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(The Fair was held on Danforth Street, on what now are the grounds of the Ursuline Convent.)



Source: Alton Weekly Courier, May 29, 1856

We have been furnished by J. A. Miller, architect, of this city, who has been employed to lay off the grounds on which the next exhibition of the Illinois State Agricultural Society is to be held, with a statement of the arrangements which he has decided to submit to the parties having in charge the preparation of the Fair Grounds. The plan shows originality on the part of Mr. Miller, and a clear conception of the probable difficulties to be guarded against. The following is the plan as we understand it:


The carriage entrance to the fair grounds is about a mile from the foot of State street (the river), between the Farmer's Home and F. H. Hawley's place, entering from the east. Pedestrians will leave the main road at a point near A. L. Chouteau's residence, and enter the ground from the South. The ground enclosed measures twenty-five eighty-five one-hundredth acres, eleven of which are cleared, and the remainder comfortably shaded by trees.


Visitors is carriages, soon after entering the grounds, will pass the business office, twenty-five by sixty feet; thence by a curve, in the track, they reach the main exhibition building, having the form of a cross; the floral hall constitutes the north end, one hundred by forty feet - a vestibule twenty by forty feet on the east, and on the south, a hall for the exhibition of fruits one hundred by forty feet; on the west, the room for musical instruments and articles of that class, while the centre room is an octagon sixty feet in diameter, with a sky-light, for the exhibition of paintings, drawings, &c. The arrangement of this department is such that visitors will enter at one door, pass along and view all the objects in the various rooms, and pass out at another door. This building will represent the rural style of architecture.


Leaving this hall and passing along the main road, through a shaded portion of the grounds, the visitor arrives before a large refreshment hall on a pretty, level ridge, near the south side of the enclosure; passing on, he arrives at a point opposite the entrance and exit gates of pedestrians, west of which the stalls commence, being built against the enclosure. The first fifty stalls are close; next come two hundred open stalls, but with a roof. These stalls form the west side of the exhibition, along which the road passes toward the north. On this side is the large shed under which machines and a steam engine for driving them are placed.


Moving along the curve, the pens for sheep and swine are passed. Reaching the eastern end of the ground, the source of the track is changed westwardly and alongside the stalls for poultry. Following the same direction, the building where textile fabrics are exhibited comes next to view; which, when disposed of, is dismissed for an examination of the show circles, having a diameter of four hundred feet; passing around the western line of this circle, the path leads by the shed for the exhibition of various manufactures, as tools, stoves, cabinet ware, &c., &c.  Thence the road passes between the large circle and a tent forty-five by ninety feet for the exhibition of dairy and kitchen garden products - following the circle, the road passes by the west side of the main exhibition building - thence eastward through a shaded part of the ground, the road brings the visitor to the exit gate, a short distance from the entrance. Thus the visitor, by the carriage road, has traversed a line of one and three-fourth miles, without having crossed his track or touched the same point twice.


The carriages will be kept moving from the time of their entrance, and all on one track, so that there will be no confusion - no turning out or strife for precedence. All enter at one and the same gate, follow in their turn, the same track, and make their exit at another gate, and in the same order as they entered.


There will be on the grounds ten refreshment stands, one large refreshment hall, police office, business office, three gate offices, one main hall, three buildings for manufactures, one tent, fifty stalls, ten by twelve feet - two hundred stalls, eight by ten feet, one hundred pens eight by ten feet, eight hundred feet of two-story poultry houses, and six wells.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, July 31, 1856

The preparations for the State Fair are progressing rapidly. The grounds are now enclosed with the exception of the East side. Three wells have been dug, and there is a plentiful supply of water in them. Three more will be dug - one of them to be eight ft. in diameter. There is also on the ground a fine spring, so that there will be no lack of pure water. The lumber for the stalls and offices and stands is on the ground, and the workmen will commence in a few days to build them. The undergrowth is nearly cleared out, so that the grounds now afford the prettiest drive to be found in this vicinity. The manner in which the grounds have been laid off shows a capacity to combine convenience and beauty, which does great credit to Mr. Miller, to whom this delicate work has been assigned.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 21, 1856

Manifestations are abroad which indicate the approach of some unusual event. The corner walls have been gratuitously papered with figures of immense deeds of daring horsemanship; of brave poising on the slack rope, high from the surface of the earth; with all the other objects of gaping wonder, which a Barnum could conceive. Hotel keepers are fortifying with alacrity, their cellars and their lerders [sic], and the addition to the Alton House is progressing with a commendable rapidity. This House, when completed, will present from the river an imposing front, excelled by none upon its banks. Our hosts of the Alton, Franklin, Piasa, Miller, Waverly and other Houses, are exerting their large energies to have provided all the good things and good places, which their utmost limits will permit. The Gas Company, with its regiment of employees, is doing a wholesale business at pipe laying, and their subterranean researches are destined to throw a glaring light upon the subject of dark streets. We are pleased to observe that an effort is being made to obtain the exhibition of fireworks on each evening of the days of the Fair, in order to add to the gratification of our visitors; also that it is proposed to erect flagstaffs on the highest points of the two bluffs, and to extend from one to the other, a line of some one thousand six hundred feet in length, on which will be suspended at intervals, long streamers, which will float one hundred feet or more above the highest buildings, thus forming a grand, beautiful and heretofore unseen spectacle. These, with other projects, prove that our citizens are anxious to provide for their visitors a happy Fair.


