Kansas State Fair
1913 to Present
1913 to Present
The semi—centennial of Kansas’ statehood was cause for celebration at the fair of 1911. President William Taft spoke in front of a packed grandstand on September 26. The nine day fair was the largest semi—centennial celebration held in Kansas, as well as the largest fair ever held in Hutchinson. Paid admissions topped 183,000. A profit of $11,689.49 encouraged the Fair Association to evaluate the special needs for a fair which had, once again, grown too large for its grounds.
In early 1912, the Fair Association purchased 112 acres of land north of Seventeenth Avenue for expansion and the fair moved to its present location. A Santa Fe switch track was laid from the southeast to bring rides and shows directly into the grounds. New buildings, including a caretaker’s residence, wooden animal pens, a race track and a wooden grandstand were erected for the first fall fair at the new location. Advertisements for the fair stated that our grandstand is the best in Kansas.” Early photos appear to indicate that once again the Riverside Auditorium had been moved to the new fairgrounds. The caretaker’s house remains on the fairgrounds although it has been significantly modified. The racetrack and grandstand are in the same location but have been extensively modified.
Horse racing was again a major event, but the real excitement came the day after the close of the fair when Barney Goldfield raced his 300 horse power Christy and set a record for going a mile on a half—mile dirt track in 1:10 minutes although, as the newspaper reported, “the course was not made for automobile racing.” A Kansan, Paul Warner of Ellsworth, also lowered his track record to 1:11 minutes on his Indian motorcycle.
The Hutchinson and Topeka fairs continued to vie for state designation and funding from the Kansas legislature, having both grown to such proportions that each wished state support. A heated battle ensued through 1912, and Wichitans even made a bid for having the state fair in their community.
In the spring of 1913, the Commercial Club and the Central Kansas Fair Association elicited strong support for state designation of the fair when they placed a $50,000 bond issue on the ballot in Reno County. The value of the yearly fair was very much apparent to the 6,449 county residents who voted favorably. Only 1,555 opposed the bond issue. The bond money was used by the county to purchase the fairgrounds land which could then be offered to the state legislature as an incentive for state funding.
The Hutchinson fair bill was introduced in the house by local furniture dealer and legislator, J.P.O. Graber. The bill stated that if the State Board of Agriculture would become the controlling entity and the fair were funded by the state, the county would give the land to the state to be used as a fairgrounds in perpetuity. However, if the land was not used as a fairgrounds it would revert to Reno County.
The populace of eastern Kansas was especially outspoken in their skepticism of a state fair in Hutchinson and the powerful Topeka contingent worked diligently to defeat their archrival. In the midst of the battle, House Speaker W.L. “Ironjaw” Brown referred the bill to J.N. Herr, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. Years later Herr said, “I stuck to my belief that Kansas institutions should be moved west - the farther west the better. I was for Hutchinson from the start and stayed that way until we won out.” The Hutchinson bill passed the committee with a favorable vote of nine to seven.
In the Senate, Emerson Carey, a Hutchinson businessman, and his close friend Jouett Shouse, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, conducted a convincing campaign in Hutchinson’s behalf. A contemporary of Carey’s wrote that “Carey, a good host and lavish spender, conducted his one man goodwill and public relations campaign in a manner that was of a high order and reflected credit on his service.” For several years, Carey, a Republican, had introduced his bill to have the Hutchinson fair designated and subsidized as the state fair. Each year, the legislature adjourned without the bill being passed. As a gesture of good will the Senate would pass the bill, and the House, by tacit understanding, would kill it.
As the Kansas City Star reports, the 1913 session was different. “In 1913 Carey was able to capitalize on the Bull Moose Feud which split the Republican party in the 1912 national presidential elections and circumstances which placed Kansas Democrats in control of both houses of the legislature and in the office of governor for the only time up to that point in Kansas history.
Carey introduced his bill In 1913 and once again his fellow Senators obliged him by passing and sending it to the House. But there was more interest on the part of the House Democratic majorities who were also interested in socking it to the old Topeka Republican gang that had ground them under for so many years. Carey was a smart politician and recognized that the conservative Republicans and Democrats had joined hands in the 1912 election to ditch the Bull Moose movement. Even with the help of the Democrats, Topeka interests were able to hold on to their votes and Carey and his supporters lacked six of having the necessary sixty—three votes.
When the roll was called, the House was short of votes to pass the bill and the Democratic majorities invoked a call of the House, a procedure used to bring in all recalcitrant members and to force all members to vote. The scene was an exciting one. The call was held in place for more than an hour and none of the legislators could leave the hall. House Republicans, friendly to Carey and afraid of the Topeka Republican crowd, see—sawed, changing their votes from time to time.
Finally, the magic sixty—three votes were obtained and the call was lifted amid outraged cries from some House members who saw the defeat of the bill slipping away. The speaker of the House, “Ironjaw” Brown, quickly declared the bill passed before anymore vote switching could occur and Governor Hodges signed the bill. Hutchinson’s fair had finally, after a twenty year effort, beaten Topeka to permanent official designation and state funding as the Kansas State Fair.
The state designation led to a reorganization of the fair as members from other Kansas communities including Topeka and Wellington were added to the newly formed Board of State Fair Managers. George B. Ross of Sylvia was elected president of the new organization.
The headline of the September 13, 1913 front page of the Hutchinson News proudly announced that “Kansas’ Real State Fair Has an Auspicious Opening.” The first state fair was a momentous occasion. Forty thousand dollars in prizes were offered for exhibits and competitions. John Bixler, a Hutchinson grocer and aviator, slowly pulled his newly purchased Curtiss copy biplane carefully up Main to the fairgrounds with a team of farm horses. The intrepid pilot offered a two day exhibition, charging fifty cents to observe the show and watch Bixler “putting Hutchinson on the map in the aviation world.”
