Celebrating 60 years of Clay County Fairs

Editor’s note: This is the first of several columns compiled by Sharron Jensen that tell the history of the Clay County Fair. The 2013 Clay County Fair will be held in Vermillion Aug. 8-10.

In 1963 Mrs. Walter Hendricks (as the secretary/treasurer of CCAFA) was asked to do some research on the development of the Fair grounds. This is her report.

I wonder how old the fairgrounds really are. It would be interesting to know who really started the Clay County Fair. It seems to have been more or less a private venture.

In checking some records I found that petitions were circulated in the county in the year 1939 (the petitions are on file), for the county commissioners to purchase the fairgrounds, but for unknown reasons they did not purchase it. The last county fair was held in August 1940.

The 4-H Achievement Days took the place of the county fair from that time, with no place to hold it but on the streets of Vermillion, the (old) high school, in the (old) National Guard Amory and in tents.

On Feb. 19, 1943, the city council held a special meeting to determine if they should try to buy the grounds. It seemed there was a mortgage against it being held by the Farmers’ Mutual Insurance Company. On March 1, 1943, the decision to buy was made and the price was $5,000. Then someone in authority proceeded to sell the buildings one by one.

The County 4-H program and clubs were growing and there was a need to have a place to hold Achievement Days and the only prospect was the fairgrounds.

Early in the spring of 1952, a group of 4-H leaders and other interested persons decided to see what could be done to acquire the fairgrounds for 4-H activities. It was found that in order to have the county assume responsibility so a tax levy could be set up, it would first have to lease the property from the owner (the City of Vermillion).

Before the county commissioners could lease the property, petitions needed to be circulated to the landowners to approve the leasing of fairgrounds for 4-H activities. It was needed to obtain 300 signatures and on May 6, 1952, the committee members of Eldon Olson, Ed Manning and Conrad Wastlund presented the signatures to the county commissioners.

By the last of July in 1952 the county commissioners had secured a lease for the fairgrounds from the city for 25 years with option for renewal and the CCAFA could go ahead with a building program. The committee of O.S. Westburg, Les Zeller and Mrs. Hendricks were asked to procure the first building, an old airport hangar for $3,000 set up minus foundation.

It was found the building could be rented to the Bureau of Reclamation so the committee was instructed to go ahead. In August the committee entered into contract with Lloyd Holmes, owner, for the purchase of the building, which had been upped to $3,400 because of having to hire a longer boom than he owned.

The 4-H leaders association secured a loan of $3,700 from Ralph Leer to secure the building and make the necessary fill and foundation. This was the start of the building plan and the first building to be placed on the fairgrounds. It was then necessary for the city and the county to draw up a rider to the lease so the building could be used for car storage.

On Dec. 10, 1952, the county commissioners, the 4-H building committee, and the States Attorney Martin Weeks Jr. met to discuss plans for supervision of the fair grounds. Weeks explained the law and what procedures would be. It could be set up and run by the commissioners or could be turned over to some non-profit organization. The commissioners said they did not care to run the fair grounds.

It was decided a board of representatives of the entire county be set up to supervise the property, to form a corporation, and the committee would move ahead with prospects of getting a building for the girls exhibits.

Weeks was asked to investigate and find out if the old Clay County Fair Board was still in existence, and to find a copy of the old constitution. It was found it was no longer in existence.

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