Our Golden Anniversary
When our fathers and grand fathers back in 1904 organized thePolk County Agricultural Fair Association they may not have thought that they had begun something that would last and still be going strong over 50 years from then. They were, we believe wise and progressive mindedmen, but not endowed with prophetic intuition to for seethe great changes in community life and progress the ever upwards achievements in agricultural andhome making progress which have taken place during this half century of time.
Fair history of Fertile dates back another 10 years to 1894 when the leading business men of Fertile sponsored the organization of the Polk and Norman County Fair Association Grounds, leased from the village, was enclosed with a board fence, race track, cattle sheds and an exposition building constructed, all in time for Sept. 26-27-28 that same year when the first fair was held. According to the records, George Kronschnabel was the first president and J. Walseth the first secretary.
This first fair Association encountered hard going due mainly to unaroused fair interest of the public, unimproved roads and slow transportation facilities limiting fair patronage only to our local area. Three more fairs were held, 1895, 1896, & 1897 but in 1898 leases were cancelled, buildings sold and the fair ceased to exist.
The village Council, thinking that the fair idea at Fertile was a dead issue, had grounds platted and advertised an auction sale of lots. But the village council was mistaken in this, however. The fair sentiment was not dead. Business-men, together with other civic minded citizens, got together and succeeded inbidding in the lots and then deeded them to a new incorporated organization known as the Fertile Park and Fair Association, (name later changed to the Polk County Agricultural Fair Association). Additional grounds were leased, needed buildings erected and soon the fair enterprise under the new set up was a going concern. In spite of ups and downs it has made steady progress to the extent that it has been known as one of the most successful fairs of Northern Minnesota. The advent of automobiles, better roads, better economic conditions, a keener interest in better farm products and agricultural advancement, boys and girls 4-H achievement, good entertainment and many other favorable changes in both rural and urban life have all contributed to the success of and interest in county fairs.
The ever increasing scope and expansion of the fair has continuously kept its management on the alert for better and bigger facilities for housing exhibits in the various departments and for better entertainment features as well. Also, repairs painting and up keep in general has been a continuous problem. Gate and grandstand receipts have not always been sufficient to cover the cost of these improvements. Hence, loads have had to be negotiated at times, repaid usually by selling shares of stock in the Association.
During the last few years the state appropriation for paying premiums have been reduced from $1,700.00 to a sliding scale amounting to about $1,100.00. This deficit has in part been offset by appropriations from the village council of Fertile andour county board.
In 1926 the Large building near the entrance gate, known as the Community Hall, was erected. Impetus to this project was the need for a larger hall at Fertile to accommodate the, at times, large community gatherings such as the annual cantatas by the large local Choral Union, comprising nearly all the church choirs of the Fertile community. Also, for American Legion carnivals and other large gathering when needed. T. W. Thorson director of the Choral Union, gave his enthusiastic support and ably promoted the proposition and promised that $1,500.00 from the Choral Union would be ad was contributed.
The building was erect, first without a floor, the ground upon which it stood serving as such, until later when the local post of American Legion, for use of the hall a stipulated number of times per year, installed a substantial board floor. Since the fair association was to bear the major cost of the building it was logical that it should be placed on the fair grounds and under the control of the fair association and for exclusive use during fair days.
by 1923-1929 due to ever larger attendance, when larger space was required for larger midway attractions and for auto parking, it became necessary and at considerable cost, to move the race track and grandstand further east.
By 1935 it was apparent that the 80 foot long, 8 row seat grandstand was tosmall, fencing the grounds and other improvements were needed. Fortunately anapplication as a W. P. A. project was granted covering these matters, but the Fair Association found itself short $2,000.00 as its part of the cost in order to get the project granted. The Village council was prevailed upon to appropriate this amount with the understanding that this would be paid back to the village if possible and with 5 per cent annual interest.
The present spacious grandstand wasbuilt, the entire grounds enclosed with a woven wire fence, and several other needed improvements were complete for the 1936 fair. The $2,000.00 loaned by the Village was, within 2 or 3 years, paid back to the village treasury plus $90.00 interest.
Another costly but very much needed improvement was made in 1945 when, for the convenience for fair visitors, the toilet building with it modern plumbing fixtures was installed. Pipes were connected with city mains and sewer pipes were laid and connected with the main line on Mill street.
In 1951 the old main entry gate was replaced with a new one designed for a better appearance to the place where fair visitors enter the grounds.