Featured attractions at the first big show in the fair’s grandstand were the Duttons, “superb in beauty and unexcelled in horsemanship;” the five sister acrobats; the man monkey, and Shaw’s Animal Circus. Entertainment on the midway was provided by Patterson Carnival and Animal Shows, a group that toured the fair circuit. Six bands appeared at the initial fair, the Wellington Girls’ Band, Boys’ Band of Kinsley, Hutchinson Band, Chase Band, Patterson Carnival Band and the big attraction, The Big Dutch Band from Hillsboro.
A new building appeared on the fairgrounds for the 1913 fair. The House of Capper was donated by Arthur Capper, journalist, Governor and Senator. The building was designed by architect J.C. Holland. An open walled building, it provided a place to rest and enjoy a cool drink of water, restrooms and even rocking chairs on the shaded verandah. The public was also provided with free copies of Capper’s publications. It is interesting to note that Capper provided a similar building for the fairgrounds in Topeka, and perhaps, on other midwestern fairgrounds. None of these buildings are known to remain.
Local businessmen benefited from tourists drawn to the fair. The Union Painless Dentists advertised “one tooth will be filled or extracted FREE during fair week for visitors” and the Hutchinson Interurban Railway Company cautioned, “Avoid Danger” advising people to take the street cars to the fair -a three minute ride-for five cents.
Perhaps to prove that J.N. Herr’s faith in Hutchinson was well founded or maybe to sprinkle some unnecessary salt on a barely healed wound, at the conclusion of the 1913 fair the attendance was publicly reported at 100,000 compared with Topeka’s less impressive 42,000. Attendance was increasing, and yet state financing for the fair was non-existent. While it was supposed that the Legislature would appropriate money immediately to finance the fair, in reality the state was painfully slow in allocating the funds. The Kansas State Fair was supported almost entirely by fair receipts and local businessmen for two years until the state took financial responsibility in 1915.
The Arkansas Valley Interurban Company was organized in 1903 in Wichita by 0. A. Boyle. The company planned an electric railway linking certain towns in the counties of Sedgwick, Harvey, Reno, Cowley and Sumner. Hutchinson was one of those towns. As the line slowly built its tracks from Wichita to Newton, anticipation ran high in Hutchinson toward the enjoyment of this modern convenience. Stock and bonds in the AVI were sold in each town requesting the company’s service. The company sold these to finance the laying of the track. By early fall 1911, cars ran regularly from Wichita, joining Newton, VanArsdale Junction and Halstead. It constituted a total of 29.5 miles. The AVI’s ultimate goal was Hutchinson, with its salt plants and flour mills, but a combination of complexities kept the company from Hutchinson for nearly four more years.
Sometime in 1914, Emerson Carey, the owner of the city streetcar line, signed an agreement with the AVI to allow the cross—country cars to enter Hutchinson on East Avenue A, using the streetcar tracks on into town. This settled, the search for a site for the depot began. McVays Livery, at 16—18 East Avenue A, was strongly considered. The cars entered on East Avenue A, after all, and the tracks passed directly in front of the livery. The depot, however, was more “ideally” located at East 2nd, the location of a large veterinary hospital owned by the Mayor, Dr. Fred Cook. Cook’s land was purchased in June, 1915.
On Monday, December 20, 1915, the first large green interurban car rolled into Hutchinson, met and escorted by one of the local streetcars “. . .in a triumphal procession such as will never again be witnessed in this city,” claimed the Hutchinson Gazette.
The lure of traveling on the interurban faded in only 20 or so years. The last passenger run was made from Hutchinson July, 1938, and freight service was discontinued in July, 1942. For years, however, travelers were whisked from Wichita to Hutchinson in a mere 110 minutes for only $1.00. The big interurban car approached Main on East Avenue A, lumbered north to 2nd, and traveled east one—and—a—half blocks to the depot. This structure is now on the National Register of Historic Places. Transportation from the depot was provided by a fleet of Ford taxi cabs, generally referred to as “Jitney’s” in the early part of the century, which served Hutchinson in 1914. G. M. Brill and his son, Claude, owned the cab company which also ran baggage trucks. If the arrival of the first interurban car in 1915 signaled the beginning of an era, the end of an era occurred in 1914 when the fire department sold its last team of horses. The beginning of the end of yet another era was seen in the middle of this decade, with the development of Crescent Park Addition and Hyde Park, which was architect designed. These urban elite subdivisions gave impetus to the start of an exodus of the upper middleclass from their older styled, large homes on East Sherman, East Avenue A and East 1st to the northern part of Hutchinson, altering the face of the city once again.
In January of 1873 - when the prairie town of Hutchinson was just barely one year old - a group of businessmen met and organized the Reno County Agricultural Society. On September 23 and 24 that year, the society hosted a fair which was held in a small wooden livery stable behind the town's only bank on the northwest corner of Sherman and Main.
Encouraged by the success of this first event, plans began for a bigger fair the following year, with the society proposing a tax levy to support the event. Voters were less than enthusiastic with the idea. Whether because of this public disapproval, or because of the devastating visitation of hordes of hungry grasshoppers that summer, the fair of 1874 was never held.
Undaunted, the Agricultural Society found acreage southeast of where the state reformatory would later be located, paid cash for the grounds, and on September 28, 29 and 30 of 1875, presented the First Annual Reno County Fair. It featured 20 classes for entries, with most awards in the form of certificates, and a few $5 cash prizes.