Starting off, at the invitation of Mr. Miller, the Superintendent, to view the Fair Grounds, we observed, on reaching the Semple heights, a long red streamer gaily exhibiting its proportions above the trees, and that was for the time, our polar star. Upon a nearer approach, we discovered that a high and extended board fence enclosed an apparently impenetrable growth of trees; but on entering through a broad gateway, the enclosure, we found ourselves within a "love of a place."  Notwithstanding the thickness of the growth of trees, winding roads and paths brought every road of ground within close view. It would seem that nature formed this spot, in the gross, for the express purpose of holding Fairs, the hand of taste having given the finishing strokes, so as to conform to modern style.


We found the various buildings in process of erection, six wells dug, and containing in this extraordinary time of drouth, a goodly supply of water. Toward the western side of the enclosure the circular race track was found to be plowed and conditioned for its office.  The grounds are sufficiently undulating to remove monotony, but every point is easy of access, and when the arrangements and buildings are completed, no doubt the visitor will be unable to determine whether the Institution was made for the place, or the place for the Institution, so complete will be the combined whole.


We trust the weather will be at summer temperature, when the Fair occurs, so that the beauty and luxury of the grove may be duly appreciated, and we opine those visitors who make the tour of the grounds in carriages will be constrained to re-tour on foot, so as to court the umbrage of the little oaks.


We read that while Adam was yet in the Edenic garden, the beasts and fowls came together to him to receive their names. Then and there must have been a grand and beautiful exhibition. The next exhibition of a similar kind, in degree, will be that of the Fair, five thousand eight hundred and sixty years subsequent to the Adamic event; and we do not hesitate to assume that in perfection of getting up, both in the department of nature and of art, the Illinois State Show will suffer but small when compared with the great first exhibition.


The preparation of the grounds has involved a very large expense, and our citizens have given liberally, but more is yet needed, and if any have not been called upon for subscriptions, they may lend their aid by calling upon Capt. Post, who, we presume, is in possession of the lists. We believe the whole thing will be done up in a manner creditable to all whose liberality has placed and kept the object in motion.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, August 28, 1856

The time for holding the farmer's jubilee is fast approaching, and it is time that the notes of preparation should be heard from one end to the other of our noble prairie State. The approaching State Fair, unlike former ones, has been thrown open to competition from other States, and it is very important that the attainments of our own State, in agriculture, mechanics, manufactures, stock breeding, and everything that helps to constitute her wealth and her present and prospective greatness, should be fairly and fully represented.


As we are engaged in a political canvass unequaled in importance and excitement in the history of our country, there is danger that the State Fair may be overlooked and neglected by the editorial fraternity, and as a consequence, by the masses of the people throughout the State. We hope the press will at once utter a rallying cry, long and loud, for the State Fair. But six weeks of time remains for preparation, and what is done must be done quickly. The State Fair of last year was highly creditable to the State, but during the year great progress has been made in every department of business, and the exhibition of this year should make that progress apparent. The opportunity to make a fine show for the State was never better, in some respects, never equal to that of this year. A better field for an exhibition can hardly be found in the Union than that which has been selected. In the arrangement of the show ground, most excellent taste and judgment are manifest. The location of the Fair at Alton secures the best and most numerous facilities for access from the interior of this and surrounding States; and there is no reason why every department of industry should not be fully represented. No arrangement has ever been made so well calculated to show to the various sections of Illinois what she is in all the great industrial arts as the institution of the State Fair, and nothing contributes so much to stimulate her industry and develop her gigantic resources. Through this channel we can effectually secure the attention of men of enterprise and capital throughout the world to this garden of creation; and it is to emigration that we look with most anxiety for the muscle and the mind to unlock the untold treasures of our prairie soil. No field is more inviting to the emigrant in search of a productive field of labor than Illinois. To thousands upon thousands of unoccupied acres, the great arteries of commerce - lines of railroad - are already constructed, and Illinois today invites the established institutions of an old State to the grand inducement of a new State - unoccupied lands. It will be a great advantage to us, in the increase of State wealth and industrial strength, to have these lands improved. Let us, then, through our State Fair, show to the world that we are an enterprising agricultural people, and enterprising agricultural people from all parts of the world will make haste to join us, in accordance with the old maxim, "birds of a feather flock together." We hope the farmers of the State will wake up to the importance of being out in their strength to the State Fair, that they may not be surpassed by adjoining States. Every man can do something to add to aggregate stock on exhibition; if every mechanic should present a specimen of his handiwork, and the ladies can do very much to aid in the exhibition. If every department of industry in our State is fairly represented, we shall have an exhibition never before equaled in the Union.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 11, 1856

