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History of Menard County Fair

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During the session of the Legislature in 1839 Menard County was stricken off from Sangamon County and named in honor of Col. Pierre Menard, a Frenchman, who settled at Kaskaskia in 1790. In his day, Col. Menard was so popular with the people of Illinois that when the Convention framed the Constitution of the State, a clause was included in the schedule to the Constitution providing that "any citizen of the United States, who had resided in the State for two years might be eligible to the office of Lieutenant Governor." This was done in order that Col. Menard, who had only been naturalized a year or two at the time, might be made Lieutenant Governor under Shadrach Bond, first Governor of Illinois, after its formation into a State.

The Menard County Agricultural Society first started the Menard County Fair in 1855 on land bordering the Sangamon River owned by Dr. FP Antle. While the first two exhibitions were held there, the third was then moved to other property owned by Dr. Antle, north of his residence. Later the society purchased some ground in what was known as Hemp Hollow, which runs east and west and is just south of Washington St in Petersburg. The fairs were held on that location until the outbreak of the Civil War, when the society closed the fairs.

In 1869, the president and director of the Menard County Agricultural Society petitioned the county commissioners with 730 signatures to use county funds to purchase a tract of land adjacent to Petersburg for county fair purposes. In July 1869, the Menard County Commissioners entered into an agreement with Henry and Margaret Schirding to purchase 20 acres of land just north of Petersburg. By March 1870 the fairgrounds were leased to the Menard County Agricultural Society.

Importations of blooded animals from the progressive countries of Europe are destined to greatly improve the quality of our beef and mutton. Nowhere is there to be seen a more enticing display in this line than at our state and county fairs, and the interest in the matter is on the increase. ~ from The History of Menard and Mason Counties, published 1879

One community in the United States remembered the "ninety-ninth anniversary of the adoption of the constitution," and celebrated it in 1886. That place was Petersburg, the successor of New Salem. The scene of the celebration was the Menard County Fair Grounds, in the midst of fine Illinois farms, some of the lines of which were run by the Great Liberator fifty years before, when he changed his vocation from that of grocery clerk to country surveyor. ~ from A reporter's Lincoln By Walter Barlow Stevens, Michael Burlingame, published by the Missouri Historical Society 1916

In 1887 the president of the Agricultural Society petitioned the commisioners with 424 signatures to purchase five more acres of land abutting the present fairgrounds on the south side owned by David Morris, and two more acres south to the county road owned by William Gum, for the purpose of enlarging the fairgrounds. Over the next several years improvements were made to buildings, roadways and fences. By 1890 the fair saw the installation of 200 stalls and by 1894 a 10 x 50 ampitheater was constructed.

During the latter half of 1947 the organization began to feel a financial burden. A resolution for a .5% tax failed at a special election on November 4, 1947. Later that month the Menard County Farm Bureau made an offer to the County Board to purchase the property, including the buildings, for $200 per acre. After much consideration and the opinion of the state's attorney, the board unanimously voted not to sell the fairgrounds. The tax resolution failed again in November 1948.

However, in September of 1949 one hundred taxpayers requested the submission of a proposition for an annual tax not to exceed .2% of the full cash value of all taxable property for the purpose of creating a fund for County fair purposes. The resolution on November 8, 1949 finally passed.

On March 8, 1951 the Menard County Fair filed articles of incorporation under the general Not-For-Profit Corporation Act, but a lease between the County and the Fair Board was not drawn up and signed until February 26, 1963.

Menard County can cherish a county fair that has lasted more than 150 years. It is one of the longest running traditions Menard County has ever seen, and hopefully will last another 150 years.

Miss Menard County Fair 2009, Haley Freeman of Athens, was crowned the 2010 Miss Illinois County Fair Queen during the 51st Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant at the Crown Plaza in Springfield, IL.

With the help of Menard Electric Cooperative, the fair board replaces the entire fairgrounds electrical system. Menard County Fair, Inc. is unique, as the corporation owns the entire electrical distribution system throughout the fairgrounds and is responsible for all system maintenance. This huge undertaking was only possible due to the generosity of Menard Electric Cooperative and their lineman.

The Menard County Fair Board of Directors brings back national touring music to the Menard County Fair, hosting country music star Chris Cagle.

The roof/canopy of the grandstand is replaced after grant funding is secured from the State of Illinois to partially fund the project. All new roofing is installed, new lighting, and a new sound system. The structural steel is painted and treated.

All county fairs in IL and the state fair are cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Menard County Fair Board of Directors hosts an abridged version of the fair in the form of a fall festival on Labor Day weekend. The event included live music, tractor pulls, jackpot livestock shows, and a demolition derby. This is the only county fair-type event held in Illinois in 2020

County fairs return in full force in 2021. The 2021 Menard County Fair is a huge success, breaking several records, including attendance and sales. Nashville recording artist Parker McCollum headlined the grandstand concert, setting a single-night attendance record.

The fair board of directors constructs a new 51' x 120' pavilion, with a 16' enclosed section, on the infield along the track. This new building was made possible in part by ARPA funds awarded by the Menard County Board of Commissioners, and funding provided by the fair. The structure is a great addition to the fairgrounds and will prove useful for many years to come.
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