The beginning of The Linn County Fair…

To help celebrate our anniversary we want to share our story as a fair. Here is one of the many newspaper clips we will share about the fair. This one is on the beginning of The Linn County Fair as it was first known as “The Wapsie Fair.” ….

GAZETTE SEPT. 10, 1889


The Gazette’s Special Representative at the Central City Fair Describes the Organization And Progress of that Industrial Association and its Work—How the Citizens Toiled To Make It the Success It Is—The Movement Inaugurated and the Fair Finally Opened Today.

Cedar Rapids should be proud of her neighbor—Central City. I don’t like to put it just that way, because it sounds patronizing and to one who had looked over this thriving town and its glorious tributary county, who knew the enterprise and the spirit of its people, who had felt the influence of its “go-aheaditlyness” could stultify himself by such a thing. But the idea I am getting after is that we of Cedar Rapids—and of the county as a whole—should rejoice in the enterprise of these Wapsie Valley folks who have had the forethought to conceive and the energy to carry out, that which one of the metropolis tried and abandoned—a fair.

When Cedar Rapids comes up here Thursday in a body—as I hope and trust it will, it will see what can unequivocally be declared the best fair in the State outside of that unwieldy affair which is held at Des Moines. Perhaps it is better even than the State fair. It is certainly in more orderly arrangement. There is a consistency about it, which is distinct from the conglomeration of the bigger display, and what there is of the best, well arranged, set forth to the best advantage, with an eye to the artistic properties and the economical utilization of the space and lime.

And bless you, reader, if you think this is a small fair.  That there is anything of the clumsy catch-penny exhibit about it. Let me at once disabuse your mind of the thought. I would not have said it was creditable to this great and prosperous county if it was less than that. It is on a scale which will surprise even those who know what to expect from these lively, pushing(?), spirited Central City folk. Mark that, for I shall take it for my text and prove it.

Until after the building of the railroad from Cedar Rapids to Manchester the people of the highly fertile and productive valley of the Wapsipinicon seldom, if ever, were visited by their more favored brethren (so far as railroads and telegraphs are concerned) of the southern portion of the county. Only occasionally a few businessmen invaded this beautiful region. To the majority of the  residents of Linn County, Troy Mills, Paris, Nugent, and Central City were places marked down on the map as belonging to the commonwealth but seldom ever spoken except through the newspapers as smart villages out in the unexplored region of cornfields and pastures. True there were prophets in Israel who said that some day when the railroad should push its way in, the people in general would be surprised at the thrift and push of the inhabitants and they fervidly declared that then this part of the country would spring into prominence and out stride some of the other sections not blessed with the same deep alluvial soil. The building of the Illinois Central branch has verified the prediction of the hopeful spirits, and Nugent, now re-christened as Coggon, and Central City are making rapid advances toward commercial importance, doubling up their population and extending their trade far beyond what it had been for years. Farmers’ team throng the line streets, coining from tributary territory that for these many moons belonged to other towns or at least was arrogantly claimed by them. And on every hand are indications of the new life upon which they have but just entered.

Let us at once acknowledge that the metropolis of Northern Linn is Central City, located mid way between Cedar Rapids and Manchester. It is on the banks of the Wapsipinicon, a romantic stream that wends its way toward the Mississippi through a region of unsurpassed fertility. This live, pushing town of eight hundred people has the good fortune to be centrally located in the best farming, stock raising and dairy region in Iowa. If its citizens were not so thriving, so full of restless vigor and spirit we should say they could not help having a good and growing town, for the region about it, peopled by a class of intelligent agriculturalists, would make any town. These same farmers are not merely such in name, but they are entitled to the appellation by their skill and energy which is everywhere expressed. Their comfortable residences, ample barns, great herds of thoroughbred and grade cattle and horses, the whistle of the steam engines on their creameries, all these are the visible signs of progressive tilling of the soil and they fill the eye and convince the understanding by the proof of substantial qualities and wealth.

It was natural that these men should start and organize a fair—the most natural thing in the world. For about a year past the Jordans, Bowdish Bros., Huston Bros, and many others in and close to Waubeek have been meeting at each other’s houses to read essays and debate the best methods of conducting the farm. It was at one of these meetings that J. P. Bowdish suggested that they have a little fair the coming fall. The proposition met with favor and an early day was set to talk the matter up.

Mr & Mrs Bowdish

Mr & Mrs Bowdish

 P. G. Henderson, the father of the creamery business in the county, and who now operates two large and successful plants, besides being largely interested in thoroughbred cattle and stock of all kinds, was invited to attend this meeting. He did so, taking with him H. G. Porter, the hardware merchant of Central City, who is an enthusiast in whatever he undertakes. It was at this meeting that the subject of holding a fair was debated and crystallized. At first is was thought to only embrace township of Maine, but the plan soon outgrew this narrow line and it was decided to make a district association and invite adjoining townships to come forward and assist. This was early in February and early in March a largely attended meeting was held in Central City the G.A.R. Post hall being used for the purpose. It was crowded, the general interest being expressed by the attendance. 

Chandler Jordon was unanimously chosen chairman, and John Dunn secretary. Speeches were made by C. A. Huston, J. P. Bowdish, N. C. Gilland, the chairman and others, advocating the policy of organizing and holding a fair.