The time for the State Fair is fast approaching. But little more than three weeks remain for preparation. The Fair opens on the 30th inst. The signs of preparation are given at our hotels and boarding houses. Our people are to some extent awake to the fact that they will be called upon to entertain a large number of people, by far the largest number ever before congregated in the city. Politicians throughout the country are awake to the importance of the opportunity of driving their trade. The Fair Grounds are in a state of forwardness, but what is being done in our city and vicinity to secure for us a fair representation in agriculture, in horticulture, in stock growing, in manufactures, and in the mechanic arts? We hope our people will consider and act promptly in this matter. If Alton is well represented in her manufactures and other departments of labor, there need be no fear but our part of the great exhibition will be creditable to us, for though St. Louis and the whole country are invited to compete with us, we have this great advantage over all - the exhibition is within our own limits, and we have neither to travel or transport our goods to make up our part of the show. We have no reason to borrow trouble about our ability to accommodate visitors. This matter involves too many opportunities for money making to be overlooked. But there is danger that we shall, in the excitement of the occasion, neglect to prepare for a fair representation of our industry and enterprise. In the departments of agriculture and stock, we depend upon the surrounding counties to vindicate the energy and enterprise of the population in this part of the State. In this connection it gives us pleasure to state that Greene county is preparing to be fully represented in stock, and will come to the Fair with a strong expectation of carrying off a large number of cups and diplomas, and we have good reason to believe from what we have seen and heard of her stock, that her hard-handed yeomen will not be disappointed in their expectations. We expect, also, to hear from Jersey, Macoupin, Montgomery, St. Clair, and other counties in this region in this behalf.


In manufactures, much will depend upon our city to vindicate the skill and enterprise of this part of the State. We hope every foundry, machine shop, and manufactory will be fully represented. Alton should also show her hand in horticulture. Our artists, architects and mechanics of every class can do something. There will also be a department for the exhibition of the ladies' handiwork, and we hope to see a laudable emulation among the ladies of our city, to secure the honors to be awarded to their skill and industry. In short, let all classes of our citizens awake to the importance of placing on exhibition everything possible, that is creditable to the industry of our city, and we may be sure of honorable mention at least. Let every citizen ask himself what can I do to add to the credit of the city in this exhibition, and when he has solved the question, let him act upon the discovery as a sacred duty, which he owes to the public.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 19, 1856

On Wednesday last, at the State Fair grounds, one of these most pleasant of all social gatherings came off, and was attended by about four hundred persons, including children. The day was one of the finest; the ground for such a purpose unsurpassed, and the ladies who got it up and took the charge had omitted nothing that was calculated to make the occasion a delightful one to all present. The grounds are really beautiful, and when all the buildings are finished, will make the finest place for the holding of a fair there is in the country. This picnic was no select affair, merely got up to give lovers a long sitting in seclusion. The young, the middle aged and the old were there enjoying themselves, and one young gentleman, curious in such matters, counted fifty-two children, including one pair of twins, of which number twenty-seven were curly-heads, and the balance wore their hair straight - so he said. Previous to the dinner, the company enjoyed themselves viewing the different buildings and the arrangement of the ground. At three o'clock dinner was announced, and such a dinner! Everything was good and in great abundance, and was relished by all present. After dinner, the young folks were delighted to discover there was a good string band on hand, and forthwith they betook themselves to dancing on the platform, erected, upon which piano fortes for exhibition are to be placed. The others looked on, or scattered themselves in parties on the grounds.


During the afternoon, there was some good trotting and running on the track, while some of the boys imitated the performances of the last circus. Thus passed the afternoon. About half past six o'clock the signs betokened a shower. Those who had carriages on the ground took their departure, and those who remained looked up at the sky uneasily. The omnibuses had not arrived, and the aspect of the heavens looked more and more threatening. Presently a few large drops fell, and was followed by a simultaneous rush for the high road leading home. A panic had seized on all. A few more drops of rain, with a gust of wind, converted a rather orderly retreat into a rout, and as the rain fell faster, and the wind howled through the trees, the struggle to reach a shelter induced some of the best specimens of pedestrianism, both male and female, we ever saw. Thoroughly exhausted, the crowd finally reached a shed, put up by Mr. Wendt, into which they rushed. Several children were lost for a time, some new bonnets injured, and some dresses soiled, but no other damage done, excepting a slight injury to our handsome friend, the architect, who got his right eye hurt while endeavoring to prevent a young lady from being blowed [sic] away, the wind having completely inflated her dress, which she could not control on account of some monstrous hoops. The vehicles soon afterwards arrived, and all got home in safety.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 19, 1856

Messrs. Walters and Pratt have rented that portion of the State Fair Grounds, designated for a dining saloon, and are making all the necessary arrangements to render that point in very many respects the most attractive and desirable on the grounds. Everything good for food and drink, and not prohibited by the rules of the society, have been or will be laid in abundance; and the services of superior cooks have been secured, to prepare refreshments in such a manner as to render them wholesome and palatable. One prominent design of the proprietors of this saloon will be to furnish board for exhibitors and stock hands, who find it necessary to remain on the grounds. This movement shows enterprise, and we believe its projectors will reap a golden reward.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 19, 1856

The notes of preparation are more frequent as the time for holding the State Fair approaches. The dealers in provisions seem to regard it as the opportunity of the year, and every want of the expected masses is anticipated to the fullest extent. The opportunity for competition from other States in the exhibition is likely to be well improved. A manufacturer of machinery is now here from Philadelphia, and he states that others will be in attendance from that city and various portions of the East. St. Louis, we learn, will be largely represented, and other points of Missouri will enter the lists. Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other States will no doubt be represented. The number of awards of all kinds to be made on the occasion will not be less than twelve thousand. We are informed by men who have occasion to travel for the purpose of making arrangements for the Fair, that the people throughout the State are awake to the importance of this exhibition, and that they will be out in their strength.


The Executive Committee will open their office in the building on the corner of Belle and Third streets, west side, on the 15th, Monday next, from which time until arrangements are completed for exhibition, entries may be made. Several gentlemen are now in town with machines and various inventions, prospecting for a good chance at the Fair.


Nearly all the public halls in town have been engaged, to be occupied for lodging purposes during the Fair, and some of them have been, and are being already fitted up. The Illinois Farmer, an agricultural paper, published at Springfield, says: "Our friends at Alton will have their hospitality tried to the utmost to accommodate the vast crowds which will be in attendance, but we are assured that means will be provided to meet the demands of the occasion. Alton never was behind when a call was made upon her generosity or hospitality."  Let our people see to it, that the reputation so generously given is well sustained.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 19, 1856

Something more on this subject may not be amiss. Each fair of the Illinois State Agricultural Society has been better than the one preceding it. The fair at Chicago last year got up while the society was but three years old, and with an empty treasury, was equal to any State Fair ever held, while it far exceeded those of many older and wealthier societies. The Executive Board of our Society is determined that there shall be no going backward in the coming fair at Alton, which is intended to be a grand exposition of the products of Labor and Art; not only of Illinois, but of the whole Mississippi Valley. For, our liberal premium list of over $7,000 is open to all, and we may expect the competition of the farmers, stock-growers, mechanics, and artists of neighboring states with those of our own. The manufacturers of the two great cities, Chicago and St. Louis, will here be pitted against each other, and all will do their best; while Illinois stock-growers will turn out to support their well earned reputation. Preparations are made on a grand scale, for the proper exhibition of everything. The Fair Grounds, situated only one mile from the city and easy of access, comprise twenty-five acres of fine grove and open sod, abundantly watered by a good spring and six wells. These grounds have been laid out, and the structures erected, under the direction of Mr. J. A. Miller - the architect of the Alton committee - with great taste and judgment. The buildings are much larger and more commodious than usual; consisting, first, of an immense "Palace of Industry," built in the form of a cross, the center being a rotunda 80 feet in diameter, with glazed sky-lights (the artists will like this), and tasteful arrangements throughout, for the exhibition of the Fine Arts. The main body of the cross is 55 by 280 feet, including the rotunda, with the limbs large in proportion - the whole thus being equivalent to five ordinary structures of the kind. Besides this, there are two substantial buildings, each 100 feet long, for heavy implements, textile fabrics, &c.; and another building of the same length, for motive power and machinery, with the society's tent for kitchen, garden and dairy products. There are 250 stalls for cattle, horses, &c., of a much better character than usual, each being 81/2 feet; with 100 large pens for sheep and swine, and abundant accommodations for poultry, &c. There are also plenty of offices, a dining hall, 50 by 300 feet, with 12 refreshment stalls, &c.


Ample provision is made for the feeding and lodging of visitors to the Fair. The hotels of the city, besides their own excellent accommodations, have provided several large steamboats to be moored at the wharf in close proximity - the charges of all being fixed by agreement with the Society. And then the people of Alton will throw open their doors - while St. Louis is close at hand, and boats and railroad will take visitors down at night, and return them in the morning, at prices which competition will be sure to make moderate. Highly satisfactory arrangements have been made with the railroads. Visitors to the Fair are to be charged one way only, being passed back free, on having their railroad tickets stamped by the Recording Secretary on the Fair grounds. Animals and articles for exhibition go free both ways; in freight being charged, but again refunded on the return of articles, with our certificate. It is also understood that steamboats on the Illinois and Mississippi rivers will carry at greatly reduced rates - though I am not yet informed of the terms of agreement made with them, by our Vice President, Col. Ross.


