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Historically Yours: The first Missouri State Fair

Elizabeth Davis
Special to Boonville Daily News

The first Missouri State Fair was in 1901, but it was not without problems.

State breweries were late paying their sales taxes which delayed the passage of the appropriations bill for the Fair. Although Governor Alexander Dockery signed the bill as soon as the $191,250 overdue payment was received, there were only five months left to finish the fairgrounds.

Soon there were temporary buildings everywhere.

There was a race track, driveways, an amphitheater, a grandstand with seating for 3,000, and an administration building. The original frame administration building later served as Police Headquarters and Emergency Hospital. Most of the permanent structures were a combination of Romanesque Revival and Spanish styles and were built by Thomas W. Bast who was the Fair’s architect from 1900 to 1926.

A drought and transportation issues further threatened that first Fair.

Farmers were disappointed with their field and garden production. After some contract negotiations, the Missouri Pacific and Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railways extended switches from their main lines to the fairgrounds which provided for passengers and freight. Sedalia’s electric street car system had also been extended into the fairgrounds.

The first State Fair lasted five days, Sept. 9-13, 1901.

On opening day, Norman J. Coleman, the Fair’s president, gave a speech about how far they’d come and that there was more to come in the future. The Fair featured an automobile exhibition on the track showing off fancy track work. There were harness and jockey horse races as well as auto and bicycle races.

Animals were a large part of the Fair. Horses, cattle, sheep, and swine competed for ribbons and prize money.

The Sedalia Democrat reported on the last day of the Fair. “Secretary Rippey’s office was the center of attraction during the forenoon for winners. Premiums were paid in cash, and the throng of applicants for first monies resembled a run on a bank in bad repute.”

Records indicate 25,246 people attended the first Missouri State Fair 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.