This infant local fair, only one of many held throughout Kansas, was destined to become the present Kansas State Fair.
In 1878 new grounds were purchased just north of Eastside Cemetery (for $50 an acre), and fairs were held there through the early 1880's.
Reorganized and renamed The Arkansas Valley Fair Association, the fair was moved back to its previous grounds for the 1885 event.
These grounds southeast of the present Hutchinson Correctional Facility grew to impressive size during the late 1880's and 1890's. New buildings were added nearly every year. A fence surrounded the property and the half-mile racetrack was praised as one of the finest in the state. Special streetcar tracks for the new horse and mule-drawn vehicles of the Rapid Transit Company were extended 5-1/2 miles out into the area.
The name Central Kansas Fair Association was taken in 1900. The group turned a collective eye toward a large, mostly undeveloped, park which stretched along the east side of Main Street to Poplar, from 11th Avenue north to 17th Avenue.
The Central Kansas Fair was recognized by an act of the state legislature in 1903. Most importantly, this gave the fair association the license to legitimately call their event "The Kansas State Fair", which they promptly did with undisguised pride. Hutchinson businessmen were jubilant.
The semi-centennial of Kansas' admission to the union was cause for celebration at the fair of 1911. President William Taft spoke in front of a packed grandstand on September 26. The nine day fair became the largest semi-centennial celebration held in Kansas as well as the largest fair ever held in Hutchinson. Paid admissions topped 183,000, and a profit of $11,689.49 was counted for a fair which had again grown too large for its grounds.
In early 1912, 112 acres of land north of 17th Avenue and east of Main Street were purchased for expansion. A Santa Fe switch track was laid from the southeast to bring rides and shows directly into the grounds.
The question of $50,000 in bonds to pay for this new land was put to a vote in April, 1913, and the value of the yearly event was not lost on Reno Countians who voiced approval by a margin of over four to one.
Local furniture dealer and legislator J.P.O. Graber introduced a bill in Topeka offering that if the state would grant Hutchinson's fair monetary support, the city would give the state the fairgrounds. The populace of eastern Kansas was openly skeptical. J.N. Herr, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, pushed for the Hutchinson location saying that "Kansas institutions should be moved west - the farther west the better." While in the Senate, Emerson Carey and a close friend, Jouett Shouse, made a convincing case on Hutchinson's behalf. The Hutchinson bill passed and Governor Hodges signed the document.
The first "Official" Kansas State Fair was held September 13-20, 1913. The September 13, 1913, Hutchinson News carried the bold headline: "Kansas' Real State Fair Has An Auspicious Opening."
The Old Mill was completed in time for the opening day of the 1915 fair. One thousand feet of water-filled channels featured boats which promised to transport passengers through "gloomy caves of gleesome gladness".
The House of Capper, one of several around the state, appeared on the fairgrounds about 1917. It offered a place to rest in rocking chairs stationed on the shaded veranda, a cool drink of water for thirsty visitors and, possibly most importantly, rest room facilities. After serving as the Professional Arts Building for many years, the Kansas Fairgrounds Foundation is now raising funds to restore the building to its original use.
Governor Alf M. Landon and Senator Arthur Capper visited the fair on September 17, 1935, to dedicate the new $100,000 4-H Encampment Building. Delegates from 4-H clubs all over the state came for their first encampment in the new building, which was heralded as the finest in the United States.
The fair was greatly influenced by World War II. There were booths at which fair goers could buy war bonds and stamps. "Scrap Day" was declared during the 1942 fair and over 32 tons of metal to aid the war effort were collected by offering free adult admission for 100 pounds and free child's admission for 50 pounds.
The familiar Lake Talbott, once a neglected sandpit known mostly to area fishermen, was developed into a landscaped garden spot in 1931 and named in honor of Joe Talbott, Hutchinson pioneer businessman and unselfish supporter of the fair for 50 years.
Every year a fair "bigger and better than ever" is anticipated, and delivered. The exhibits become more interesting and far ranging, the crowds larger and more enthusiastic, the entertainment more varied and star-studded.
Long forgotten is the fellow who said with apparent astonishment of that small First Annual Reno County Agricultural Fair back in 1875, "It was in all respects a complete, and to many, a surprising success." No one is surprised anymore.
BUILDING THE FAIRGROUNDS
The buildings that had been built by the Central Kansas Fair Association on the fairgrounds before 1913 were part of the county donation to the state. With the exception of the caretakers residence which has been extensively modified, and the racetrack and grandstand which have been completely rebuilt, none of the buildings that were built before the state took possession remain.
COLUMBIAN CLUB FOUNTAIN
The oldest object on the fairgrounds is one of the most recent. In 1979, Gene Conklin, manager of the fairgrounds, discovered an old fountain stored in a building. Through his efforts, historical research was conducted and the fountain was erected on the fairgrounds near the Administration Building.
The Ladies Columbian Club was organized in April, 1892. The club raised approximately $600 to purchase a fountain to send to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. The design selected, an ear of corn with corn husks combined with sunflower petals forming a basin, was drawn by Seymour Davis of Topeka. The twelve foot high fountain, carved from magnesium limestone, was placed outside the Kansas Building at the World’s Fair. The fountain was returned to Hutchinson after the fair and placed at the 1/2 block east of Main on First Avenue where a small park was constructed. By 1901, The Observer reported that L.A. Bunker had offered to pay for fencing the First Avenue park. “This high sounding name applies to a few rows of trees and a few bunches of grass with a monumental fountain dry, alas, for many years.”
The fountain was eventually dismantled and stored until 1979 when it was once again erected at the Fairgrounds.
HOUSE OF CAPPER
James C. Holland was a Topeka architect who served as State Architect from 1895 to 1897. Holland designed the Shawnee County Courthouse. His major work was in Topeka where he designed the Mills Building, the Masonic Temple, the Central National Bank, the First Methodist Episcopalian Church, the Central Congregational Church, the Stormont Hospital, the Throop Hotel, and several residences on Governor’s Row. Holland enjoyed a close association with Capper and designed the Capper Building in Topeka.
The new building was completed for the 1913 fair. The open verandah provided a place to rest and enjoy a cool drink of water, rocking chairs in the shade and restrooms. The public was also provided with free copies of Capper s publications. It is interesting to note that Capper provided a similar building, now demolished, for the fairgrounds in Topeka. Capper had been defeated by twenty—nine votes in his 1912 bid for governor. The construction of this building may have been a strategy to create a more positive identity in the voter’s mind at election time. Capper was successful in his 1914 gubernatorial race.
Over the years, the House of Capper continued as an integral part of the fairgrounds. The building no longer served as a continuing advertisement for Capper but was used for many years as a bandstand and is now used to display artwork by Kansas artists.
Arthur Capper was born at Garnett, Kansas on July 14, 1865. His parents, of the Quaker faith, were among the first settlers of Anderson County. At fourteen, Capper began his newspaper career as a “devil” in the office of the Garnett Journal earning one dollar per week. After serving his apprenticeship and becoming a real printer, he was paid eight dollars per week. In 1884, Capper moved to Topeka and was hired as a compositor on the Topeka Capital. He soon became a reporter and was sent east as the Washington correspondent. In 1893 he returned to Topeka and purchased the North Topeka Mail and shortly thereafter, the Topeka Breeze. When the Bank of Topeka found itself the owner of the Topeka Capital, Capper was persuaded to purchase and reform that paper. He later added the Missouri Valley Farmer, Capper’s Weekly, Nebraska Farm Journal, Missouri Ruralist, the Household and the Oklahoma Farmer to his corporate holdings. By 1931 his publishing business was the third largest in the United States and one of Capper’s publications, Household Magazine, had 1,775,000 subscribers.
Capper became active in Republican politics and ran for governor in 1912. His campaign was unsuccessful and he lost the race by just twenty—nine votes. Election reform measures were instituted during the next two years and Capper’s next campaign for governor was successful. He was the first native Kansan to be elected to that office.
Capper was a party man who stood for progressivism. At the opening of his second term as governor, Capper announced a program of progressive measures intended to make government simpler, more effective and less expensive. He revamped the budget system of state appropriations, consolidated boards and commissions giving them more responsibility, instituted the city manager system and removed numerous county government offices. He also fought for pensions for mothers and developed a child hygiene department. True to his Quaker antecedents, he was active in various peace movements and for prohibition. Capper was a booster for good roads, helped put through legislation for workmen’s compensation and fought for a minimum wage and shorter working hours for women. After serving two terms as governor, Capper was elected to the office of United States Senator and served several terms in Washington.
After the 1915 fair ended, the Topeka newspaper reported that Governor Arthur Capper had just returned from the fair and that he felt it was the biggest and most successful fair ever held in Hutchinson. Over 25,000 persons and 1,000 autos had been there on one big day. He described the concrete walkways as giving the appearance of a midway or pike and suggested that they be extended. Capper also hoped that there were no ill feelings between Hutchinson and the state capital.
YE OLD MILL
At the turn of the century, John H. Keenan of Philadelphia, owner of vaudeville theaters, began to develop a concept for a new amusement park attraction to be located at state fairs in the midwest and southern United States. The concept of similar rides had probably been tried successfully in the eastern United States. It fit well with Keenan’s other business interests which included building and running merry—go—rounds and roller coasters. Each fair that Keenan was associated with had two or more rides that he owned.
These were held under a variety of lease/contract arrangements. Keenan’s six children, John H., Jr., James Edward, Joseph, Irene, Madeline and Margaret were active in the family business.
The new ride was a completely enclosed tunnel that whisked a boatload of patrons through the dark, past enticing scenes from nature. Keenan’s son, John Jr. designed the ride which was constructed of railroad ties and tar to hold the water and covered with 2x4 shiplap. Oil paintings of farms, forests, and winter scenery were placed in lighted niches to attract, but not frighten, lovers and families with small children. The water which moved the boats was moved by a mill wheel, hence the name, Ye Old Mill.
The first Old Mills were built in 1911—1912 in Little Rock, Arkansas and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. An Old Mill was built in Des Moines, Iowa in 1912 and in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1913. At about the same time, Old Mills were constructed in Shreveport, Louisiana and Hutchinson, Kansas. The Old Mill at Hutchinson was apparently the only ride not built at a state fairground. This is possibly because Kansas was so late in designating a state fairground.
The Riverside Park Association was formed in 1908 to begin the development of the amusement park located at the south end of Main Street on the Arkansas River. The excitement of a large, coiling roller coaster, possibly owned by Keenan, mixed with entertainment in the form of vaudeville shows and musicals and the thrill of circling the grounds on a miniature steam train which wound past a waterfowl lagoon soon led to the park becoming known as “Kansas’ Answer to Coney Island.” The Old Mill was an attraction at this amusement park until the increasing popularity and availability of the automobile brought the lure of trips to entertainment meccas much farther away and Riverside Park began to fade as an attraction.
