Ray County Fair: Then and now, it’s always a good time

A Ray County Fair livestock parade passes the courthouse, left. The photo is reproduced from the 1973 edition of Ray County History.

A Ray County Fair livestock parade passes the courthouse, left. The photo is reproduced from the 1973 edition of Ray County History.

By Linda Emley

The Ray County Fair starts this week and it’s fun to have people enjoying the good old summertime events that are part of a county fair. I’m hoping some of these people will take a little time and stop by the Ray County Museum while they are at the fairgrounds. It’s always fun when we have people “on the hill.”

I wasn’t a member of FFA, but I did belong to the Liberty 4-H for several years in the 1960s. We met at the church in Millville, and being a country girl, I looked forward to seeing my 4-H friends because country kids didn’t get to see many classmates during the summer months. My family always had a big garden, so the odds were good that we would have a good selection of vegetables to display at the Ray County Fair. My brother and I had state fair blue ribbons several years with our potatoes. Tomatoes and green beans were a little harder to pick out and keep fresh for the state fair.

I was in the sewing group, but since I am left handed, I was never very good with a needle and thread. One year I made a top and skirt and we had to wear them in a fashion show. That was the only time I wore that outfit because it was so bad. The top was too big and the skirt was too long, but I got a ribbon because some nice judge felt sorry for me. I often look back on that summer fashion show and wish I knew who that sweet lady was so I could tell her thank you. It’s funny the memories one holds from childhood and the people who make a difference without knowing that they affected someone. I still have some of my ribbons, a few 4-H pins and one old 4-H cookbook that showed us how to make peanut butter cookies. These items are treasures that I will always cherish.

I will never forget why they call it 4-H. “Head, Heart, Hands and Health.”  I couldn’t remember the 4-H pledge, but after I looked it up and read it, I felt that same feeling I had many years ago. It says, “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.”

I found an old KC Star newspaper article about county fairs. The article was written by one of my favorite Richmondites, Jewell Mayes. It isn’t dated but I think it was around 1917.

“IN MISSOURI–THE COUNTY FAIR PASSES. Missouri Notes Decline in An Old Institution. Lack of Outside Aid is Blamed for the Falling Off of Interest in the Once Popular Attraction. Jefferson City Bureau–The Kansas City Star. (By The STAR’s Missouri Correspondent) Jefferson City, July 16– The old institution of the county fair, which so long was the annual gathering center of the countryside throughout Missouri, is passing.

“There will be fewer in Missouri this year than in a generation. According to reports to Jewell Mayes, secretary of the State Board of Agriculture, only twenty-two county fairs have reported programs up to now. The decline is shown by a comparison with 1916 when sixty-six fairs were held with an attendance of 608,00 and an investment in grounds and buildings of almost half a million dollars.

“NO AID FROM OUTSIDE. Numerous reasons are advanced. Principal among those suggested by Mr. Mayes, who long has been in close contact with fair activities, is the lack of effective state and county aid laws such as other states have enacted. Under conditions of today a local fair should have help from community, county or state government or the three jointly.

“Many have believed that good roads and the easy access to other centers of display and amusement have worked to the disadvantage of the county exhibition, but Secretary Mayes is inclined to the opposite view. The lack of readjusting programs to the new order and economic conditions in livestock has had its effect, the secretary says, creating problems of fair associations to meet expenses.

“THE FIRST IN BOONE COUNTY. So far as records reveal, the first county fair in Missouri was in Boone County in 1835. There is a rivalry between two county fair associations, those of Platte and Moniteau counties, for the longest and best record. The Moniteau County Mechanical and Agricultural Society, of which its present fair is the outgrowth, held its first exhibition in October 1859. The Platte County fair was organized in the fall of 1858 and claims to have operated continuously without a break.

“Some sections of Missouri now offer district fairs and exhibits which have replaced county exhibitions while others have festival and homecomings.”

Per the 1973 Ray County History book, the first county fair in Ray County was in 1856 but I need to do some research since Jewell Mayes didn’t mention it in his article. The story reads as follows: “The first record we have found of the County Fair was in 1856. Charles Watkins, as president of the Agricultural, Horticultural and Mechanical Society of Ray County, purchased 15 acres for $2,200 out of his pocket for a fairgrounds at the edge of Richmond. These fairs were annual events until 1861 prior to the Civil War. In 1900, the interest was revived in such county meets. These were held around the square in Richmond. There were judging of livestock, canning, quilting and other things much as today.

“With travel becoming easier with the automobile and a little better roads, the fair grew in size and popularity. The name was changed to the ‘Fall Festival’ in the 1920s and sponsored by Richmond businessmen. Stalls were put around the square next to the courthouse yard and covered with canvas in case of inclement weather. The largest and best carnivals were hired to entertain on a percentage basis and since it was always held the first of October, these ‘carnies’ often wintered in Richmond.

“The Ray County Fair Board was formed in 1971 in conjunction with the Sesquicentennial celebration. They used the county home park for the fairgrounds. Plans are now being made by this board of developing this area more fully, with permanent grandstands, buildings for livestock shows, etc. The extension clubs throughout the county have cooperated in making this fair a success also.”

The carnival is back this year for the Ray County Fair and will be in downtown Richmond from July 17-20. It’s good to see this tradition return.

I have a friend who lives in Platte County and always helps with their fair. It is coming up in a few weeks and they are billing it as their 150th anniversary but my math says it is 155 years. I am going to share this KC Star article with them and see what they think. I plan on attending the Platte County Fair and be a part of their history too.

It takes many people to make a county fair happen and I have enjoyed watching our Ray County Fair Board get the hill ready over the past few weeks. It takes all year to plan a fair and now it’s show time.

We all need to support our Ray County Fair and make sure it stays alive for future generations. We can show our support by attending events over the next two weeks and becoming a member of the Ray County Fair Supporters.

Jewell Mayes would be proud to know that we have kept the fair going. He was right about needing help from “community, county and state government.” If you look over the Ray County Fair program that was in last Monday’s Richmond News, you will see many groups that have helped make the 2013 Ray County Fair happen.

The Ray County Fairgrounds is part of the 25-acre farm that has been owned by Ray County since the “county home” was established in 1910. Our museum is the original county home, and I make sure everyone who tours the museum knows we would not be here if it weren’t for the support of Ray County. The county also owns the Eagleton Center that is used for many local events.

Please come join us on the hill as we celebrate the 2013 Ray County Fair and write another chapter of our history.

Have a fair memory you’d like to share? Let Linda Emley know at


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