The rides, the animals, the demolition derby and don’t forget all the fried food delicacies – we all have our favorite reasons for attending the Monroe County Fair every year but few of us have any idea about the interesting history behind what for many of us is now a summer tradition. While the date of the first official county fair is rather murky as the early records of the Chamber of Commerce (the original sponsors of the event) were destroyed in a fire, it is believed that the first fair probably occurred somewhere near the turn of the century. It is known, however, that after 1924, the fair fell into a 22 year hiatus until it found a temporary home in one of the city of Bloomington’s most surprising places – the Fieldhouse on the IU campus (today know as the Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center, aka the HPER to most of us).
While the fair was “good University relations with the home folks” according to a 1952 memo to IU Vice-President Joseph A. Franklin, understandably there was a certain amount of apprehension among the university staff, particularly concerning the use of the campus grounds for livestock exhibits.
Most notably, in June of 1946 long-time Director of Athletics Zora Clevenger vehemently opposed the possible use of the football practice fields as a site for the animal exhibits, stating “First, the danger to the boys playing on those fields; they might become infected with tetanus: Secondly, we do not want our fields torn up in any way immediately before the opening of fall practice.” His pleas fell to deaf ears, as two months later, the August 13, 1946 issue of the Indiana Daily Student described the Fieldhouse:
“Walls have been made festive with orange curtains, and along the north wall, there is a stage for vaudeville acts and a 4-H Club style show. East of the Fieldhouse tents have been erected for the display of livestock and poultry. Displays will include automobiles, farm machinery, plumbing, furniture, jewelry, and groceries by local retail merchants and industries. There will be open class displays of canning and needlework…There will be several refreshment concession stands. Over 800 4-H Club members from Monroe County will contribute to the exhibitions.”
Following a nearly ten year run, in 1954 the Chamber of Commerce announced that it would no longer be able to sponsor the annual event, leading to the formation of the present-day fair board and the fair’s move to its present-day location on Airport Road.
For more information about the history of the Monroe County Fair on campus or if you happen to have any photographs of the fair on campus, please contact the IU Archives.