The inaugural Warren County Fair was set to open Tuesday, September 10, 1907, almost exactly 100 years after the first known county fair in U.S. history in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Farmers and people across the county were eager to travel to Wright City for what promised to be an agricultural showcase, with friendly competition, food, and socializing. However, heavy rain delayed the start of the fair for one day.
But by the end of the three-day fair, it was deemed a success and helped promote new ideas in farming and agriculture. Hundreds of people gathered from all corners of the county to watch sheep sheering contests and marvel at model cattle.
Complementing the Warrenton Street Fair
The Warren County Fair was historically held in September just before or after the Warrenton Street Fair, which had been taking place at least two years prior to the start of the County Fair. The Warrenton Street Fair was focused on entertainment and vendors, whereas the County Fair remained true to its agricultural roots.
The Warren County Fair, like most fairs, was part conference, part competition, and part fun.
In 1911, horse racing was the biggest draw for fairgoers. Two local men, Charles Smith and Grief Kennedy, trained horses nationwide and raced annually. Their horses, Little Lois and Mission and Scary, respectively, sped around the track in plug races and quarter-mile dashes.
The County Fair paused during the Depression and WWII
But putting on the operation became a struggle, particularly during the Depression and World War II. Warrenton Banner records note in August 1950, “This is the first county fair that has been held in Warren County for [some] years.”
It goes on to say, “According to the Banner files, the first county fair was held at Wright City in September 1907, and was again in the fall of 1908, 1909, and 1910, a total of four years. This was followed by street fairs in Warrenton in the fall for a period of several years.”
Those street fairs happened on Main Street in Warrenton, closing Booneslick Road with merry-go-rounds, swings, tents, vendors, food, and a dance floor. The Warren County Fair Association continued to operate the fairgrounds for competitions, then located at present-day Diekroeger Bros. Park in Wright City.
New competitions include rodeos and sawing
One ad in 1909 promised to sell 10 booths to the highest bidder, limited to one melon stand, one lunch stand (without coffee) and one each for other treats that didn’t compete with existing vendors.
After WWII, the Warren County Fair resumed with a wide selection of attractions but remained, at heart, an agricultural showcase. Sheep, beef and dairy cattle, swine, vegetable, and fruit judging competitions coincided with new “Home Economics” and “Household Arts” competitions that included sewing, cooking, crafting, quilting, and other needlework, plus children’s 4-H projects, and all manner of desserts.
On alternating evenings at the fair, the tractor-pulling contests were big draws, then men sawed, chopped, logrolled, and tested their strength and endurance in the fair’s annual sawing contest.
An agricultural convention and showcase at heart
In 1957 as tractors became necessities for modern farmers, the Missouri Rural Safety Council traveled the state demonstrating how easy and deadly tractor tipping could be, followed by safe operating practices.
Similar demonstrations take place annually along with esteemed livestock shows, carnival rides, fireworks, live music, barrel racing, and rodeos that have become staple attractions that persist today.
You can find all the latest events at this year’s fair at warrencountyfairgrounds.com.
Youth competitions at the fair rise in prominence
Originally, the fair was for adult men to showcase livestock and animals. But the rapid rise of youth organizations like 4-H, Junior Farmers Associations (formed in July 1955 in Warren County), and FFA encouraged so many young people to get involved in agriculture and animal husbandry that the long-standing “junior showmanship” and “youth show” categories outgrew the adult competitions to become among the most prominent competitions in Warren County and elsewhere around the country.
However, adult competitions remained popular and became family affairs. In the photo presented here, left to right: First prize Black Angus Helfer, under 1 year, exhibited by George L. Bolm, Truesdale; Grand Champion Hereford Female and second prize Hereford Helfer, over 1 year, both exhibited by Vernon Preul, New Truxton.
What do you remember about the Warren County Fair or Warrenton Street Fair?
Tell us about your time at the fair. You can remain anonymous, but memories and stories from named individuals may be used on this website, in Historical Society newsletters, or in other publications preserved in our Research Library.
Want to see more photos from the past? Check out Images of America Warren County by Dorris Keevene-Franke, available for sale online and in the Museum.
Images of America — Warren County by Dorris Keeven-Franke
Historical narrative of Warren County, Missouri with photos. 127 pages.
Editor’s note: some images on this page have been digitally altered or enhanced for contrast or angle. Original photos are on file at the Warren County Historical Society. Images that have been edited are noted in their captions.
Works cited in this piece include: