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History of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair

ELKHART, Ind. -- This year marks the 147th Elkhart County 4-H Fair, but the fair started 167 years ago - before the Civil War. The General Manager of the fair took us on a trip back in time to show where it began - with farmers and their livestock.

"This fair has a great history. It started in 1851 on the courthouse lawn in Goshen," said Bryan Blair, the General Manager of the Elkhart County 4-H Fair. "That's the way most fairs started across the country. They were agricultural based they were to showcase farming practices products."

The Elkhart County Agricultural Society ran the fair in the early years and animals were always the focus.

The event moved several times and grew into a tent city, but there were financial problems so there was no fair for 15 years.

It restarted in 1904 and began featuring exotic acts like an ostrich drawn carriage to attract more people.

By 1908 and 09 horse racing was the main attraction and fans packed the new grandstand just off the track at the current location on County Road 34.

"The harness racing's a big tradition here. It has been at Indiana county fairs for a long time," Blair said.

When the industrial revolution came along, so did mechanical farm equipment, the automobile and some new attractions.

"Tractor pulls, rodeos those sorts of things. That's the real root of fair entertainment that's where it all began," Blair said.

In the late 40s and early 50s the fair moved to Rice Field in Elkhart.

In 1955 the 4-H fair returned to its current location.

They added more carnival style rides, bumper cars and the Ferris wheel, which gave brave fairgoers a breathtaking view of the entire grounds.

Food has always been a big draw, but prices were a little different back then. A chicken dinner was $1.35 and drinks were a dime.

In the 60s and 70s new forms of entertainment, like women's roller derby and the demolition derby, arrived.

When color photos arrived, the fair looked much as it does now - with lots of carnival rides, rodeos, face painting and the modern food row.

The educational focus is still on 4-H and the next generation of children raising, caring for and showing off their animals.

"We're now starting to see great grandchildren of people who were in 4-H years ago," Blair said.

With nearly 4,000 4-h members and hundreds of volunteers working to make it all happen, this year's fair will once again offer wholesome fun for the entire family.

"It's a huge event. It's something that people in this county talk about all year long," Blair said.

Over the years acts like Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and more took the grandstand stage to entertain the crowds.

One of the biggest draws this year is Daughtry concert Saturday night.

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