The latest and most important addition to the exhibit facilities on the grounds is the spacious 4-H Club barn built in 1952 and the building relocated and convertedto andfor display of exhibits other than calves, pigs and lambs. The Fair association fully realizes and appreciatesthe purpose and accomplishments of the 4-H Club boys and girls and their leaders in promoting the training of the youth of our land to become useful citizens and competent leaders in community progress. The fair, with its facilities, should and does offer assistance and encouragement to this worthy cause: Leaders and others interested in 4-H club willingly helped to finance the major part of the cost of the project by selling shares of stock of the fair association.
County fairs, like any other enterprise must keep up with the ever changing times, conditions and outlook. This is especially true in the matter of entertainment which is an integral part of a fair's operation. For many years and up to the time automobiles came into general use, horse races were the principal attractions offered, followed by a baseball game. Later, one or two comedy or circus acts, were added, usually placed between race heats to better fill out the afternoon programs.
along about 1932 the review type of platform shows became popular with their elaborate stage settings, foot lights, vaudeville, comedy actsand girl choruses. These lasted until recent years when the girls were omitted and high class vaudeville, circus and comedy acts only were and still are presented.
The idea of early fairs originated here at Fertile and for several years prior to 1931 the fair set its own dates and contracted individually for it's grandstand and carnival attractions. Fair dates were the first days of July so as to include Independence Day July 4th. This assured at least one day of exceptional large attendance and worked out so well that neighboring fairs began to move dates up to include July 4th. By 1931 the idea of fair circuits had taken hold throughout the state whereby two or more fairs cooperating in setting continuous dates and using the same programs could gain considerable purchasing power in contracting for platform and midway attractions. Hence our fair management found it expedient, in 1931, to join with Ada, Warren and Hallock fairs in forming the Red River Valley Better Fair Circuit. Ada and Hallock later withdrew from the circuit which now comprises the Barnesville, Mahnomen, Fertile, Warren and Roseau fairs.
Many Things have contributed to the success of our fair. The interest good will and patronage of the people in general, who have also liberally bought stock in the Association at times to help finance improvements, the cooperative attitude of its board of directors and superintendents of the various departments, their assistants, exhibitorsin the many departments, interest and assistance of 4-H clubsand their leaders, judges of exhibits, favorablecomments heard from fair visitors encouraging management to put forth more effort, village council and county board for financial assistance and greatly to our county agents past and present, especially to Carl Ash and Harley Shurson whose willing and competent assistance and advice has been of inestimable worth to operation of the fair. To all mentioned above, the fair Association owes it's gratitude. But mostly to the many competenthard working secretaries who have served down through these fifty years. Words can hardly be found to adequately express the thanks and gratitude due them. The secretary's job does not begin and end with the fair, but is a year around continuous attention to details large and small, numbering up into thousands. Secretaries who have served up to the present time are Jas. F. Hanson, 1904-1906; Theo. O. Propp (Temp.), 1906; P. R. Lavik, 1906-1908; Theo O. Propp, 1908-1913; Nels Vasenden, 1913-1919; H. A. Malmberg 1919-1922; G. JU. De-Mars, 1922-1927; Art K. Knutson, 1927-1928; J. W. Reseland, 1928-1951; and Reynold Erickson, 1952 - .
The office of president may also carry considerable responsibility buy not by far as much as that of the secretary. Those who have served in that capacity are John Holten, 1904-1908; A. P. Hanson, 1908-1911; Nels J Kvenoden, 1911-1912; Jas. F. Hanson, 1912-1913; Theo. O. Propp, 1913-1915; J. A. Gregerson, 1915-1924; Odd Eide, 1925-1931; Hjalmar Erickson, 1931-1949; and Albin Johnson, 1949 -.
The government of the fair association is vested in its 12 member board of directors, of which it's president, secretary and treasurer constitute the executive board, functioning in the matters of lesser details besides formulation plans and policies to be submitted to the entire board of the membership at large.
In scanning over the minutes of board meetings from 1904 down to the present time it is pleasing to note the prevalent cooperative spirit of its members. Disagreements at times, naturally, but always the minority after a vote, without further dispute cooperating with the majority, and they in turn respecting the opinion and wishes of the minority.
On this, it's Golden Anniversary, the Polk County Agricultural Fair Association finds itself well equipped with up-to-date facilities for both exhibits and entertainment. It's funds, due to recent improvements, practically exhausted, but with all debts paid. The only expense in the for seeable near future will be ordinary up-keep of grounds and buildings and general run of operation costs. The property it owns now, debt free, represents a considerable sum in terms of money. It's greatest asset is the interest and good will of the people of the territory it serves as the show window of it's year-to-year progress and advancement towards an ever better community life, and as the outstanding annual community event.