Historically Yours: Missouri State Fair, the first attempt

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

Within thirty years of statehood, Missouri citizens were calling for a state fair. It would showcase the best-of-the-best in the world of agriculture. On Feb. 24, 1853, the Missouri Legislature authorized the incorporation of the Missouri State Agricultural Society.

Paragraph 2 of their Charter begins: “In addition to the powers above enumerated, the Society shall, by its name and style aforesaid, have power to purchase and hold any quantity of land not exceeding twenty acres, and may sell and dispose of the same at pleasure.

"The said real estate shall be held by said Society for the sole purpose of erecting enclosures, buildings, and other improvements calculated and designed for the meeting of the Society, and for an exhibition of various breeds of horses, cattle, mules and other stock, and of agricultural, mechanical and domestic manufactures and productions, and for no other purposes. …”

Officers were named in Paragraph 5 and were from various counties around the state. M.M. Marmaduke was appointed president. James S. Rollins, Nathaniel Leonard, Dabney C. Garth, Roland Hughes, James C. Anderson, and Camm Seay, were named vice presidents. James L. Minor, Joseph L. Stephens, and William H. Trigg were appointed corresponding secretary, recording secretary, and treasurer, respectively.

The Board of Directors held their first meeting in Boonville on June 22, 1853, and the first exhibition/fair was held in Boonville during the first week of October later that same year. As it was decided the Fair should also be educational, an annual address was included and the first speaker was Uriel Wright of St. Louis. The Missouri Legislature appropriated $1,351.50 for the event.

The second fair was held the following year and the Missouri Legislature appropriated another $2,652.88. Minor, the Society’s corresponding secretary, was the speaker.

While it has long been assumed that one learned farming and related agricultural skills by doing, Minor said, “The day is fast approaching when we must be educated for our great occupation.” It seems his vision of the future was on the mark. Few farmers today are without at least some college education.

The third and last fair in Boonville took place in 1855, but it wasn’t for lack of interest. It was the last year the Missouri Legislature appropriated funds for the event. However, that did not permanently stop the fair. For years, people continued to come and compete just for the ribbons.

It wasn’t until 1897 that the next serious attempt at a Missouri State Fair began.

Elizabeth Davis was born and raised in Cooper County, Missouri, and has written HISTORICALLY YOURS for the Boonville Daily News for over ten years. She has covered the Civil War, US history, and Cooper County history. In celebration of Missouri’s Bicentennial, she has syndicated her column statewide and encourages readers all over the Show Me State to submit topic suggestions for future columns to HistoricallyYours.davis@gmail.com.