The first Marion County Fair was Oct. 27-30, 1931. Joining forces with the Marion County Fair Association to sponsor the event was the Marion County Poultry Association, which had been actively promoting the poultry industry for several years.
The Kansas Egg and Poultry Co. of Hillsboro offered exhibitors in 36 area towns free transportation if they would exhibit their caged show birds.
The fair board rented large canvas tents and wooden panels for the livestock exhibits. Volunteers erected the tents on West Grand, North Ash, South Ash and North Main streets. Carnival rides and shows were set up on North and South Main. Farm produce exhibits were housed in a vacant store building.
The first fair catalog reports that Mary Wilson and Mrs. John L. Loewen were in charge of the “Domestic Science and Art” displays. Six classes of exhibits (breads, cakes and cookies, canned vegetables, canned fruits, quilts and art) were eligible for ribbons and prize money awards of $1.50, $1.00 and 50 cents.
The first day of the 1931 fair (Tuesday) was designated “Band Day,” with George H. Hughes of Hillsboro in charge. The following day was “Judging Day,” when all the various exhibits were evaluated.
Thursday was designated “All Schools Day” with the following dictum: “This day has been declared by the County Superintendent as All Schools Day, and every school in the County should be there. Special attention will be given to school children, not only for education but also for entertainment.”
The last day of the fair, Friday, was called “Sales Day,” during which time an auctioneer was procured to help sell livestock and various other items.
The following year, Oct. 6, 1932, the first fair parade was held during “All Schools Day.” The fair program that year featured a band concert every evening. In 1933 two new departments were added: 4-H Club exhibits (headed by Isaac H. Balzer) and the Boy Scouts division (supervised by Jacob F. Banman).
The county fair proved to be very popular among the country school patrons.
The board capitalized on the rural school structure from the very beginning by appointing James A. Ray, superintendent of the country schools, to be in charge of school exhibit booths in 1931. Each school was to set up a display on the theme, “Remedies for the present economic condition of the farmer.”
Even the more conservative rural school boards supported the project and allowed their students to set up a display that would make their district proud.
By 1934 the schools department had matured to the point that each 6-foot-square booth was evaluated with an elaborate scoring system. There was a possible 60 points for the best educational project and forty points for the best quality agricultural products in the display (for a total of 100 possible points).
For the first time, winners received prize money. Ten dollars went to the winner, $7 went to the second-place display and on down to $1.50 for 10th place.
The above account of the first Marion County Fair was excerpted with permission from “Hillsboro: A City on the Prairie” by Raymond F. Wiebe. The book was published in 1985 for Hillsboro’s centennial.