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Friday, August 12th, 2022

Mercer County Fair celebrates 170th anniversary

By William Kincaid
Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

A horse and its owner walk through the stables at the Mercer County Fairgrounds.

CELINA - The Mercer County Fair that starts today traces back to 1852 when it got off to a bumpy start as a one day event, according to the Mercer County Fair 2022 Media Guide.
The admission price in 1852 was a mere 25 cents for anyone 21 and older, per the guide history compiled from numerous sources, including magazine and newspaper articles.
"The competition was very light, but they still didn't make enough money to pay all the premiums and expenses," the guide reads.
One-day fairs continued to be held in Mercer County from 1853 to 1855. However, those events were reportedly poorly supported, and due to a lack of interest, he Mercer County Fair would go on hiatus for the next 12 years.   
"Then, in 1868 the Agricultural Society reorganized and announced that after a long lapse they planned to hold the First Annual Mercer County Fair. The Fair was to be held in the beautiful grove adjoining the Reservoir near Celina," the guide states.
From there on out, the fair became an annual event in Mercer County save for a handful of years during dark times in the nation's history.
The fair in 1868 morphed into a three-day affair, the guide indicates. It grew to four days in 1876, and in 1886, due to inclement weather, a fifth day was tacked onto the fair.
The first official five day fair took place in 1899.
"After some years it was held for five days, and at times because of finances or problems it was cut back to four. But it gradually expanded into a full week event," the guide reads.
In 1878, the Agriculture Society purchased the land that is now a part of the current fairgrounds, according to the guide. The first fair was held there in 1894.
"Later the Society purchased more adjoining land. Eventually, one of the best regulation tracks for horse racing was built. A large amphitheater was also added to the south side of the track that would seat up to 4,000 people," the guide states.
The fair was once again put on hold during the Great Depression years of 1932 to 1934.
"Then in 1935 the Celina American Legion took over and ran the Fairs through 1939. With the programs developed by President Franklin Roosevelt to help the unemployed a new grandstand was built. This was done through the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)," the guide reads. "World War II quickly brought an end to the Great Depression, and after the war, the popularity of the Mercer County Banner Fair took off again."
The fair persisted during the turbulent WWII years.
"The war ended during the 1945 Fair. It was reported that when the announcement was made, so many people threw their ration tokens and food stamps into the air that it looked like flying confetti," the guide reads.
Today, the fairgrounds span nearly 60 acres and contain 30 buildings, the guide states.
Officials for the last several years have focused on making the Mercer County Fairgrounds a top-notch destination year-round with sizable investments in facilities, amenities and events.
Hewing to this year's fair theme of "Big Dreams in a Small Town," officials are once again shooting for the stars. Earlier this month, community leaders revealed plans to create a $12 million indoor event center and arena on the west end of the fairgrounds that they say would attract national events to the area and boost the local economy.
A group of stakeholders and business leaders behind the proposal seek to bring their ambitious vision to life in cooperation with the county fair board. They will roll out a fundraising campaign at the fair starting today.
If all goes according to plan, ground would be broken in August 2023 and The Grand Event Center and Market Hall would have its grand opening in the fall of 2024. The two facilities together could hold up to 6,000 people.

Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

Donald McCracken of Chillicothe, Missouri, props up the side of a pool with a bucket as it fills with water. The pool will be used for the Dock Dogs event all day today, Saturday and Sunday at the Mercer County Fair in Celina.


Photo by Paige Sutter/The Daily Standard

A volunteer helps set up a ride at the Mercer County Fairgrounds Thursday morning.



Historical fair milestones:
• 1852 - Very first Mercer County Fair. It was only a one day event. The entrance fee was 25 cents for anyone 21 years old or older.
• 1853-1855 - Only a one-day event was held.
• 1856-1867 - The Mercer County Fair was cancelled.
• 1868 - The Agricultural Society reorganized and held the First Annual Mercer County Fair in the grove adjoining the reservoir near Celina. It was held October 14-16.
• 1872 - The Agricultural Society purchased the tract of land of 17 or 18 acre. This site would be the site of the Mercelina Park in 2002.
• 1876 - The fair was expanded to four days.
• 1878 - Mercer County Agricultural Society purchased 21.32 acres of land from the Brandon heirs for $1,900.
• 1881 - Premiums ranged from 50 cents to $25 for the best stallion, four years old and over.
• 1882 -Grandstands to seat 1,500 persons comfortably were installed at the fairgrounds. The grandstands later were destroyed by fire in 1896.
• 1889- Over 8,000 people attended the fair on Thursday of fair week, the biggest record yet.
• 1893 - Mercer County Agricultural Society purchased 18 acres of land from John W. DeFord for $2,700.
• 1896 - U.S. President W. G. Harding visited the Mercer County Fair.
• 1907 - Record attendance was reached on Thursday of fair week with a total of 25,000 people. The attendance continued to grow year after year.
• 1912 -New Art Hall completed on the grounds. It was built for $1,371.40.
• 1932-1934 - No county fair was held due to the Great Depression.
• 1935 - The current grandstands were erected.
• 1938 - Unity Grange became a vendor at the Mercer County Fair.
• 1942 - Hopewell Grange became a vendor at the Mercer County Fair
• 1952- -Mercer County Highway Garage was built on the Mercer County Fairgrounds.
• 1990 -Merle Haggard and the Charlie Daniels Band performed at the fair.
- Source: Mercer County Fair 2022 Media Guide
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Area Roundup
Compiled By Tom Haines
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