“Those were the days!” That’s the comment you most likely hear from ‘old timers’ when they are asked about the early years of the Scott County Fair in Jordan. Big crowds, excellent exhibits, huge parades, exciting entertainment, and a variety of tasty foods were always the highlights of the early fairs. And, with similar educational and recreational activity continuing as features of the fair for three generations, this annual exposition has evolved into a prominent, valued tradition for the people of Scott County and the surrounding areas.
May 1915; The Fair Starts
The fair started in May, 1915. An article in the May 13, 1915, edition of the Jordan Independent states: “A County fair will be held in Jordan in September this year. This decision was arrived at a mass meeting held in Mertz Opera House one evening last week. It was enthusiastically voted to change from the midwinter form of fair that has been held in Jordan annually for a number of years.”
The first fair was considered successful with good crowds. George Vierling of Shakopee, who played alto in the brilliant Jordan Brass Band, estimated Friday afternoon’s crowd at 2,500 and Saturday evening’s crowd at ‘fully’ 3,000. Crowd for the three days was estimated to be 7,000.
Exhibits were heavy with 91 head of cattle entered, 29 horses, swine pens overflowing, great showing of poultry with 154 birds. Entries in the agricultural department totaled 355.
The Early Years
For the second year’s fair, the Independent reported that a handsome new woman’s building was built on the south end of the fairgrounds. It was 30 X 50 feet in size. Also, the cattle exhibition barn was doubled in size and re-arranged. There were 54 large double stalls on two 17-foot aisles, each 100 feet long. The capacity was 106 head of cattle without crowding and about 125 head by placing three small animals in some of the larger stalls.
Attendance for the three days of the second annual fair was estimated to be 21,000. Exhibits in all departments numbered 1,607.
In the early years of the exposition the newspaper reported that the entertainment end of the fair was noteworthy. There were entertainers and trained animals. Band concerts occurred every afternoon and evening. And there were free movies each night. The livestock parade took place Friday afternoon, the grand industrial and allegorical parade with floats at 7 p.m. Friday, and Saturday, the fire run and sham fire.
In 1920, Jos. Beckman of St. Lawrence township was named President of the fair to replace Henry Arens who resigned after heading the fair one year. It was another record breaking year.
The 1927 fair was a record-breaker in a department of growing importance, namely 4-H Club work. President R. G. Morrell and Secretary J. H. Grams were hopeful that year’s fair would show a profit.
Shortly after the purchase of the fairgrounds at Jordan by the Scott County Good Seed Association for ,500 in the spring of 1930, a program of improvement of the fairgrounds and facilities was begun. Some ,000 in improvements were made, headed by President Morrell.
In December of 1941, the Scott County Fair became debt-free. Editor John E. Casey reported, “on Tuesday Secretary Herb Strait and the fair’s Treasurer drew and signed a pay voucher to Frank Wolf in the amount of 0 and another to the Northwestern State Bank of Jordan in the amount of 2.70 that wiped out the final vestiges of indebtedness this farmers agricultural society had.”
There was no fair in 1946 as the fair board acted in cooperation with health officials in fighting the polio-myelitis epidemic rampant in September of that year.
Each succeeding fair seemed to break new records as did the exhibition of 1947. Gate superintendent, Peter Pauly, reported total cash paid for admission that year reached a new high of ,390. In November of 1947, ground was broken in the fairgrounds for an enlarged baseball field with lights. A 25-year lease was approved with the Jordan Baseball Association. About this time, the fair had become a four-day event.
Much to the disappointment of many persons, the fair in 1962 was held without the customary Sunday afternoon parade. The parade was cancelled because the cost of engaging parade units became too expensive for county merchants to support. During the early 1960’s, the sponsoring organization of the fair took on the name Scott County Agricultural Society, Inc., dropping the name Scott County Good Seed Association under which it had operated since the fair’s inception.
During the 1960’s the board began to feature more ‘local’ talent for the grandstand entertainment, rather than pay for professional acts that compete with talent regularly seen on television. Tug-of-war contests were scheduled with teams made up from throughout the county, tractor pulls became popular, and in the 1970’s demolition derbies, which are still the main grandstand attraction today.
Expanding the Grounds
In 1972 the fair board purchased 80 acres in St. Lawrence township for ,000 as a site for the future fairgrounds. New buildings were erected with additional ones added each year for several years.
In March, 1973, the city of Jordan approved the purchase of Fairgrounds Park in Jordan for ,000. The Jordan Commercial Club donated ,000 to the city for a down payment. And in this year, the 59th annual fair opened at the new site in St. Lawrence township where it is currently held today. The first year at the new site was indeed dusty with practically nothing but bare ground to walk on. But, over the next few years grass was sown, trees planted, and general landscaping done that vastly improved conditions.
During the 1994 fair the mortgage was burned at an afternoon ceremony in the beer garden by Maynard Harms, manager, and Mike Glisczinski, President, and once again the fair organization was debt-free. However, in December of 1994, as a demonstration of their continued commitment to the county fair, the county board of commissioners approved a request from the Scott County Agricultural Society for 10,000 loan.
For some 58 years the fair was successfully staged at the park in Jordan, playing to huge crowds numbering in the mid-20,000. For the past 30 years, the fair has been staged at the present St. Lawrence site. Crowds have numbered about the same, in the mid-20,000 – 30,000 range, over the years.
And so, as the result of numerous past and present dedicated board members and officers who have volunteered countless hours of time and effort – and with the helping hand of hundreds of loyal supporters – the people of Scott county have enjoyed an annual fair since 1915. Indeed, for three generations this glorious event has brought competitive exhibits, thrills, entertainment and recreational activity, along with every present food to thousands of people, young and old, in a joyous and friendly environment. And thus, thanks also to the loyal support of fairgoers, this annual exposition has become one of the prominent and valued traditions of Scott County today.