Let all come to this Jubilee of Industry. Few, if any that do, will ever regret it. More can be learned here in four days of the productions and resources of our glorious Prairie State, and some of her sisters, than could be in a month spent in traveling.  John A. Kennicott, Cor. Sec. Ill. State Ag. Society.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 19, 1856

Welcome, welcome, with songs of joy,

Sweet music swells the breeze;

The loud hurrah for Illinois

Re-echoes from the trees.

Beside the river, rolling free,

Beneath the sky's bright blue,

We've met to let the people see

What Illinois can do!


The generous products of the fields,

Fair nature's bounty shows,

For benest labor surely yields,

Reward to him who sows.

While ripened harvest's golden hue,

Is seen on every hand;

Our hearts are turning, ever true

To peaceful homes beyond.


Away, away, the prairies green,

In boundless grandeur stretch;

No limit to the view is seen,

'Till earth and heaven are met.

Our cities, circled by the hills,

Stand firm in bright array;

And while with joy each besom thrills,

We hail this festal day.


America, proud freedom's home,

We fondly turn to thee;

And though in stranger lands we roam,

Our home thou still shalt be.

Long let thy peerless banner wave,

Above the billow's foam;

Long be the land of spirits, brave,

And long the freeman's home!




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 25, 1856

The arrangements for running the packets between this city and St. Louis during the State Fair will be found in the advertising column. Four boats, the Reindeer, Baltimore, Jennie Deans, and Winchester, will constitute the line, and each boat will make two trips per day to St. Louis and return. Meals will be furnished at all hours, on all these boats, and three of them will remain at our Levee over night, to furnish sleeping accommodation for such persons as may apply. A band of music will accompany each boat, and strangers will find the packets pleasant places for temporary abode.


We were on the Fair Grounds yesterday, a few minutes, and were impressed more than ever by their beauty and the ingenuity displayed, and the convenience secured in their arrangement. The plan for displaying as by a grand panorama, to assembled thousands, every article on the ground we believe has never been equaled in this country. The arrangements for the comfort of visitors to the grounds could not have been excelled. We noticed that two or three tracts set apart for refreshment stands are yet to be rented, and those who are fond of gathering nimble shillings should not delay to apply for them ere the opportunity passes. We also noticed that the road to the grounds, outside of the city limits, needs repairing in two or three places, to allow teams to pass with facility. A small sum, not exceeding $20, will remedy the difficulty, and we hope there is public spirit enough in our people in the city and vicinity to make the necessary repairs.




Source: Alton Weekly Courier, October 1, 1856

The Chicago, Alton and St. Louis Railroad company will run a special train between Springfield and Alton during the State Fair, to accommodate more fully people living between and at these points. The train will commence on Tuesday morning from Springfield, and end on Saturday night up from Alton. It will leave Springfield at 6 o'clock and 15 minutes a.m., and reach this city at 9 o'clock and 40 minutes a.m. Returning, it will leave this city at 5 o'clock 15 minutes p.m., and reach Springfield at 8 o'clock and 45 minutes p.m. This arrangement will be a great convenience to the people on the line of the road, and entitles Mr. Moore, the gentlemanly Superintendent, to the gratitude of the farmers of Southern Illinois.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 11, 1906

From the Carrollton (Ill.) Patriot - Dr. James Squire of this city [Carrollton] was a resident of Madison county for a number of years, and well remembers many of the early happenings in that county. He attended a state fair, held in Alton in September 1856, which was one of the first state fairs held. In describing some of the incidents connected with that fair, Dr. Squire said:


"Col. Samuel Buckmaster was the general superintendent. He was one of the leading men in that section, and was at that time warden of the penitentiary at Alton. He gave to my father, William Squire of Godfrey, the contract to supply all the feed necessary for the livestock on exhibition. This required about four loads of hay, of a ton each. Two loads were delivered in the forenoon and two loads in the afternoon. And it wasn't baled hay, either. I remember that my brother and I rode into the fair on the loads of loose hay. In addition to this, two loads of corn were delivered each day, and a load of oats, and that was all that was needed to feed the stock of all kinds on exhibition there. My mother, Mrs. Lydia Squire, received a medal as first premium on her entry of ten pounds of butter. My brother, Heber Squire of Godfrey, has the medal now to exhibit. Col. Buckmaster had the premium double team of horses, called Dobbin and Robbin. They were sorrels, and were considered quite speedy. The fastest time made by Robbin was 2:30 for a mile. He was the champion of the track, having been brought from Ohio by Col. Buckmaster. My brother, Frank, now of Godfrey, rode Robbin and took the first premium as the best boy rider in the state. My father bought the premium wagon, which was made at the penitentiary, for $125. Only four wagons were on exhibition. The premium for the best plow was awarded after a practical test of plowing a small patch on the fairgrounds. I held the plow handles during a part of the exhibition. Daniel Miller of Alton got the premium on his plow. One of the attractions, I remember, was a pair of calves yoked together and drawing a wooden sled around the quarter-mile track. The sled was loaded with boys. On the last afternoon of the fair all premium animals paraded around the ring. There were horses, cattle and sheep, and last of all was the team of calves with a blue ribbon tied to the yoke. There wasn't too much rush and hurry and noise and excitement as there is at the state fair these days, and there wasn't such a big crowd, but everybody visited everybody else and had a good time."




