County fair continues to be a
big social event
By DENNIS NARTKER
KENDALLVILLE - Seventy-five-year-old
Margaret (Rimmell) Logan glances at her grandfather John Black's
He maintained the handwritten text until 1915.
In it Black describes day-to-day life on the family farm about
five miles northwest of Kendallville and the annual event that
brought together rural and city dwellers in Noble County for
116 years - the Noble County Fair.
In the 1880s Black took his team of horses to Kendallville and
helped build the half-mile dirt race track that exists today.
For most of her life Logan has been involved with the fair. When
she was 15 she went to work in the fair office and her father
supervised the annual cattle show. She was a 4-H club leader
for 14 years and is a stockholder with the Northeastern Indiana
Agricultural Association, owner of the fairgrounds, serving as
the association's treasurer.
Her son managed the rabbit show for several years.
Today her grandchildren are in 4-H, entering projects in the
fair and participating in the horse show.
She has witnessed many changes.
"The fair was always the one big event of the year when
the farm families brought their produce, animals, farm machinery
and way of life to town for everyone to see and experience. It
was an education for many people," she said. "Fair
week you knew that you always went to the fair and did nothing
Harold Poppy, 92, of rural Kendallville, had the fair's first
steer show grand champion in 1919.
He remembers going to the fair in a horse and wagon.
"I remember driving a team of horses to the fair and the
woods in the fairgrounds would just be filled with horses and
wagons," he said.
With fewer and fewer farms and more carnival attractions, Logan
and Poppy see a much different fair today than when they were
youngsters growing up on rural Noble County farms.
Approximately 94 percent of Noble County was farmland in 1945,
compared to 69 percent in 1997, according to the U.S. Department
of Agriculture and the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service.
The 116th Noble County Community Fair was held earlier this month
at the Noble County Fairgrounds in Kendallville.
How did the fair start and how has it evolved this century?
The Noble County Fair Association was established in 1883, but
the first fair in the county was held in 1855.
The Indiana Legislature passed a law allowing the organization
of county fairs in the state.
More than 30 Noble County residents met, established bylaws and
made plans for the county's first fair. Each committee member
paid $1 in dues to support the event.
The first fair was held on the Bassett farm in Albion and made
The Bassetts held the fair on their property for five years before
it was moved to the Clapp property across from the courthouse
In 1865 the fair moved to Ligonier where it was held annually
for the next 12 years on land owned by Harrison Wood.
The fair committee eventually purchased a 23-acre site near Ligonier
In 1882 newspaper publishers J.S. Conlogue and A.S. Parker of
the Kendallville News in Kendallville decided Kendallville should
have a fair of its own.
The son of Kendallville's founding father, John Mitchell, owned
about 50 acres where the fairgrounds is today and Kendallville
businessmen paid for construction of the fairgrounds buildings,
including the existing Floral Hall.
The 30-member group leased the site from Mitchell for $450 a
year for 20 years with the option to purchase the land.
The fairgrounds layout included 50 horse stalls, 50 cattle stalls,
a sheep building, hog building, a judge's stand, Floral Hall
and half-mile oval track, according to "History of Kendallville"
by Mrs. Henry C. Misselhorn.
The buildings were erected at a cost of $9,244, and the race
track was built for $2,500.
The Eastern Indiana Agricultural Fair Association was established
at a public meeting and sponsored Kendallville's first fair from
Oct. 9-13, 1883, at the fairgrounds.
According to "150 Years of Noble County - 1836-1986"
by the Noble County History Book Committee, that first Kendallville
fair featured "hundreds of exhibits, a display of Chief
Sitting Bull's daughter's cap, relics of the Chicago fire, a
hinge from Abraham Lincoln's cabin and a tomahawk and club used
by Spotted Tail at the Custer massacre at Little Big Horn."
In 1895 the association purchased the land for $8,000.
The fair in Ligonier eventually faded away and the Kendallville
fair became the Noble County Fair.
The Noble County Community Fair Corporation was formed in 1982
to manage the Noble County Community Fair.
Representatives from the Eastern Indiana Agricultural Association,
the 4-H Exhibit Corporation and other organizations make up the
Noble County Fair Corporation.
The corporation leases the fairgrounds from the Eastern Indiana
Logan and Howard Reick are stockholders in the association.
"I have one share, I think I paid $10 for it a long time
ago," said the 94-year-old Reick.
Over the years new buildings have been added to the fairgrounds,
while historic buildings have been destroyed by fire.
In 1884 an agricultural hall and tenant house were built. The
Christian Church of Kendallville was granted the privilege to
erect a dining hall.
In 1885 the Methodist Episcopal Church erected a dining hall.
In 1891 the first of four additions was added to the wooden grandstand.
A buggy house was built for displaying the latest buggy models,
and later automobiles.
On Oct. 3, 1895, fire destroyed horse stalls on the fairgrounds'
west side, and several horses were lost.
In 1910 fire destroyed more horse stalls. New horse stalls
were built west of the race track.
According to Logan, fire also destroyed the Agricultural Hall,
a building similar to Floral Hall, where the many food and farm
produce exhibits were on display.
On Oct. 23, 1995, children playing with a lighter started a spectacular
blaze that consumed the historic wooden grandstand built for
the first fair in 1883.
