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Kansas State Fair

Hutchinson State Fair, circa 1915Hutchinson town boosters worked diligently to gain for their community the title of host city for the Kansas State Fair.  The city held its first county fair in 1875 at Southside Park.  By 1885 annual attendance exceeded 10,000.  In 1900 the Hutchinson Fair Association renamed itself the Central Kansas Fair Association and moved the fair to the east side of Hutchinson's Main Street between 11th and 17th Avenues.  The fair's new name, representing a region rather than just one city, gave the fair credibility as it vied with other fairs, including Topeka's, for official state fair designation.  In 1903 Topekans and Hutchinsonians lobbied for separate bills, each designed to name one of the communities as host of the Kansas State Fair.  Although both of these bills failed, another bill was passed that year that legalized premiums given to winners at the Hutchinson fair.  A series of events in 1913 sealed Topeka's fate.  That year Reno County citizens overwhelmingly supported a $50,000 bond issue for additional land purchase and fair improvements.  The community used the bond issue to lobby the legislature once again to name Hutchinson the official location of the Kansas State Fair.

With the financial support of the bond issue and the leadership of a diverse board of state fair managers representing communities statewide, the state fair began to grow.  By the time of the 1913 legislation, the fair had become more than an agriculture show.  It had broadened its mission to provide activities for persons with a variety of interests from pork to politics.  The fair's offerings ranged from traditional events such as horse racing to events for the technologically enlightened—such as auto polo.

The growing crowds sought shelter from the heat in buildings that began to dot the grounds.  Some of the earliest structures on the current fairgrounds were moved from other locations.  These include the Riverside Auditorium (no longer extant), which had been moved in 1901 from Riverside Park to the grounds of the Central Kansas Fair and to the state fair grounds in 1912.  Ye Old Mill, a popular water ride, was moved from Riverside Park in 1915.

The 1913 legislation was followed by a period of new construction.  Some new buildings, such as the House of Capper, constructed by progressive politician Arthur Capper in 1913 as a venue for his campaign for governor, were constructed during the 1910s.  However, many buildings were constructed during the 1920s during a boom that mirrored many other communities during the decade. The construction of buildings, including the Auto Show Building, the first phase of the grandstand, and the Agriculture Building, was made possible by 1927 legislation.

Although the Great Depression halted private construction, the development continued at the state fairgrounds with the help of government relief programs.  Relief workers completed the construction of the grandstand in 1930.  The 4-H Encampment building was completed in 1935. Fair organizers kept up attendance by offering free admission during this period.

The Kansas State Fair continues to grow and attract exhibitors, participants, and visitors from across the state and is the premiere showcase for the state's livestock and produce.

Additional historical information is available at Kansas State Fair.

Entry: Kansas State Fair

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: February 2011

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.