what is now Circle Drive at the south end of Burke Street Hill in Fort Scott. This new racetrack was also used for some of the first automobile races in Fort Scott.
Move To Uniontown
However, the Bourbon County Fair was not without a home because the Fair Association acquired some acreage on the east side of Uniontown and the Fair was conducted there from 1901 – 1941. These Fair Grounds were located where the current West Bourbon Elementary School is and extended south to the Missouri Pacific Railroad Tracks and are on a map of Uniontown in the 1920 Atlas of Bourbon County.
They included a race track, stables for the horses and cattle, a large grandstand, and Floral and Mechanical Exhibit Halls and of course many tents, vendors and exterior exhibits of farm machinery, wagons and equipment. One unique feature of the 1913 Fair and perhaps other Fairs were Mule Races! A local photographer snapped a picture of this race as the five mules and riders were rounding the first curve beyond the grandstand. Two of the riders are fanning their mules with their hats trying to catch the leader whose rider was dressed in a suit riding calm cool and collected as if he was on a very fast Sunday Ride About! It is not known if the suited rider and his mule won the race, but they were sure in the lead as they rounded the first curve on the track. The last Fair at Uniontown was in September of 1941, just before the attack on Pear Harbor on December 7th and the United States’ entry into World War II.
There was no Bourbon County Fair from 1942 to 1945. However from 1943 to 1945 there was a different type of agricultural event that was called the “FARMESTA” which was really a Fair under a different name with it’s own governing body. The first Farmesta was in 1943 and was held in Main Street Park which was later named Fisher Park.
Their wasn’t enough space for a race track and temporary stalls and pens were constructed near and around the open Band Shell. A temporary stage was constructed in Frary Field adjacent to the bleachers and the locker rooms under the bleachers were used for small exhibit halls. The Livestock Parade and all of the Awards and Entertainment were presented at Frary Field.
Even though the 1943 Farmesta was a success, Main Street Park was too small for the event and more room was needed. Therefore, the 1944 and 1945 Farmestas were moved to Share Field, the home of the Fort Scott Saddle Club which was located on the North side of 54 Highway on the outskirts of Fort Scott near where the Fort Scott Tractor and Equipment Co. is currently located. At Share Field there was a race track and small bleachers which functioned as a grandstand for the 1944 Farmesta.
In 1945 it was decided to have the Farmesta at Share Field once again, but a larger Grandstand was needed to replace the small bleachers. So, the Fort Scott Saddle Club purchased, dismantled the large Grandstand in Uniontown from the Bourbon County Fair Association, transported it in trucks and rebuilt it at Share Field.
The Bourbon County Fair Today
After the 1945 Farmesta was over, a new group decided to bring the County Fair back to Fort Scott and the Bourbon County Fair Board was created. It planned to have its first fair in 1946 and purchased a sufficient amount of land for the Fairgrounds out in the country on Horton Avenue with what is now 23rd Street as its boundary.
One of the first things constructed was a racetrack, with a grandstand and two long cattle barns. Eventually these barns were replaced with modern cattle and sheep barns, hog barn, a 4-H building, Merchants building, the Myers Exhibit Building, horse stables, restrooms and the new Yeager Building with an addition for poultry, rabbits and ducks and a rodeo – livestock arena that has replaced the race track.
Today, the existing Fairgrounds are no longer out in the country as they were in 1946 and are surrounded by residential suburbs and Fort Scott Community College. For the past 70+ years through the excellent efforts of numerous Fair Boards past and present and hundreds of dedicated volunteers the Bourbon County Fair has become one of the finest agricultural events in eastern Kansas as its proud tradition is carried on!