In 1915, an enticing new, but familiar, attraction was offered to state fairgoers when the Old Mill opened on September 17 in time for the opening day of the fair. The ride offered 1,000 feet of channels upon which boats carried lovers through “gloomy caves in gleesome gladness” with “occasionally beautiful scenery lit by electric light,” an experience that is still available. The mechanism for the Old Mill which includes the ramp and mill wheel were moved from Riverside Park on South Main to the fairgrounds on North Main. The Old Mill is the only remaining structure from Riverside Park. The Riverside Auditorium was moved to the Thirteenth and Main Fairgrounds in 1901 and then moved to the current fairgrounds in 1912, but was eventually demolished.
Originally, the tunnel was built of wood with a canvas cover. In 1923 the wooden walls were replaced with rusticated cast concrete and the roof was covered with wood frame. The attraction was equipped with new, modern steel boats in 1935. The 1937 State Fair Bulletin reported that nearly 25,000 visitors made the trip through the waterways. New decorative devices were built to enhance the appearance of the front, and new scenery and lighting effects were also arranged along the water courses.
Work Project Administration aid was requested for fireproofing the Old Mill in 1939. Hutchinson architect, C.R. Huntsman provided drawings for the improvement of the tunnel which included the construction of a concrete roof. On September 13, 1946 the Hutchinson Record reported that the Old Mill had, once again, been completely overhauled, all scenic spots were redecorated, and more than 40,000 fairgoers now took the boat ride annually.
The original wood frame building that housed the entrance and mechanism was in extremely deteriorated condition by 1963. In 1964 the building was replaced with a similar building of the same dimensions. The only significant change was the replacement of a gable on the roof with a tower with a mechanical mill wheel and the replacement of the wood doors with metal doors. The wheel drive on the mill wheel was also replaced. The impact of these modifications do not seriously impact the integrity of the Old Mill with regard to eligibility to the National Register since the tunnels, the mechanism and the use are of overriding importance under criteria A in defining the historical association with the development of the fairgrounds.
The Old Mill has been in continuous operation at the Kansas State Fair since 1915 and has continued to draw ever larger crowds. The Old Mills at Oklahoma City, Little Rock, and Shreveport have been dismantled. The Old Mills at Minneapolis and Des Moines remain in operation. The third and fourth generations of the Keenan family still own and manage the Old Mill at the Minnesota State Fair.
The first state funded, permanent, fireproof buildings to be built on the fairgrounds were the Agricultural Building valued at $38,000, the Horse and Cattle Pavilion valued at $37,000, and the Sheep and Swine Judging Pavilion and buildings valued at $26,000. The Agricultural Building and the Horse and Cattle Building have been demolished.
Sheep and Swine Building
The plans for the sheep and swine “Judging Pavilion for the Kansas State Fair at Hutchinson” were drawn by State Architect Ray L. Gamble in 1919. The Fair Board of Managers Report for that year states that “the Board undertook the task of building under most unusual and extraordinary conditions owing to the scarcity of both labor and material and the unusual high price of both. Upon advertising for bids for construction of buildings it was found that no contractor would make a bid which would come within the amount appropriated. Thereupon the Board undertook to build by purchasing material and employing labor direct according to the plans and specifications submitted by State Architect Gamble. The brick sent from the State Penitentiary and the labor furnished by the State Reformatory made building at all possible.” The pavilion and office were finally constructed and by 1925 four wood frame animal barns had been built, three to the east and one to the west of the Judging Pavilion. The animal barns were replaced with metal pole barns in the early 1960s.
By 1919 the Legislature was making significant appropriations “for the purpose of paying the general expenses of maintaining the Kansas State Fair.” Expenditures projected for 1920 and 1921 included additional sheep and swine barns, continued improvement of the cattle and horse pavilion, additional barns, an addition to the race track grandstand, roads and sewer improvements as well as maintenance.
A significant number of improvements were obtained by the combination of architectural plans drawn by the State Architect and a continuing source of labor from the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory. The small amount of funding for improvements, $46,000 for 1920, built much needed permanent structures. The same year that the legislature created the state fairground, Superintendent Herr of the Industrial Reformatory, with legislative concurrence (Chapter 346, Session Laws 1913) began a still continuing tradition of providing prison labor to the fairgrounds. In 1920 the reformatory furnished a total of 1,464 days of labor. The State Architect stated that three of the new buildings would have cost $12,507 more without the prison labor.
The new Agricultural Building (now demolished) was the most valuable building on the Fairgrounds according to the 1919 — 1920 annual report. The Riverside Park Auditorium, having served in three locations, was demolished to make way for more modern buildings. “To solve the over—crowded conditions of the hotels for entertaining over—night visitors to the State Fair,” a Tent City was created in 1921. A “community house” provided “electric light, city water, shower baths, sanitary toilets and dressing rooms for both men and women.” It also contained “a large reading and writing table, fireplace and drinking fountain.” Tent City was considered one of the most valuable features for the comfort and economy of the patrons of the fair.” Not only could fairgoers rent a tent, but also available were blankets, sheets, pillows, oil stoves and “other necessary things.” The camping facilities were eventually closed and the community house demolished.
The fair continued to grow and new permanent buildings were constructed throughout the 1920s. Fire destroyed a number of wood frame buildings and the trend was to replace them with substantial, fireproof, brick structures. The Legislature provided small amounts of funding, generally $15,000 to $20,000 per year, for a variety of building, utility and landscaping improvements.
