The Old Madison County Fairs
During the third week of July, Madison County will renew the annual tradition of the 4-H Fair at Beulah Park in Alexandria, Indiana.
The 4-H Club began nationally in 1902 and shortly thereafter, it was started here in Indiana. The earliest activities focused on projects and exhibits of corn and gardens. In Madison County, a Pig Club was organized in 1914. From these meager beginnings an exceptional first-class fair has emerged.
Today, the Madison County 4-H Fair serves as our county's annual gathering to celebrate the agricultural industry. It is a celebration that had its beginnings in Madison County 173 years ago.
The concept of a county fair first surfaced in 1835 when the county commissioners authorized the formation of an agricultural society. That led to the first fair in the county in 1837, which was held in Andersontown upon the public square and was a private enterprise. The ground was covered with tree stumps as the land was being prepared for the building of a courthouse that opened in 1839. There was no admission charge and no awards save the traditional red and blue ribbons.
Two years later the fair was held at Huntsville. The exhibit of agricultural products and stock, as well as attendance, was small which must have been discouraging to the society. The population of our county was approximately 8,800 citizens but apparently the interest was not there and, like the first one in 1837, it did not repeat the next year. The society was short-lived and no more fairs were held in the county until 1850, when another society was formed. It was known as the Madison County Agricultural Society.
The society selected a site in Anderson to hold the fair and leased 25 acres. The area was roughly bounded by the present-day John Street and Madison Avenue, and Eighth and Tenth Streets. Running through the site diagonally was a stream of water known as Green's Branch.
The fairgrounds was on the north side of the branch, with its entrance on Strawtown Road(Eighth Street). The first fair was held September 14 and 15, 1850. Fairs were held here annually until the lease expired in 1855. The society, having no suitable site on which to continue the fair, was forced to go out of existence. For the next 13 years, the county was without a fair.
Interest returned and, in 1867, a group of men from the Pendleton area organized the Fall Creek Agricultural Society, also known as the Pendleton Agricultural Society. The following year the association purchased 20 acres three-fourths of a mile south of Pendleton on the pike leading to Eden(State Road 9).
The first fair was held in September, 1868. Over time improvements were made with the addition of sheds and a one-half mile race track. Exhibitors and visitors were mainly from Madison, Hamilton, Hancock and Henry Counties. Fairs were held here annually each fall from 1868 to 1876 when the association disbanded.
Also during this period, another agricultural society formed in Madison County. Several public-spirited citizens met on May 16, 1868 in Anderson and organized a joint-stock fair association. It was known as the Madison County Joint-Stock Agricultural Society.
On May 31, 1868, 20 acres of land was acquired across Strawtown Road and slightly northwest of the old Anderson fairgrounds of 1850-1855. The area purchased was immediately north of present-day Eighth Street; west of the railroad to the Fairgrounds Road(Madison Avenue), and north to the vicinity of present-day Third Street. It will be recalled that in 1867, this was the site of the public hanging of Milton White.
Track Main Feature
The fair was held at this location in the fall of 1868. A sizable amount of money was spent to improve the facility. One of the first things done was to build a seven-foot plank fence which surrounded the grounds complete with gates and an entrance.
There was an office and dining hall as well. An amphitheater was erected for presentations plus three halls were built for exhibitions. They were named Floral, Mechanical and Art. One hall measured 20-by-80 feet and another 20-by-30 feet. There were a number of cattle and horse stalls along with sheep and hog pins. Three wells were sunk, walled and finished with pumps to provide drinking water for the livestock and patrons.
However, the main feature of the fairgrounds was the one-half mile circuit track that ran parallel to the Fairgrounds Road(Madison Avenue). It was situated roughly between what is today Seventh Street to near Third Street and Madison Avenue and Hendricks Street.
The track was utilized for the exhibition of horses in harness and under saddle. Trotters, pacers and runners were very popular and drew large crowds. Thursday was always considered the best day because thousands of people attended the fair to see and enjoy the horse racing.
The grounds became famous throughout Indiana for their beauty, being situated among numerous large oak trees, and the accommodations provided for exhibitors and the public.
Over the next 19 years attendance was strong. It was reported that on the third day of the 1873 fair, more than one-third of the entire population of Madison County were present upon the grounds. The county's population in 1873 was approximately 24,000, meaning 8,000 were in attendance September 4, 1873.
From 1887 to 1890, interest in the fair began to fall off. The decrease in attendance caused the society to become involved in debt. In addition, Anderson had grown beyond the limits of the fairgrounds in every direction. The city desired to open streets through the property and open it to development.
The society's stockholders decided it would be in the interest of the association to dispose of the fairgrounds and settle its affairs. This decision came at the conclusion of the 1890 fair.
That winter, the Indiana legislature passed an enabling act authorizing the society to sell and convey all corporate property, distribute the proceeds and cease to exist. With the passage of the act, the fairgrounds were divided into lots and sold.
By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian
Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)firstname.lastname@example.org