The Whiteside County Central Agricultural Society was formed May 28, 1872 in Morrison to “promote all the industrial pursuits of the county, especially the agricultural, horticultural, floricultural and mechanical interests and also the fine arts and domestic manufactures.

Usage has changed its name to Whiteside County Fair. The first elected officer’s were A.M. Teller, Frank Clendenin, E.G. Toppling, Levi Fuller, James Wilson, H.F. Kellum, Geo. W. Mackenzie, John F. Demmon, Delos J. Parker, M.M. Potter, Joseph H. Marshall and Lucius H. Pratt. 

This has been the longest lasting fair of the four county fairs of Whiteside County. 

History of the Whiteside County Fair

The Whiteside County Agricultural Society was organized February 26, 1856 at Union Grove. Beginning that year the group sponsored annual fairs and the first few were held at Morrison. The association prospered until the seventh annual fair in 1862. 

Even though there were good crowds in attendance, the officers paid the premiums and prized with difficulty.

New grounds were obtained at Sterling and the following year the fair was held there. The tract of land was a little southwest of the city on the bank of Rock River. There were good times and bad and the fair continued to be one of the big events in the county for many years. It closed after the 1888 season.

In 1866, the fair at Sterling offered prizes of one dollar for the best evidence of taste and skill in hair-work, wax-work and sell-work; a prize of one dollar for the best building bricks; and two dollars for the best six pieces of dentistry. The best three-year-old bull receive a prize of ten dollars and other agricultural awards were in proportion with an over-all prize of $50 for the best and greatest number of articles shown by one contestant.

The fair held in Sterling in 1880 was one of the all-time greats and the attendance on Friday was estimated at about 20,000 persons. The huge crowd gathered to meet and hear General U. S. Grant and other speakers at a big political rally. Also present were Senator John Logan and Illinois Governor S. M. Cullom.

The same week, a Miss Thurston thrilled the crowds with her daring ascensions in a balloon and all the regular exhibits were shown successfully. Receipts that year were $8,871.05 and expenses were $6,504.17. The fair association was out of debt.

The Whiteside County Central Agricultural Society was organized May 28, 1872, and its avowed objects were to; promote all the industrial pursuits of the county, especially the agricultural, horticultural, floricultural and mechanical interests and also the fine arts and domestic manufactures.

The first fair was held September 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1872, and there has been a fair every year since. Usage has changed its name to the Whiteside County Fair and its purposes have remained the same.

A map of the city of Morrison, printed in 1872, shows the fairgrounds located where they are now but smaller. Then the race-track ran around the perimeter of the park, conforming to the diagonal alinement of Winfield Street. Later, additional ground was added to the south and the track was relocated. The shape of the racing course then became oval.

In September, 1873, the fair at Morrison was declared a success and it included among its attractions a 2,400-pound steer owned by R. E. Logan. Nearby was a two-year-old bull weighing 1,700 pounds. It was shown by Mr. Goodenough of Garden Plain. L. Eddy of Prophetstown showed three hogs which weighed a total of 2,400 pounds. The Morrison Sentinel issued a Daily Fair Reporter during the week.

In 1874, Dan’s Female Brass Band was a popular attraction at the Morrison Fair which was having a difficult time competing against the popular fair at Sterling. It was slowly successful and gradually acquired the prestige necessary to display to an outside world the accomplishments of Whiteside County.

In 1885, a project was planned which caught the public’s attention and resulted in one of the most successful celebrations the county ever enjoyed. The title, Old Settler, was reserved, by common consent, for settlers who arrived in the county prior to 1841. J. N. Baird, secretary of the association, requested each of the Old Settlers to donate a log which would be included in a memorial cabin. Old Timers cooperated with enthusiasm and, on August 20, 1885, the fair grounds were the scene of an old-fashioned log-rolling. 121 logs were donated and the name of the donor and date of his arrival was put on each log.

Each log was to be at least 16 feet long and from 12 to 14 inches in diameter. Butternut, walnut, white oak, red oak, blue ash, burr oak, hackberry, cherry, red elm, chestnut, black oak and cottonwood were included in the varieties and there were timbers sufficient to build a two-cabin house with a roofed porch between and a separate cabin. The one with the open shelter was described as Texas style for the term breezeway was not to be thought-up for many years. The cabins had shake roofs and stick chimneys.

The year 1885 was notable for the dedication of the famous statue, Liberty Enlightening the World, in New York Harbor. Officials of the Morrison fair advertised reasonably, Why go the see Bartholdi’s statue when you can go the Morrison and see a monument to 121 Whiteside County pioneers?

On September 2, the big day arrived and it was marked by a feeling of pride that was tempered by a gentle nostalgia; for the early days of hardship had acquired a sort of romance with the mellowing action of time. Mrs. Phebe Vennum sat in an ancient armchair and watched over all. Strictly speaking, she was not an Old Settler as she came with her husband to Whiteside County in 1846. However she had lived to the amazing age of 101 years and had not laid aside her work until she was 98. Mts. Vennum still read her Bible, and she presided with dignity at the celebration. The Old Settlers’ Chorus sang America, Auld Lang Syne and Old Hundred to the accompaniment of a cornet; and Professor M. R. Kelly was the orator for the day.

The fair grew and prospered, probably because one could go there and be reasonably sure that he would meet almost everybody he knew and look at exhibitions that gave a comforting sense of familiarity. One of the exciting attractions was the Shoot-the-Chute ride. The set-up included a high platform, a steep chute, two or more flatboats, a shallow lagoon and an engine to pull the boats aloft.

