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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Special fairs added to the excitement.

FAIRS. Early fairs in Dubuque encouraged advancement in agriculture. The first fair was held in 1855, one year after the organization of the Dubuque County Agricultural Society. Small local fairs then became an annual event until 1870 with the exception of the years Dubuque hosted the IOWA STATE FAIR. The Farmer's Club and the Dubuque Agricultural Society actively sponsored exhibits, fairs, and held meetings to discuss tree raising, bee-keeping and stock raising.

Fairs in Dubuque were sporadic after 1870. Events between 1874 and 1876 were named Northwestern Mechanical and Agricultural Expositions. Apparently there was little interest in these events, as the fairgrounds were sold in 1862.

Loemker, Herman J., 1868-1937, “[Fairgrounds near Dubuque, Iowa],” Loras College Digital Collections, accessed December 29, 2015, https://digitalcollections.loras.edu/items/show/30
In 1884 Dubuque hosted the Inter-State Fair, but then twenty years passed before another came to the city. The Tri-State Fair of 1904, held at NUTWOOD PARK, was a major event. The Western Passenger Association granted reduced the fare for one week to anyone traveling to Dubuque from within a one hundred fifty mile radius. Many local businesses closed for the day to allow their employees to attend when Friday was declared Dubuque Day. An estimated 10,000 fair goers attended festivities that included elk diving from a fifty-foot tower into a tank of water and a forty-four-year-old Chinese boxer standing twenty-seven inches tall.

In 1908 the Tri-County Fair from August 24-28th was set to coincide with the diamond anniversary of Dubuque's founding. "Old-timers" were to be the focus. It was noted that of a group of photographs of 365 old settlers, none of whom had come to Dubuque after 1865, more than 300 had died by 1908. Four months were spent canvassing the city for the addresses of former citizens; invitations were sent out to the fair. Hotels were prepared for visitors with residences being offered for additional guests. Excursions and land and water were planned and registering points were scheduled where people could meet. A parade was scheduled which even included forty surviving members of the HORSE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION. (1)

In 1916 Dubuque hosted a six-day IOWA PROSPERITY CELEBRATION AND EXPOSITION that attracted over sixty thousand visitors. On four consecutive days, parades marched through Dubuque to the old Athletic Field (later PETRAKIS PARK).

Beginning in the early 1940s, annual achievement shows were held by the Dubuque County 4-H clubs in conjunction with the annual horse show held at SILVER ACRES (future site of FLORA PARK). Horse shows were organized by Harold and Bart L. MOLO in 1937 and continued to be held until 1949 when the 4-H shows merged with the annual Tri-State Expositions at MELODY MILL. Fairs were held at Melody Mill from 1949 to 1953.

In 1954 Tri-State officials, recognizing the benefits gained from permanent fairgrounds, leased sixty-six acres west of the city from the DUBUQUE COUNTY HOME. The group also changed its name to the Dubuque County Fair Association. Its first president was H. W. (Harry) WAHLERT. The first fair at the new site was held in 1954 for three days. The fair was extended to four days in 1956, five days in 1959, and six days in 1964. Improvements to the grounds began with construction of a livestock barn used during the first fair. Land across from the fairgrounds was purchased in 1963 for additional parking.



"Dubuque Host to Thousands," Dubuque Telegraph-Herald, August 23, 1908, p. 27