Cattle Department Building
Livestock barns at the fair were generally constructed of wood frame until the mid—1920s, and fires were a constant hazard. Five wooden structures burned on June 3, 1925 while the buildings were occupied by the 1st Battalion, 1st Kansas Field Artillery of the Kansas National Guard. The cause of the fire was never determined. Governor Paulen, numerous members of the legislature and the Hutchinson Chamber of Commerce were consulted. In similar instances, the state had reimbursed the “progressive and loyal men” who advanced money to rebuild such needed facilities of a state institution. George Gano, a wealthy Hutchinson grain dealer was appealed to and he personally provided a loan to the Fair Board for the construction of a new fire—proof cattle barn. The state architect furnished plans and once again, the state reformatory provided the necessary labor.
A new fireproof building was completed before the opening of the September fair. The Eighth Biennial Report of the Board of State Fair Managers for 1927 and 1928 describes the building. “Cattle Department Building, 120x272 feet. (20 feet high.) This building is built of brick, cement and iron —— roof and all —— not a stick of wood in it. Capacity 480 head.” The large brick building was approximately one block long and is now called the Beef Tie Barn. It has never been modified and is still in use. Stock barns constructed of concrete and steel have been periodically added to the livestock area and a new Butler building has replaced the original, red brick Cattle Judging building which was located just west of the Beef Tie Barns.
MOTOR SHOW BUILDING
As automobiles became a popular form of transportation, Hutchinson auto dealers recognized the advantage of using the fairgrounds to display their wares. The Motor Show Company was formed on April 27, 1927 to raise money for the construction of a major fairgrounds building. Two hundred owners’ shares of stock were offered at $50 per share. One hundred shares were available at $100.
The Board of State Fair Managers was authorized by Section 4 of Chapter 62, of the laws of 1927, to contract with individuals or a corporation to build an Automobile Show Building. State Architect C.D. Cuthbert provided plans and specifications. Bricks from the State Penitentiary and labor from the State Reformatory were made available for construction. The building was completed by 1927 at a cost of $100,000. The Topeka Capital described the building on July 31, 1927. “The building is 100 by 180 feet, with a twenty foot balcony around the entire length and breadth. An orchestra balcony is included, giving ample facilities for the big exhibits annually a feature of the fair. The lighting scheme will be unique. Flood lights, specially designed lanterns, and electric signs, will add in making a marvelous electrical display and an attractive spot on the fair grounds.”
The Motor Show Company owned the building, which was used by the fair for a designated three to four weeks per year, and used it regularly for automobile displays. This relationship lasted until 1939 when the motor show company was dissolved.
The Motor Show Building has housed a variety of uses over the years. Marathon dances were held in the building in the 1930s. Fine arts exhibits were displayed in 1937. A roller skating rink was opened in the building in 1941. To support the war effort during the early 1940s, Cessna converted the building into a glider crate factory. The original signage has been removed, the hip roofed atrium was enclosed after 1962. The building is now known as the Commercial Building. After a summer storm in 1992, the original atrium roof line was reconstructed.
The entertainment midway and food concessions are an important element in a successful fair. The State Fair Bulletin of November, 1934 stated that the unsightly shacks may be replaced soon.” The Fair Board, with labor provided by Federal relief programs, had constructed four brick dining halls along the Midway by 1935. Another brick dining hall of the same design was built in 1938. These buildings are still in use although they have been significantly modified.
GRANDSTAND AND RACETRACK
A variety of racing activities were popular events at the fair and a larger grandstand was needed by the mid 1920s. Allocations were made for $125,000 in 1925, $150,000 in 1926, and $50,000 in 1927 by the Board of State Fair Managers to replace the wooden structure with a larger concrete, brick and steel grandstand that seated 10,000 fairgoers. Again, the Kansas State Industrial Reformatory provided labor for the construction.
The structure was built in two phases. The original portion, which was 256 feet long with an audience capacity of 6,600, was completed by 1928. Hutchinson Foundry & Steel provided the steel beams for construction of the roof structure. Additional expenditures were allocated to allow the completion of an addition of 194 feet of grandstand for a total audience capacity of 10,000. The Kansas State Industrial Reformatory provided prison labor for the construction.
The finished grandstand was 448 feet long and 100 feet wide. A steel roof covered an area of an acre and a quarter. Johns—Mansville roofing topped the structure. The construction required 23,800 sacks of cement, a “mountain of sand,” 225 tons of structural steel; 178,300 pounds of I—Plate roof deck; 100,238 pounds of steel joists; 274,300 pounds of reinforcing steel and 309,000 bricks (58,000 face and 251,000 common).
The 1929—1930 State Fair Biennial Report notes that, “A part of the money .was spent in placing toilets in the Grandstand instead of outside... .Public Comfort facilities are naturally expected by the State Fair visitors and a lack of same or an insufficient number brings disgust and consternation on the part of the public.”
The grandstand was designed, not only for public seating, but to house exhibition space. The ground floor had 44,800 square feet for exhibits and the mezzanine floor provided 21,760 square feet. The race track, a flat, dirt oval, remained.
State Senator E.E. Frizzell, of Lamed, was president of the fair board at the time and was also the superintendent of the State Reformatory in Hutchinson. He arranged for convict labor during the construction. The convicts also manufactured automobile license plates and during remodeling of the grandstand indentations have been found that indicate the use of license plates as plastering tools. Notations in board minutes also indicate that the original wooden grandstand was carefully dismantled. The wood beams and nails were reused In other fairground projects.
Major events occurred at Fair time, but the grandstand and race track were used throughout the year for a variety of racing activities. September, 1914 newspaper articles indicate that automobile races of “national scope” were held. Harness racing, horse racing and dog racing have all occurred at various times. Public entertainment was also provided in front of the grandstand as early as 1915. Public performances during the annual state fair led to the necessity for a stage. In 1940, the State Fair Board allocated $26,765.85 to build a concrete stage, dressing rooms and restrooms in front of the grandstand in the center of the race track.