When a sufficient number of adventurers had been lured aboard, the boat was released to hurtle down the runway and hit the water with a tremendous splash. The small pond was disturbed mightily and then peace resumed until another boatload went down. The ride would seem tame to present-day sophisticates but it was a big thrill to the youths of that time. The chute was finally dismantled and two of the flatboats were taken to Spring Lake near Savanna to be made into a fishing barge.

The race-track always attracted large crowds and the purses became bigger as money became more plentiful. There was an incident which was perhaps unique in the history of the ancient sport. Rain is always the great threat to a successful fair and, that time, a shower fell before a scheduled race. At a conference among the association’s officials, it was agreed that there was only one way to make a track usable. Maintenance workers obtained sponges and pails and carefully sponged dry the shallow puddles that were left on the track

.About 1932, a public wedding was conducted in front of the amphitheatre and elaborate stage shows and hill-billy-type entertainments have drawn large crowds. In 1965, premiums, prizes and purses amounted to more than $35,000 and each year the venerable celebration becomes bigger and better than ever.

The Spring Creek Union Agricultural Society. The third fair held in Whiteside County was managed by the Spring Creek Union Agricultural Society. It was organized in 1875 and included the townships of Albany, Garden Plain and Newton in Whiteside County and several of the adjacent townships in Rock Island County. The fair were held first in Booth’s Grove about one mile south of the village of Albany.  

In 1879, it was announced that the fair would be moved and it was located on the Albany-Fulton road above Albany. The Spring Creek association continued until 1889; the amusements were diversified and conventional. Racing was one of the stellar attractions. Exhibits were of the usual kind and a patented, portable commode-seat for small children, easily adapted for home use or travel on the cars and steamboats, seemed to promise much.

At that fair as well as the others, balloon ascensions were high on the entertainment list; people were intrigued by the daring exploits of the professors who soared through the heavens. One of the great acts was shown in Albany in 1886 when the phantasmagoria was exhibited, It was a chariot drawn by four noble equines and far up in the air an athlete performed breath-taking stunts. It may have been driven by a beautiful woman who wore a dazzling gown and managed the four horses expertly.

The Great Northwestern Fair. About 1898, a group of business men bought the Woodlawn Mineral Springs Resort in Sterling Township from Samuel Albertson. It was located on section 14. It became the location of the Great Northwestern Fair, an annual event that attracted people from near and far because its healthful waters were still available to those who believed in hydropathy-the water cure. Shade trees and the nearby Rock River justified the claim that it was one of the most beautiful fair-grounds in Illinois.

All of the standard attractions ere offered and, in 1901, the customary balloon made its ascent and fine racing horses strained to win the purses which totaled $300 that year. Among the cultural events was a contest among students for the best composition on What I would Do With $1,000. The winner received a prize of three dollars. There were also monetary awards to the youthful artists who drew the best pictures of hearts, lungs, Liberty Bells, pontoon bridges and schoolhouses.

The fair was one of the big events at the park but there was another which was almost as popular-the annual Chautauqua. Harry Holbrook of Chicago started it in 1903 and its aims were high: for the cultivation of higher thinking and distributing information on current issues, art and music.

Nationally-known speakers were presented and they included such favorites as Willian J. Bryan, Father Vaughn, Colonel Bain and Billy Sunday.

Camping facilities were offered and a patron could take his tent or rent one. Rates were reasonable; a season ticket cost two dollars. Three-room tents were rented for five dollars each and many families made them their temporary homes while they absorbed culture. Changing times brought an end to both of the entertainments but they were running a least as late as 1910. From Whiteside County history book by Wayne Bastian, 1966.

The 1877 Bent history of Whiteside County gives a little less information although the same dates for the formation of the fairs. The Bent history gives the first officers of the fairs.

The 1885 Portrait and Biographical Album of Whiteside County says of the Whiteside Central Agricultural Society its objects were to aid all kinds of industries, especially the agricultural, horticultural and mechanical branches, by stimulating competition, in gathering together the various products of the county and awarding premiums to the most deserving. It also gives the officers names, besides the executive committee names. The date of the first fair. The fair grounds are located in the southwest part of the town, on the banks of Rock Creek, and enclose about 15 acres. A half-mile track has been made. exhibition buildings erected and apartments for stock provided.

Article from the Whiteside Sentinel

July 30, 1919


Officers of Morrison Fair Are Erecting Fine Building for Showing Live Stock

The Morrison Fair officials have started work on a sale pavilion which will _______during the coming show, and will be rented to any person who desires to hold a sale of livestock. 

It will be erected in the open space southeast of the amphitheater, and will be a very fine addition to the property. Stakes were placed today. 

The pavilion will be erected in the form of a hexagon, the angles being twenty-four feet in dimension. The diameter of the structure will be 108 feet, and the eaves will project two feet over the sides. A show ring twenty feet square will be built in the center, with an auctioneer’s box to one side. 

The pavilion will have a seating capacity of about 100, and it will be well ventilated with windows which will be placed all around the cupola over the show ring. The seats will be erected in amphitheater style and will be eight feet above the ground at the back. 

Seventy pens for hogs will be built around the outside of the pavilion and there will be thirty pens for sheep around the sides of the show ring. 

When sales are held by stockmen they can use the hog pens for cattle, as they are being built large enough for that purpose. 

President Boyd, who is largely responsible for the new improvement, has a cement mixer on the grounds and is ready to begin work on the concrete foundation. Lee Horing will start work Thursday morning moving the chicken building and cattle stalls about twenty feet farther north so as to give plenty of room for the sale pavilion.    

From the Morrison Sesquicentennial History book

Photo Jim Stepp

More from the Morrison Sesquicentennial History book

Photo Source – VintageAerial.com