A Century of Fairs
By Alex Battitori
Hometown Girard Newspaper
In 2016, the Crawford County Fair celebrated its centennial. What is truly extraordinary, however, is that it was only the hundredth year the Fair has been held under its current name. In reality, the Fair itself passed its hundredth birthday over forty years ago and celebrated its first birthday before the town of Girard itself even existed.
That first Fair was held near Cato due to the town’s proximity to a popular stagecoach route, with diplomas awarded in place of standard prizes. It did not yet bear the name of “Crawford County Fair,” as it was put on by the Crawford County Farmers and Mechanics Agricultural and Horticultural Society.
Cato’s Fair was short-lived, held only once in the year 1867. In January 1870, however, the county began to negotiate for access to forty acres of land along the east side of Sinnet Street in Girard. This would become the spot for the first annual Fair in October of 1873.
Over the period of three years, the Fair expanded tremendously. In 1876, it featured a pacing race—complete with a winner’s prize of $200, which amounts to $4,273 today—a hot air balloon ascension and a parachute jump. Unfortunately, that same year, the rumbling of trouble began when the Joplin Railroad passed through the fairgrounds, ruining the well that was the source of water for the entire Fair. The society fought the railroad in an attempt to get it moved 100 feet, but were sadly unsuccessful. Having lost their sole water source, the Fair was once again forced to move.
Despite the setback, the Fair returned in 1878 to roaring success. Held on the land that is now part of Girard Medical Center, the 40-acre plot sat a mile west of Girard at the time. That year, it included a half-mile long racetrack, pens for livestock, box stalls for racing stock and the largest “floral hall” (greenhouse) west of the Mississippi.
Having learned their lesson with the Railroad, this new location included two dams for stock water as well as two wells. An entire grove of shade trees completed the new look for the grounds.
By the time that Fair’s twelfth consecutive year rolled around, it was booming. According to Genesis of Girard, the society “had a capital stock of $10,000, mostly owned by prosperous farmers in the county, and [offered] premiums of about $5,000.” Locals were even given the opportunity to operate various concession stands for watermelon, cider and hot candy.
When 1916 rolled around, the Crawford County Fair Association was founded. They officially took over running the Fair and gave it its current name of the Crawford County Fair. The new name came with another location change, and in 1924 it moved to border Western Avenue.
It was at this location that the Fair experienced a brush with greatness. During the Fair of 1927, Charles Lindbergh flew low over the town, saluting the people of Girard. He had just completed his historic flight over the Atlantic. As he circled the square, he dropped a message to the town, congratulating them on the completion of the first airplane factory west of the Mississippi. The message was read from the Fair grandstand to the people of Girard and was later framed and placed in the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1936, the Fair was moved for a final time to its current location east of town. Since then, the grounds have been improved, buildings added, and the grandstands renovated. It now stands ready to welcome visitors to the Crawford County annually.