As the fair grew in popularity, so did the use of the stage for public performances. In 1965, a new stage was installed immediately in front of the grandstand. This modern stage has hydraulic lifts to raise and lower the performance area. Wooden bleachers at the front of the grandstand were probably removed at this time, and U shaped concrete boxes facing the new stage were installed.
A tragic auto race accident occurred at the first turn on the race track in the early ‘60’s. Several people were severely injured. In response to this accident, a new concrete retaining wall around the perimeter of the track was planned. Construction began in June, 1965 with concrete posts set ten feet apart with 4 1/2 inch reinforced concrete slabs installed between the posts. The retaining wall in front of the grandstand was completed by the opening of the fair in September. Unfortunately, an accident occurred at the end of the track and a boy was killed when a tire flew off a race car. The retaining wall was completed the next year.
The racetrack remains in use today for automobile use, tractor pulls, etc. The stage continues to provide an important space for public performances during the state fair. The grandstand was completely rehabilitated in 1989 with a new buff brick facade.
Free gates for fair nights was voted in for the fair of 1930 in deference to the many unemployed by the Great Depression. Fair attendance was understandably down during this period. However, some public services that encouraged attendance were provided during this period. The Better Babies’ Department sought to promote healthier and happier children. The babies were given physical examinations by Dr. Louise Richmond, a Hutchinson physician. Health certificates, not ribbons, were issued to these “100% babies”. Over 7,000 babies were examined before this department was discontinued in the late 1930s.
4-H ENCAMPMENT BUILDING
The managers of the fair first inserted an item in the budget to build a dormitory building for 4—H use in 1929. In spite of the building appropriation being turned down by the legislature in the sessions of 1929, 1931 and 1933, the manager continued their efforts to build a 4—H building. Noting that a special session of the Kansas Legislature was inevitable in 1933, H.W. Avery of Wakefield was appointed by the Board to conduct a campaign for the 4—H Building. Avery was enthusiastically joined by 4—H leaders across the state and lobbied successfully for $70,000 toward the construction. The group was successful in convincing the 1934 legislature to include the building in projects that were constructed as a means of creating work for the unemployed.
The $140,000 4—H Encampment Building was one of several fairgrounds projects that utilized federal funding made available during the Great Depression. $30,000 was provided by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works.
A concept design was provided by State Architect Joseph W. Rodotinsky. The final plans for the building were designed by Raymond A. Coolidge who succeeded Rodotinsky as State Architect. An exhibition room, auditorium, dormitory, showers, dining room and kitchen were planned. The project was started in the summer of 1934. The July 20, 1934, the Hutchinson Record reported that work on the building was delayed due to a late shipment of brick from the brick plant in Buffalo, Kansas. At that time, eighty men were working on the building, laying interior brick.
This large building project was no doubt important to the local economy in the depths of the depression. The November, 1934 State Fair Bulletin noted that all labor and practically all of the material used was secured in Kansas with 86 1/2% of the $28,000 spent for labor going to Hutchonians. All labor was limited to thirty hour weeks in order to distribute the work among a large number of men. Approximately $26,000 was spent on eighty—five carloads of building materials obtained through Hutchinson dealers. A total of sixty—five carloads of local sand were used. The building was not completed until December 21, 1934 when board officials examined the building and fair secretary, H.W. Avery, declared it to be “the best in the United States.” At completion, the Y shaped, two story brick building was large enough to house 800 4—H youth, with a dining room capacity of 800 and an auditorium that held 1 ,000.
Governor Alf M. Landon and Senator Arthur Capper paid a visit to the 1935 Fair to dedicate the new $100,000 4—H Encampment Building. Delegates from every county in the state came for the first encampment in their new building.
The Twelfth Biennial Report, 1935—1936, of the Fair Board proudly described the new building. “An important event to everyone, and especially to 4—H boys and girls everywhere was the new.. .building. The kitchen fulfills the dreams of even the most ardent home lover, with its modern equipment, including refrigerator, potato peeler, mixer, dishwasher, gas ranges and numerous other conveniences to delight the cook. Complete sets of silverware and china are on hand———the china being obtained by the activities of the 4—H group themselves. Also on the ground floor are the executive offices, large dining room, auditorium and general recreation room. The second floor contains the dormitories and conference room.” More than 700 members and over 200 club leaders of 4—H Clubs throughout the state gathered on September 17, 1935 to attend the dedication of the building. Governor Alf Landon, United States Senator Authur Capper, Congressman Clifford Hope, and R.A. Turner, representing the United States Department of Agriculture, attended the dedication. H.W. Avery formally presented the building to the Kansas 4—H Clubs and commented that the building and equipment represented a cost of $140,000. It was also noted that the Kansas State Fair was the first state fair in the United States to start a 4—H Club Department. The 4—H Encampment Building is still in use, providing important living and activity space to 4—Hers attending the fair.
During December, 1940, as a response to World War Il, the National Guard was mobilized on the fairgrounds in the 4—H Building which housed 378 Hutchinson and Reno County men who named the temporary location Camp Fred L. Lemmon after a popular National Guard Captain from World War I days. The guardsmen were called the State Fair Soldiers. In 1942, the Navy housed men in the building while the nearby Naval Air Base was constructed. The Encampment Building was used toward the end of the war to house German prisoners of war. The POW’s arrived in March, 1945 and worked for local farmers until November of that same year. The men were hired out that summer to work for farmers and orchard owners in the Hutchinson area. Pay was in script which could only be spent in a commissary installed inside their quarter. Friendships were made between some of the Germans and the local residents which have continued for forty years.