In its origin the grandstand was said to have "the best
half-mile graded race-course in the country" with a seating
capacity of 1,000. The first addition to the wooden structure
was built in 1891. Later additions brought the seating capacity
A fund-raising campaign in 1996 raised $400,000 for a new steel
structure completed before the opening of the 1996 fair.
In the 1960s the fairgrounds dining hall burned to the ground
and has not been replaced.
In 1983 the Merchants Building was dedicated, and last year fairgoers
enjoyed the new 4-H cabin for the first time.
In the 1980s the 4-H Horse and Pony Arena was upgraded, and in
the 1990s a restroom block was added near the enclosure and the
midway was paved.
First held in October, Noble County Fair dates have bounced around
In the 1920s the fair moved to September and local schools closed
on Children's Day to allow kids to attend the exhibition.
Later the fair moved to August and become the final major event
for schoolchildren before the new school year started in September
after the Labor Day holiday.
In 1948 the fair extended over Saturday for first time with Derby
Day with mile, half mile and quarter mile horse races.
The Aug. 17, 1950, Kendallville News-Sun reported Larry Richards
took first place in the 48-inch pony race and Bonnie Bechberger
won first place in the 54-inch pony race at the fair.
Amusement rides cost nine cents on Children's Day at the 1950
More recently the Noble County Fair has moved to the second week
in July, occurring before the Indiana State Fair to accommodate
local 4-H event winners going to State Fair competition.
In 1920 Boys and Girls 4-H Clubs were introduced to the fair
and for nine years were invited guests of the association and
housed in tents.
The Sept. 9, 1924, Kendallville News-Sun reported "25 pitched
tents (at the fairgrounds) for more than 350 Boys and Girls Clubs
members to stay in during the week."
In 1929 two dormitories were built for 4-H'ers, and a dining
hall was added with businessman E.E. McCray's financial help.
In 1950 more than 200 4-H club members stayed at the fairgrounds
during the week in male and female bunk houses.
Today the few 4-H club members who stay overnight sleep in the
animal stalls near the steers, Holsteins and hogs. The brick
bunk houses near the restrooms along Fair Street are now used
In the 1950s 4-H clubs staged their awards show at the fair in
front of the grandstand.
An estimated 12,000 people streamed into the fairgrounds for
the 1924 Kendallville Fair.
"Another link is being forged today in the endless chain
of industrial and agricultural progress, and the Eastern Indiana
Agricultural Association is entertaining the biggest crowd in
its history at the 42nd exhibition of the great Kendallville
Fair," reported the Sept. 18, 1924, Kendallville News-Sun.
Vehicles were replacing the horse and buggy, and fair organizers
had to accommodate them with parking areas.
Up-to-date eating places scattered over the grounds were replacing
the traditional old-fashioned family basket dinners in the dining
hall or under a shade tree.
The fair has always been an attraction for kids, whether it be
the thousands of 4-H'ers with their projects competing for recognition
or the carnival rides, midway games and attractions.
The Sept. 18, 1924, Kendallville News-Sun reported: "Little
Gladys Hoffman of Green Township, who led her colt from her home
to the fairgrounds, a distance of 15 miles, to exhibit the animal
with the Fort Wayne District Colt Club, won first place in the
yearling class of the club."
Fair admission has gone from 9 cents, to 25 cents, to 50 cents
to $2 to no charge except $3 for parking this year.
Featured events have included horse and pony races and harness
racing on the race track with a gated vehicle used to start the
races in the 1950s.
Reick remembers one year going to the fair with his father and
seeing a motorcycle stunt driver do loops in a big drum in front
of the grandstand.
Mention the fair to longtime fairgoers and they may recall the
Jimmy Chitwood stunt drivers, concerts by Sawyer Brown, Kathy
Mattea, Blood, Sweat and Tears, amateur talent contests, donkeys,
horses and elk diving into pools, skydivers, demolition derby,
bingo behind Floral Hall, bear wrestling, the freak shows with
the two-headed calf, the snake woman, fireworks in front of the
grandstand, wild west shows, an airship landing, amusement rides
like the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Bullet, the Octopus, the Paratrooper,
carnival action like the mouse game, the cranes and ring the
bell for a cigar, climbing the farm machinery, petting the moist
pig snouts and avoiding cow patties, sitting on the benches along
the midway under the shade trees in front of the grandstand,
ostrich verses horse sulky races and treats like snow cones,
cotton candy and Jessup's taffy and caramel corn.
"There always is a Jessup's at the fair," said Logan,
sitting in the enclosed porch at her family's 142-year-old homestead.
Yes, the fair has become more commercialized, more of a carnival
"It's different now," said Logan. "In the old
days farmers brought livestock to the fair, but now it's 4-H.
People still bring canned and baked goods to exhibit but nothing
like it was."
The Noble County Community Fair remains a big social event.
"It was the only time of the year when people from the ends
of the county (farmers and city dwellers) came together to talk
and socialize," she said. "I still like to go to the
Reick worked at McCray Refrigerator Co. and remembers employees
got a half-day off work to go to the fair.
"It was a big thing not only for Kendallville but the whole
county," said Reick.
Poppy still goes to the fair each year to show his 1955 model
50 John Deere tractor, watch the gas and steam association activities,
the horse show and "eat porkburgers."
(Sources: Indiana Agricultural Statistical Service, "The
History of Kendallville" by Mrs. Henry C. Misselhorn, "150
Years of Noble County - 1836-1986" by the Noble County History
Book Committee, Kendallville News-Sun and Kendallville Standard