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 2, 1906

Just fifty years ago today the last day of the Illinois State Fair was held in the city of Alton. The city was thronged with people from all over the state, says H. G. McPike, who remembers it clearly. Mr. McPike says that the street near the old St. Charles hotel was lined with wagons and conveyances of every description, whose owners were shouting out the fact that they would haul you out to the state fair grounds for ten cents. Most of the wagons were farm wagons, with straw in them, and with boards placed across for seats. The fair was held on the Peter Wise tract of ground, now the Turner tract. Roadways had been marked off through the trees, and scores of little tents and other temporary coverings had been erected for the fair. The exhibits were mostly cattle, chickens and farm machinery. Many of the exhibits were under the trees in the grove separated by a rope being run around from tree to tree to make an enclosure. Mr. McPike says he remembers well the last day of the fair and the crowds that attended. Hundreds and hundreds of horses and buggies and teams were tied along the roadway on State street from the intersection of Main and State streets, out to North Alton. These were the outfits of people who had driven to Alton to see the fair, and many of them had driven no less than fifty or sixty miles, for railroads were not so many or convenient in that day. The principal speaker of the day was Stephen A. Douglas, who made an address at the fairgrounds. Mr. Samuel Pitts of the firm of Pitts & Hamill, says that he remembers well the last day of the fair, but that his father's hotel, the old St. Charles house, was doing such a rushing business that he could not find time to go out to the fairgrounds. Mr. Pitts remembers that many celebrated persons were here to attend the fair on that day, and that it must have been a sort of round up of the politicians, not at all unlike the political round ups at the state fair in this day. There are many of Alton's older citizens who say that they attended the fair on that day, but many do not remember any of the details.  This was the first and last time that Alton ever had the Illinois state fair. A fight had been made for several years to bring it here, and the fall of 1856 was Alton's turn. Joseph Brown was mayor of Alton at the time, and was busy with the duties of receiving the celebrated politicians and others of the state who came to the fair. To the younger generations of men who are promoting Alton's interests, this one event can be looked back upon as one of the times a long time ago when there was something doing in Alton, when all roads led toward Alton.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, October 3, 1906

Miss Wilhmina Trenchery has brought to J. H. Booth two silver medals, which are said to be the only relics of the old state fair held in Alton fifty years ago this week. The two silver medals were awarded to Miss Trenchery's father, the late Prof. Emil Trenchery, for the best exhibit of a piano and melodeon. The medals recite on them what they are awarded for and to whom awarded. Miss Trenchery also has a piano stool which was in that day one of the most expensive stools Mr. Trenchery had in his stock. It was used by Patti when she appeared in Alton. The medals and stool are to be exhibited in the show window of the Booth store.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph Centennial Edition, January 15, 1936, by George Leighty

It has been 80 years now since the citizens of Alton surrendered themselves (with reservations to be sure, shrewd Northerners that they were) to the lure of a State Fair. In this now mellow period of the state's history, the assorted honorables in the state legislature were of the habit of selling the privilege of holding the annual State Fair to the city making the highest bid for that honor, and in the year 1856 our earnest forbears dug down deep into the pockets of their broadcloth pantaloons and brought the whole works, lock, stock and barrel, to Alton. And the moment the guardians of our political destiny said "go," the plans, which out city's fathers had hastily formed and hung out to dry on thin threads of hope, were snatched down from the line, washed out again, and put into execution. The lid was off! St. Louis would soon be a mere suburb of Alton, and they couldn't help it because some people had been simple-minded enough to put good money in Chicago real estate. All they ever had needed was a chance to do their stuff before the world, anyhow, and here it was.

Next to the spirit of panic, the most infectious mood in the world is that which descends upon the human race at the prospect of having a good time, and when such prospect is augmented by the desirable end of making a pretty penny for everybody concerned, the method in the madness of those people of 1856, who worked like troopers all that summer and fall, to make Alton's State Fair a success, can readily be seen. The spirit of the mardi gras could (and must!) be made to foam up and overflow the whole scene - elephants, Bengal tigers, and all the birds and beasts of the jungle, strange and rare, ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds, and calliopes, they could (and must!) have - but though bedlam would be allowed to wax thick on the surface, underneath the antics of the flying acrobats, the true lines of battle must be drawn, and never lost sight of - even for an instant.

