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Historically Yours: Missouri General Assembly establishes a state fair

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

It began with Nicholas Hocker Gentry from Sedalia.

In 1897, he presented a resolution at the fifth annual Missouri Swine Breeders Association to ask the general assembly to establish a State Fair. Other associations followed with additional resolutions.

On Jan. 15, 1899, Representative Cyrus F. Clark introduced a bill to create a Missouri State Fair. With support from Gov. Lawrence V. Stephens, the bill passed in April.

Stephens was the son of Joseph L. Stephens who had been the recording secretary of the Missouri State Agricultural Society which organized the first three state expositions/fairs in Boonville in 1853-55.

With just eighty days to select a permanent site, the State Board of Agriculture requested bids and the response was quick. The six communities of Centralia, Chillicothe, Marshall, Mexico, Moberly, and Sedalia began vying for the Fair to be located in their town.

After visiting each city, the Board members returned to Jefferson City to consider their options. It was after midnight and ten ballots later when the majority finally voted on Sedalia.

The Van Riper family had originally set aside 150 acres in Sedalia’s attempt to have the state capital moved from Jefferson City. It was this land that was donated for the State Fair. Accusations of “political fixing” followed the decision and many thought it was a consolation prize to Sedalia for not getting the capital.

The 40th and 41st General Assemblies appropriated $15,000 and $50,000, respectively, to develop the site. George E. Kessler, one of the best landscape architects of the day, designed the original park areas of the Fairgrounds. This was the same Kessler who would design the grounds at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904.

Soon there were temporary buildings, a race track, driveways, and other necessary improvements.

The first State Fair would be in 1901.

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.