Museum Musings: Origins of the County Fair
By: Gini Woodward
One of the oldest county events is replaying this week, the Boundary County Fair.
True to the tradition, it is “Where We Gather,” and have for nearly one hundred years. While 4-H’ers, Future Farmers of America and Fair Royalty have grown up and moved on, giant pumpkins and sunflowers have re-seeded themselves and new generations continue on. Each year is different, fewer or more entries, reflecting the current interests and accomplishments of this rural county’s residents. Flowers, produce, baked goods, animals, art work and crafts are all entered with enthusiasm and anticipation. What will the judge bestow, blue, red, white, participation or best of show? Food booths, games, music, politicians, popcorn and cotton candy are all seasonal reminders that it won’t be long until the first snow.
It is the Boundary County Fair, most fun if you participate in a parade, show an entry, serve food or even volunteer as a department superintendent a few days a year. Behind the scenes there is year-long planning and preparations for those brief few days of late summer fun.
Every year, volunteers, board members and employees add new delights such as barns, sidewalks, general store all of which maintain and improve a rich community tradition. With his eager nose in old newspapers, our own museum historian Howard Kent has provided a brief timeline overview of the early history of the Boundary County Fair.
• 1910: The second annual Fruit Fair of Bonners Ferry was on display at the Bonner County Fair in Sandpoint (You might recall that at this time what is now Boundary County was still part of Bonner County).
• 1911: Zoe Kent was chosen princess to represent the Kootenai Valley at the Spokane Apple Show.
• 1913: Plans were made for the first county fair to be held on the flats next to the Idaho Hotel (where today’s courthouse stands). The fair was to be held in large tents.
• 1915: Boundary County was established in July. By late August, dates were set for a fair on October 6, 7 and 8. Committees were formed. By September 17, the idea was given up as requiring too much work in too short a time.
• 1916: A committee of the Commercial Club made plans for a fair. In August, they set dates for three days in October. Nothing more was mentioned in the paper. It was an election year full of politics and worries of the war in Europe.
• 1917: The United States entry into WWI rendered a county fair out of the question.
• 1919: County Club Fair was held on October 11. Boys’ and Girls’ displays were to be awarded prizes. On October 28 there was mention of an Apple show on November 21, part of “Patrons Day” ceremony.
• 1920: With WWI over, the first County Fair takes place.
• 1921: Boundary County purchased 16 acres west of town to be established as the county fairgrounds. The Boundary County Fair Association announced that June 15 was “Knockers Day.” Everyone was invited to bring hammers to help put up the grandstands and fences. Tourist kitchens were also to be built. The second annual fair was held.
The Boundary County Fair tradition began and continues today. Booths and exhibits are set up, entries are categorized and judged, ribbons are generously awarded and then for a few brief days, spectators stroll well-worn aisles to view the best the county has to show.
Familiar faces, running children, animal sounds and smells remind us once again that we are a community of friends and neighbors celebrating each other’s joys and accomplishments at the Boundary County Fair.
You will find Howard Kent tending the museum on Thursdays from 10am to 4pm while the curator is away. A lifetime resident, keeper of historic facts and an entertaining story-teller, he will listen to your version and is always happy to share his.
Summer hours at the museum continue through September, Tuesday through Saturday, 10am to 4pm. The Boundary County Museum is powered by volunteers and donations. Everyone is invited to come aboard!