If black-coated industrialists in the East were to be enticed here to exhibit their products, and ultimately locate their factories; if men of means and a mercantile flair were to come, see and smile upon our rugged hills; if hickory-shirted farmers were to be allowed to demonstrate beyond question the superior fertility of the Illinois soil; if steamboat men from New Orleans, Memphis, Louisville, were to behold in proper relief the convenient compatibility with which the Mississippi river had been graciously located at the lower terminal of three railroads; if, in short, the men who lived, worked and believed in Alton were to put a crease in its Sunday pants and pick the burrs out of it hair before Nov. 1, somebody had to get up and move. No amount of hand-clapping would product a good genii to transform on the instant the bluffs of the Mississippi into a tinseled Baghdad for the gratification of strangers.

The first meeting of the Alton citizens to form a Fair Association was held in April in the Alton fire house, on the corner of Market and Second streets. Among those present at this meeting were: Col. Buckmaster, superintendent of the penitentiary and local representative of the power of the state of Illinois; Capt. Bruner, steamboat man and designer of several of the fastest steamers ever to ply the Mississippi; L. A. Parks, one of the founders of the Telegraph; Dr. Hope, two-fisted ex-mayor; one Ezra Miller, a builder and contractor of marked talent; and many others too numerous to mention, but comprising to a man the leading property owners, business and professional men of the town.
When the meeting came to the nearest approach of order it every managed to attain, Col. Buckmaster, as much because of his dynamic personality, as because of is political significance, was placed in the chair. From this point, the colonel waved the stick over most of the performance that was about to befall. Under his booming leadership, sincere, albeit dreadfully wearisome, resolutions were proposed, adopted and communicated in due order to persons, organizations, corporations and companies, expressing an appeal for them, one and all, to attend the Alton State Fair. Manifestos were issued calling upon this or that excellency in Boston, Albany and other capitals, to come on out and take a ringside seat whilst the millennium began its descent upon the choicest portion of the Golden Rod state. And Ezra Miller, our builder, was elected superintendent of grounds and buildings. Upon his shoulders was placed the heavy task of bringing order out of chaos. Somebody would have to go out to the edge of the city, clear land, erect buildings suitable for the occasion, and otherwise see to it that no steam engine manufacturer arrived in Alton on the day of the fair, only to find that he would be unable to rent appropriate space and shelter wherein to demonstrate and exhibit his product. This task would be Mr. Miller's.

But the Fair Association chose well. Considering the trials and obstacles to be encountered by the man bearing the title, "superintendent of buildings and grounds," any one of which would have driven a less purposeful man to distraction - considering what Mr. Miller had "to do with," he will ever remain Alton's miracle man No. 1. He had to be his own landscape gardener, half the time he was compelled to design the buildings he laid out and erected, and many times, when it would be discovered that "another hundred" dollars was needed before the preparations for the fair could go on, the superintendent of grounds and buildings went boldly and grimly out and raised the money among the business men of the town.

The fairgrounds were on what was at that time known as the "Hawley tract" near Sempletown, between Alton and North Alton, near what is now Danforth street. This vicinity, at the time Mr. Miller and his associates arrived upon the scene, was virgin forest. The task of clearing the place meant a great deal more than merely cutting trees. Underbrush was as thick as grass and the whole mass - trees and underbrush - were knotted together with grapevines and old ivy. But by the last of September, with one month to go, except for the gathering up of a few loose ends, Mr. Miller had accomplished his purpose. All the underbrush and such of the large trees as suited his purpose had been removed. The whole place, one-quarter of a mile square, was intertwined with paths and roadways. A grand exhibition hall, 200 feet long and 50 feet wide, to house the farm products exhibit, had been build. Six wells had been dug at advantageous points over the grounds. Numerous individuals exhibition halls had been erected for the benefit of such manufacturers as might care to use them. A veritable forest of small stands for refreshment vendors had been built. Space had been provided for the great combination of three circuses that was to come. A half mile race track had been laid out, plowed and conditioned. Verily, Mr. Miller might now relax and await the advent of the opening day. But not this Mr. Miller. Work was yet to be done. Between two trees, above the gateway at the entrance of the fairgrounds, he suspended a huge red banner, 50 feet long and six feet wide. And not being satisfied with this comparatively mild sample of advertising technique, he went to the bluffs overlooking the river above the town, and erected two well-braced pillars 25 feet high, 1600 feet apart. Between these two pillars he suspended a wire (or cable, as it certainly must have been), and from this, to whet the imagination of approaching travelers, red, white and blue streamers were suspended. Mr. Miller was one of Alton's first advertising experts.

