Scott County Fair History
This summary of the history of the Scott County Fair was updated in 2017. It was put together using history the fair previously had on record as well as the findings of Kathleen Klehr, Executive Director of the Scott County Historical Society. Any questions, comments, or updates on the fair’s history should be directed to the Fair Office at 952-492-2436.
The Late 19th Century
Long before the Scott County Fair was known with its modern name, it was first known as the Scott County Agricultural Fair. The very first Scott County Agricultural Fair took place in Shakopee in 1857. As the name suggests, the fair featured items concerning agriculture and livestock, hosting the displays in various buildings.
The first Scott County Agricultural Society was formed in 1872, and the Shakopee Mirror stated, “At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Scott County Agricultural Society it was determined to hold a county fair on the 7th and 8th of October, at Shakopee or Jordan, …” In September of 1872, the Mirror reported that the fair would take place in Shakopee, and a premium list was published.
In 1873, the Scott County Agricultural Society searched for sponsors to pay the fair’s premiums, hoping for “political farmers” to give large sums of money. Again, Shakopee hosted the fair on Oct. 3-4, 1873.
The fair was moved to Jordan in 1873 and Belle Plaine in 1875. In 1875, the citizens of Belle Plaine sponsored the fair. The Shakopee Argus stated that the object of the fair was to “advance the industrial interests of Scott County by encouraging the exhibition of products of all branches of industry.” Also in 1875, horse races at the fair were first mentioned, saying the course is “superior to any other one in the county”. According to the Shakopee Argus, the fair was a huge success in 1875, as it made front page news with its displays and large attendance.
In 1883, the Ag. Society began looking for a permanent site for the fair and raising premiums and held its first fair in Shakopee. In August of 1884, the Ag. Society signed a three year lease for 20 acres east of Shakopee. By the fair in October, they laid a half-mile track, an eight foot fence, and multiple buildings. The next couple of fairs included a Firemen’s Parade, balloon ascension, bicycle races, and speeches. In 1887, the Ag. Society hosted a Farmer’s Institute the same dates as the fair. There is no record of a fair occurring in 1888 or 1889.
After the decline of the county fair in the late 1880s, there was no mention of a county fair again until 1897. Throughout the early 1890s, local newspapers only referenced the Minnesota State Fair, the Carver County Fair, and a stock fair. In 1897, the Shakopee Courier announced a street fair that included a bicycle race, concerts, premium listing, and shooting matches. Although the Shakopee Courier made known the difference between a county fair and a street fair in their first advertisement, their second used them interchangeably stating that this was the first Scott County Fair of its kind. It is likely that the street fair took the place of the county fair for this time period and that many people still considered it the county fair. Popular components of the street fairs included bicycle races, parades, and live music.
From this early history, we have found that fairs had the primary goal of promoting agriculture and industry, and were held for just a couple of days in the early fall. Also, the fair did not have one clear location: it took place in Shakopee, Jordan, and Belle Plaine. The fair depended on sponsorships from its citizens rather than businesses or a government entity. Many exhibit categories mirror those of today, which included bread, livestock, and vegetables; but it also included boots, wagons, and woolen blankets, which we do not have as exhibits today.
The 20th Century
The Shakopee Street Fair continued through 1908. In August of that year an article highlights a county fair meeting that planned the biggest and best fair yet was being arranged for that year. Then, in 1909, an article stated that “The second annual street fair given by the Scott County Agricultural Society…” was going to take place. This shows that the Scott County Agricultural Society likely took over the annual street fair in 1908. The street fairs over the next few years included exhibitions, contests, speeches, parades, a “German Village”, and fireworks (what we consider sparklers).
After the street fairs ended, the name of county fair was back. In May of 1915, edition of the Jordan Independent states: “A County Fair will be held in Jordan in September this year. That year, the crowd for the three days was estimated to be 7,000. Exhibits were heavy with 91 head of cattle entered, 29 horses, 154 poultry and many pigs. Entries in the agricultural department totaled 355.
In 1916, the Independent reported that a handsome new woman’s building was built on the south end of the fairgrounds. It was 30 X 50 feet in size. Also, the cattle exhibition barn was doubled in size and re-arranged. There were 54 large double stalls on two 17-foot aisles, each 100 feet long. The capacity was 106 head of cattle without crowding. Attendance for the three days of the 1916 fair was estimated to be 21,000. Exhibits in all departments numbered 1,607. Entertainment included two bands per day, trained animals, free movies, the fire run, and parades.
In December of 1941, the Scott County Fair became debt-free. There was no fair in 1946 as the fair board acted in cooperation with health officials in fighting the polio-myelitis epidemic, which was rampant in September of that year. Tractor Pulls became popular in the 1960s and Demolition Derbies in the 1970s, which are still the main grandstand attraction today.
In 1972, the fair board purchased 80 acres in St. Lawrence Township as a site for the future fairgrounds. The fair opened at the new site in in 1973, where it is currently held today. Over the next few years grass was sown, trees planted, and general landscaping done that vastly improved conditions. New buildings were erected, with additional ones added each year for several years.
During the 1994 fair the mortgage was burned at an afternoon ceremony in the beer garden by Maynard Harms, manager, and Mike Glisczinski, President, and once again the fair organization was debt-free. However, in December of 1994, as a demonstration of their continued commitment to the county fair, the county board of commissioners approved a request from the Scott County Agricultural Society for a 10,000 loan.
The 21st Century
As a result of numerous past and present dedicated board members who have volunteered countless hours of time and effort and the helping hand of hundreds of loyal supporters, employees and volunteers, the people of Scott County have enjoyed an annual fair since 1915 and numerous fairs before that dating back to 1872. Indeed, for three generations this glorious event has brought competitive exhibits, thrills, entertainment and recreational activity, along with a variety of food to thousands of people, young and old, in a joyous and friendly environment. Thanks also to the loyal support of fairgoers, this annual exposition has become one of the prominent and valued traditions of Scott County today. The 21st Century brought restored vintage permanent Ferris wheel and Carousel, a first-class carnival, a variety of daily entertainment, the Miracle of Birth Center, and more. We cannot wait to see what the coming years will bring to the Five Best Days of Summer that we call the Scott County Fair.