The building has continued to be used primarily as an encampment facility for 4—H activities since 1945. In the early 1980’s the building housed a Chinese youth delegation. The exhibit room and the dining room are used annually during the Mennonite Relief Auction to serve ethnic dinners.
4-H LIVESTOCK PAVILION
Several years of planning and negotiating were necessary before the State Fair Bulletin, July 1937 could announce that the 4—H Club Livestock Pavilion was under construction, “a fine large concrete, brick and steel building 300 feet long by 127 1/2 feet wide, just east of the main (4—H) building”. Bricks were once again shipped in for the WPA funded project. Building costs escalated from the $35,000 originally announced in December, 1935 to $103,000 by completion in November, 1937. The Kansas State Fair contributed approximately $70,000 to the project. These funds were derived from the operation of previous fairs, and not from appropriated tax money.
The building was dedicated at the fall fair before an audience of 2,000 for whom pyramid seats were provided. M.H. Coe, state 4—H Club leader from Manhattan stated that the pavilion was the largest structure of its kind in the United States to be used exclusively to house 4—H Livestock and that the building symbolized the confidence that the people of Kansas have in the 4—H Club program. The building was built to house 500 calves, 200 swine, 200 sheep and 200 pens of poultry. The building was used by the Navy during World War II while the nearby naval base was completed and remains unchanged today.
THE 1940s AND 1950s
Building slowed on the fairgrounds in the late 30’s and early 40’s. The final WPA project was the construction of a cast concrete maintenance building. Plans and funding requests were made for the building in November, 1939. By February, 1940 the fair association and WPA had allocated funding for all labor and a portion of the materials, and by March 1941, the Hutchinson Record noted that a 120 foot by 44 foot cement block storage shed that cost $6,535 was to be built on the Santa Fe spur line that ran to the fairgrounds as soon as WPA labor was available. The building was completed by 1942. A second storage shed was probably built at approximately the same time.
In 1941 tennis courts were one of the year—long attractions at the area called Fair Park, but the war years were unsettling for the fair. The fairgrounds were used to train U.S. Naval Air cadets until the Naval facilities were completed near Hutchinson and later to house German prisoners of war. A manufacturer of war materials used another building. During the war, the fair provided space for booths to sell war bonds and stamps. Kansas women provided recipes and food items that used sugar substitutes. In 1942 a day was set aside and called “Scrap Day.” One hundred pounds of scrap admitted an adult, fifty pounds admitted a child. Over thirty—two tons were collected to aid the war effort. The worry over gasoline rationing and the war led to a serious debate by the Fair Board in 1942. The fair was held, but with the provision that if any “unforeseen emergencies arise regarding the use of the grounds for war activities” the board would “discontinue the fair and make the grounds available for that purpose.”
Lake Talbott was created in 1944. The area was a neglected sandpit from which laborers had taken material to make the brick, concrete and asphalt used in fairgrounds construction projects. Prison labor was used to landscape the lake, which was larger than it is today. Featured on postcards and in fair advertising of that era, it became a flower—enhanced asset to the fair. The lake was named in honor of Joe Talbott, an early pioneer of Hutchinson whose signature was one of the first on the subscription paper in 1901. Talbott served the fair in many capacities for fifty years.
Attendance began to pick up after the end of World War II. One fellow complained that it had cost his family of three a total of $15.41 to attend the fair that year. Admission was $1.50, popcorn and hamburgers cost l6¢. An adult could ride the merry—go—round for 2l¢, a child for l4¢. The Bughouse With Mirrors was a diversion for adults at 3l¢. Children weren’t allowed on the Silver Streak and it cost an adult 4l¢ for the experience. For the more adventurous, the Gay Paree and Leg Show offered excitement for adults only for 75¢.
Opening day of the 1947 fair, drew a record 40,000 attendees crowding the grounds, breaking the old first day record of 30,000 which was set the year before. The Goodyear Blimp made its first appearance. Attendees danced in a pavilion on “Kansas’ Finest Maple Dance Floor.”
On Labor Day 1948, the first holiday hot rod races were held in front of the grandstand. These were so well attended that the promoter promised a full season of races the next year. Three new open—sided cattle barns made their appearance that same year, with canvas sidewalls for night protection and Dave Irwin brought an Eskimo family, bears and trained Eskimo dogs from the frozen north to Kansas. A competition class offered almost from the conception of the fair, draft horses, mules and jacks, was discontinued for the 1948 fair.
In 1951 a new administration building was completed, the last extant brick building to be built on the fairgrounds. Another competition class, bees and honey, once eagerly anticipated, drifted into extinction the same year.
In 1955 the spur track that had brought excitement directly into the fairgrounds for forty—eight years was discontinued. The rides still came by train, but only to the depot on Main. For the years following, a parade of trucks carried the equipment on Poplar to the grounds.
The fair has continued to expand since the 1950s. Some of the older buildings, including the original Grandstand, the Cattle and Horse Pavilion, the Agriculture building and the sheep and swine barns have been demolished and new buildings have been constructed to meet the needs of modern fair programs. Metal buildings are most commonly built. Kansas State Industrial Reformatory prisoners are still a source of labor.
In the 1980s annual attendance has risen to over 300,000. The fairgrounds are used throughout the year for special events such as the Mennonite Auction, 4—H shows, automobile shows, monthly flea markets and commercial expositions.
As the fair has grown, Reno County and Hutchinson have continued to appreciate the value of this fall event. Long forgotten is the fellow who, apparently astonished, said of the first county fair in 1875, “It was in all respects a complete, and to many, a surprising, success.” No one is surprised anymore.
Provided by the Kansas State Fair.