ESCANABA – Last week I met the Bay Sages group in college. I have been tasked with presenting information about the history of the UP State Fair and reporting on the record fair of 2022.
With information gathered by our resident historian, Ann Jousma Miller, and daily press archives, I was able to introduce the Fairly Fun story and share how the fair received as much support in its early days as it does today.
In 1878, the Upper Peninsula’s first agricultural fair was held on Ogden Avenue facing Lake Michigan in the courtyard of the Tilden House. Delta County’s road system had not yet been developed, but people traveled in wagons on two-lane roads to view and support the early settlers’ harvest.
The first one “Celebration of Agriculture and Community”, which was also the theme of the UP State Fair 2022, was a huge success. Since then the fair has continued, grown and is one of 86 fairs in the state and claims to be Michigan’s only state fair.
In 1900, the celebration of agriculture and community continues. Timber was harvested, allowing more land to be devoted to agriculture. Recognizing farmers and celebrating agriculture was a priority at the time.
In 1909, one of the biggest two-day events was to include a large fair and a picnic at the farmer’s market. The three-day event took place on the 800 block of Ludington Street with live bands, dancing, exhibits, evening concerts, horse racing, baseball games and more ! The Farmers Market Picnic celebrating agriculture was held and awards were given out to horses, dairy cows, live deer and turkeys.
The annual event continued to be a success and grew when an outreach committee was organized. Postcards were sent to former residents inviting them to come to the fair. The committee showed up at rail depots and landing stages to greet guests at the fair. According to reports, residents have been asked to open their homes to travellers.
Enthusiasm and support for the fair continued, and the Delta County Agricultural Society was formed. Members, representing each township in Delta County, began planning the event for 1910. To pay for the event, they sold memberships for $1 per person and stock for $25. The original stock certificates are in the Delta County Historical Society.
In 1911, the Upper Peninsula Development Bureau was organized. Their responsibility was to promote the UP outside the area; much like the UP Economic Development Alliance and the Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association of today. Both organizations exist today to promote UP for travel and business development.
The Upper Peninsula Development Bureau first promoted agriculture by recognizing that timber was cut and farmland was expanded. Where the wood was cut, the first thing to regrow around the stumps was the clover. The keyword used by the development office to describe UP was Cloverland. Some that adopted the nickname into their business name were Cloverland Sheep Farm, Cloverland Electric, Cloverland Grain and Milling Company, and Cloverland Paper Company. The Escanaba and Lake Superior Railroad donated money for brochures and other printed materials. Cloverland magazine was published touting the benefits of agriculture in UP. It was truly another example of how UP celebrated agriculture and community.
In 1912 the “Great Fair” took place at the Fair Store in downtown Escanaba. Inside the store were displays of corn and beans – animals were displayed in an empty lot behind the store. He stuck to it for several years and was very successful. Attendance at the fair broke all records that year with over 8,000 people celebrating agriculture and community.
The Delta County Agriculture Society has established a ballot proposal to bond $12,000 to purchase land for a permanent fairground. The proposal was accepted, the first piece of land was purchased and the ox barn was built. The fair was then known as the Northern Michigan Fair and was held on property owned by the Agricultural Society.
A priority at the time was horse racing and a premier racetrack was built in 1916. It was so exceptional that 40 horses came from Wisconsin, lower Michigan and Canada for the fair races.
An extraordinary fair was held in 1918 which included a Wild West show, amusement ride and Ferris wheel, furnished by Parke Amusement in Detroit. Imagine, there was no Mackinac Bridge at that time!
Throughout history, newspaper headlines have reported when a fair has had a banner year. In 1922, the Northern Michigan Fair said 12,000 people attended the fair to break records. 100 years later, in 2022, a new record was set with 103,000 guests walking through the doors.
So the real question is, how did we become the UP State Fair?
Herbert Rushton of Escanaba was the president of the Delta County Agricultural Society and was instrumental in building the racetrack. He later became a state senator for that district. He knew that the State of Michigan had funded a fair in Detroit at the time and asked the question: “Why can’t the state fund the fair in the Upper Peninsula? » He introduced legislation to transfer land, buildings, and the racetrack to the state. He became known as the father of the UP State Fair.
A fair was not held in 1927 as negotiations continued to transfer ownership to the state. Then the biggest celebration of agriculture and community took place September 17-22, 1928 with the first-ever UP State Fair.
George E. Harvey was hired as fair manager and began booking entertainment in January 1928. The UP State Fair management team began booking entertainment around the same time during the UP State Fair convention. Association of Fairs and Expositions of Michigan.
Governor Green attended the first fair and was greeted by 30,000 attendees on Governor’s Day. Governor’s Day is now called Honorary Citizens’ Day, and the UP State Fair Authority and members of the House co-sponsor the popular Governor’s Luncheon each year.
After the first UP State Fair was held, daily press headlines read, Foundation Laid for Future Growth. A 95-year-old prediction that came true through the dedication of people determined to continue the important celebration of agriculture and community.
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Vickie Micheau is the executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce