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A short history of fairs

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Fairs are among the oldest of entertainments, stretching back at least to 500 B.C. where they are mentioned in the Old Testament. Those fairs, of course, were very different from ours. But even ours go back a ways.

The first fair in North America was held in 1765 in Windsor, Nova Scotia.

And then a man by the name of Elkanah Watson, New England patriot and farmer, earned himself the title of "Father of U.S. Agricultural Fairs" by producing expositions under the elm trees in Pittsfield, Mass., starting in 1807.

The first "state" fair in the Utah Territory was held in 1856, organized and sponsored by the Deseret Agricultural & Manufacturing Society "with a view of promoting the arts of domestic industry and to encourage the production of articles from the native elements in this Territory."

Brigham Young won $25 for the best stallion and also took first prize for celery.

It was intended to be an annual affair, but during a few lean years people had little to exhibit and no fairs were held.

The first fair was held on the corner where the Joseph Smith Memorial Building now stands. Later fairs were held in the old Social Hall, various Mormon wards and the land where Trolley Square now stands. The State Fair moved to its present location in 1902.

County fairs came along later — the Salt Lake County Fair, for instance, started in 1936.

County fairs were started to build up interest and competition for the State Fair, says Donna Dahl, executive director of the Utah State Fairpark. In many cases, the county fairs are stepping stones to the next level, especially for 4-Hers and FFA entries.

In categories such as home arts and fine arts, a win at the county fair can be a confidence booster.

"You don't have to win at the county level to go on to the state," says Dahl, "but if people do well at their county fairs, they think they have a better chance at the State Fair."

It is always fun for those who did to well at the county to see how that rhubarb pie or that patchwork quilt stands up against those from other counties.

And that, she says, adds to the traditional atmosphere of the State Fair.

The Utah State Fair will run Sept. 7-17 at the Utah State Fairpark, 1000 W. North Temple. For more information, call the Utah Association of Fairs & Shows at 538-8445.