The election of officers took place at once and resulted in the choice of Charles Jordon, president, Waubeek; P. G. Henderson, vice-president, Central City; J. M. Huston, treasurer, Waubeek; H. G. Porter, secretary, Central City.

Directors: J. P. Bowdish, Waubeek; C. A. Huston, Waubeek; P. K. Crew, Waubeek.


mrclark-pg50From that time to this there have been many meetings of those interested in the success of the organization, but with such men as these in office, back and assisted by such well known citizens such as B. K. Hatch, Fred McLeod, Ex-supervisor J. H. Davis, Ex-sheriff G. D. Gilland, B. B. Mills, Francis Blakely, the Doe brothers, G. J. Wright, Jake Fox, Henry Hatch, Wm. Goldsby, N. C. Gilland, Robert Alston, Wm. Gifflin, Blodgett Bros., and other equally well known and influential, there was no thought, even, of failure.

A beautiful tract of ground was obtained—rented with the option of future purchase—close to the depot and with the railroad track running right through it. It would seem as though by nature this spot was intended for the particular purpose to which it was put, being a natural amphitheatre and a suitable place for making an excellent race course in close proximity to the river, with plenty of shade and grounds, suitable for camping, picnics, etc.

Subscription papers were circulated throughout the county and towns of Waubeek and Central City to obtain the necessary money in which to erect suitable buildings and enclose the fairgrounds.

Although the people responded liberally, barely enough was obtained to purchase the lumber, which was bought through the firm of Dain & Blakely, who furnished it at cost. The railroad coolly refused to do a little fencing along their tracks or even to haul the material free. The question came up at one of these many meetings as to how the buildings and sheds were to be erected when the funds were exhausted. This would have stalled the ordinary association, or the natural resort would have been to accumulate a debt. But J. H. Davis and P. G. Henderson suggested that the people would turn out and with their own hands erect the building. The matter was left in charge of the latter gentleman to try the patience of the people once more.

A paper was started and before eight o’clock that evening about enough had been subscribed in the way of work. A day was set to commence operations and promptly on time twelve or fifteen men were on the ground and went willingly to work, some sawing lumber, some nailing boars, others making fence, all guided and supervised by competent mechanics who had generously subscribed their labor and skill to assist In the enterprise. So the work continued from day to day through those scorching August days. Little boys who could do no more carried jugs of water to quench the thirst of the perspiring little army of men. The fine art hall was erected in two days and on the third the ticket office and gates were made, a well sunk which furnished an abundance of cool water, and other little” matters finished.

So until everything was in order the faithful band stuck to the task it had set itself to do, The result is that this morning the Wapsie Valley Fair opened its gates and with greater pride than could possibly have been felt had the labor been less, welcomed the people.

Mr Henderson

Mr Henderson


Before the sun had put in appearance this morning THE GAZETTE representative and Mr. J. H. Davis were on the fair grounds. There were other early birds there and they were at work preparing for the coming display. In the early morning the grounds were very attractive. A natural swell of the earth forms an amphitheatre below which the half-mile track sweeps gracefully about. On the left are the cattle sheds and stalls. Of the latter there are fifty open and twenty-one closed horse stalls. Every one of these has been taken, assuring a magnificent display of stock. The fine art hall 30×60 occupies the middle foreground and is tastefully decorated with bunting and evergreen which the ladies have gracefully put in place. It is already evident that the space at command will not be adequate to meet the demands of exhibitors.

Other sheds and needed buildings are scattered over the grounds and the dealers in agricultural and other machinery had preempted the open spaces and were setting up their wares. To the right as one enters the gate Marion Mills Post No. 244, G. A. R. has a large dining hall where the multitude will be fed.

By 9 o’clock the scene on the grounds was an animated one. Farmers were coming in with fine cattle, swine, poultry, and their prize products for display, while the articles of domestic economy, of art and of industry, were being brought in a profusion that threatened to overwhelm the managers.

The superintendents of the various classes are:

Horses: J. M. Terry

Cattle: C. C. Plumley

Sheep and swine: M. P. Mills

Poultry: Dr. Gustavus North of Springville

Farm and garden products and fruit: Francis Bleakly

Flowers:  Mrs. Will McCormack

Household manufactures and pantry stores:  Mrs. Geo. Copping

Fancy work: Mrs. Will McCormack

Children’s department: Mrs. W.B. Knapton

Farm implements: I. B. Robinson

Musical Instruments, E. M. Sawyer;

Leather and other manufactures: A, W. Eldridge

Amusements: Dr. C. Fisher

The gates and grounds are in charge of Central City’s most energetic citizen, J. H. Davis.

The committees appointed so far are:


Class A. William Hutchinson, of Marion, Frank Doe of Waubeek, Charles Peck of Springville

Class C, Claude Carpenter of Marion, George Lilly of Marion, John, Pelley of Central City.

Sheep: W. K. Bundy, of Springville, Robt. Moles of Paris, Wm. Fleming of Trentham.

Swine: Geo. Copping of Springville, Walter Rowley of Center Point, and Simon McLaughlin of Prairieburg.

Tomorrow is “Marion Day,” so called in honor of the excursion from the county seat, and the baby show and game of ball will be features. On Thursday a big crowd from Cedar Rapids is looked for and the Vinton Company I. N. 0. will be here, and it is also hoped to have Co. C of Cedar Rapids.


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