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Marshall County Fairs
May 20, 2013 - Mike Donahey
As exhibitors, staff and volunteers gear up for the annual Central Iowa Fair, July 10-14, Times-Republican readers may interested in knowing the first pioneer fair was held in the new Courthouse in Marshall (yes, Marshall, not Marshalltown) Oct. 14-16, 1858, according to History of Marshall County, 1955, by Gerard Schultz.
Retired attorney Leonard Grimes authored the section listed as “Marshall County Fairs,” on page 159. And it was not always the family-friendly event it is now. “From that date until 1906, when the present management was organized, with few lapses annual fairs were held; but, as these undertakings met with something less than financial success, the management passed through a series of different hands. By the 1890s, the fair had become primarily a horse racing meet with “roulette wheels and other gambling devices ...”
Discouraged by the decline, some of Marshalltown’s leading citizens gathered in June of 1906 to reestablish the fair as an agricultural exposition. One of the first orders of business was to change the name from Marshall County Fair to Central Iowa fair. If a fair were to be held in the fall of 1906, time was of importance and the officers and board acted with vigor and dispatch. Four days after the first meeting, the executive board met to consider a location for their first fair and considered proposals by Thaddeus Binford and I.S. Finkle, whose property originally came from the government to Henry Anson in 1853. The land owned by Binford was just east of what is now Third Avenue and south of Riverview Park. The property Mr. Finkle offered had been used by previous fairs since 1869 or 1870. The Finkle proposal was accepted.
The first fair under new management was a success. “In fact, Marshall county’s fair has created a class for itself, it is so far superior to the average county fair, but there is nor reason why in cannot be maintained at these high standard of excellence," according to official minutes of the fair, May 21, 1907. An independent source, the Wallace Farmer of Sept. 25, 1908, reported: “The county fair that comes next in importance to the state fair in respect to its exhibits and especially its educational features is undoubtedly the Marshall county fair, the third successful exhibition being held at Marshalltown last week.”