While all these things were being accomplished under the direction of Mr. Miller, it must not be supposed that other members of the Fair Association were inactive. Numerous other projects were simultaneously going on under the direction of others. Preparations were made and every night the fair was in progress. The road leading from the depots and the levee, out Belle street to the fairground, was graded and given a heavy coat of McAdam. Arrangements were made with various prospective exhibitors, and negotiations were carried on with the three circuses that were to combine their shows for this event. Those who had caught the spirit, and could find nothing better to do, were busy doing a fancy job of beating the tom-toms.

In the penitentiary, Col. Buckmaster's prisoners were bending over their part of the work. The carpenter shop inside the prison walls turned out chairs, tables, window frames, etc., the blacksmith shop turned out fancy iron gates, horseshoes, foot-scrapers, and the tailor shop produced a number of high grade garments - all to be placed on exhibition at the Fair, to increase the fame of Alton abroad.

The strictly private enterprises of the town too, fermented with preparatory activities. Our hosts, Mr. Pitts of the Franklin House, Mr. Corson of the Alton House, and others holding forth for the public's convenience at such respectable hostelries, as the Piasa House, expanded their brand of business activity to its utmost possibilities. The Franklin House was remodeled and on the day of the fair sported such innovations as a specially constructed ladies' entrance, a 10-by-10 lookout tower, from which point such steamboat races, as might occur between arriving boats, could be witnessed in ease and comfort, and approximately 175 feet of verandah, fitted out with "numerous elegantly upholstered chairs for the comfortable repose of guests." Delicious and monstrous supplies of food stuffs were laid into the larders of every inn, and history offers us no sign that might lead to believe that the colonels of Kentucky, who attended the fair, were compelled to slake their delicate thirsts with anything so mild as water - thanks again to our hosts.

During the Fair, special arrangements were made by the packet boats, running between St. Louis and Alton, to handle the crowds coming from points south and east. The steamers "Reindeer," "Baltimore," "Jennie Deans," and the "Winchester," (every boat of them quite as luxurious and as large as any steamer on the river in this day of electricity, 1936) each and all made two trips daily to and from St. Louis for the duration of the Fair. Meals were served on board these boats at all hours of the day and night, and "bands of music" accompanied each boat on every trip. While the Fair was in progress, three boats were tied up in the local harbor at nights, to provide sleeping accommodations for such visitors as might care to use them. All this required energetic preparation, as well as no small outlay of money.

The Alton Gas Co., then in its infancy, took unto itself a regiment of employees, and laid pipe to as many different points in the city as was possible, before the Fair was to open. Street lamps were provided at every corner of the business section and citizens, as well as visitors, as it was written at the time, "could move from place to place in our streets after dark with a facility hitherto peculiar only to daylight."

By the time the opening day had arrived, the town had gone Fair conscious. The roads leading to and from the fairgrounds had been graded and put into first class shape, and the business section was dressed in its holiday colors. The City Council had gone to the extremity of ordering the city marshal to enforce an ordinance that had been passed several years before making it a misdemeanor for one to "permit hogs to roam at large in the business portion of the city." What with Mr. Miller and his buildings and grounds, the private and public citizens, and their own individual contributions to the cause, the stage was set by Oct. 31, and many of the visitors were already lodged at the various hostelries.

The first of November found the show going full blast. Eight times that eventful day large "and commodious steamers" nosed up to the wharf and unloaded swarming human cargo. Three times the trains of the Alton & Sangamon Railroad (not counting the arrival of two specials) wheezed up to the depot and discharged an aggregation of men, women, and children. And over the roads leading from Calhoun, Jersey and Macoupin counties, came an almost endless stream of carriages, buggies and holt wagons. The Fair was on.

With the exception that the Fair buildings were constructed of wood, inch boards up and down over a wood frame, instead of chromium over a frame of steel; except that there was no sky ride and the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-rounds were moved with steam instead of electricity; except for a few of the extreme niceties of late modern life, it cannot be said that the Alton State Fair of 1856 was much different from fairs as they are held today ([1936]. The women had their jelly and jam exhibits, and displayed unanswerable testimony to their zeal at knitting, sewing, crocheting and other home arts, including the manufacture of butter. For men and women alike, there were the races. All races were by pacing horses, and at that time a horse that could make the stretch in two and a half minutes was due to have its portrait painted in oils, and hung in his owner's family gallery. There was the great combined circus, which was probably superior to most circuses of today [1936], the circus business having gone the way of horse-car and other creeping things. The shell game was undoubtedly worked, in the largely unsophisticated crowds, with greater success than it had been worked before. And the number of stands where one might try to win various objects of doubtful value, simply by throwing balls at them for a price, was great. There was no tractors or combines on exhibition, but factories all over the state sent their products of mowing, threshing, sewing and grain drying machines, to vie with each other for supremacy in the minds of prospective buyers. At this time, sewing machines were one of the main exhibits. Pianos were exhibited in a hall with a floor suitable for dancing, and this means of entertainment was one of the main sources of pleasure for the visitors at the fair. From which I might be concluded, that fairs do not change in tenor - they merely increase in volume.




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