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MADISON COUNTY FAIR                 Wednesday Eve., September 9th, 1857 - The Fair Grounds and their arrangement

Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 17, 1857


To the Editor of the Alton Courier:

      Last evening, after a pleasant ride, found me in this the capitol city of old Madison, where in days gone by dwelt the aristocracy of our State, and which was looked up to as the center around which gathered its wealth and talent. The town and its appearance, I need not describe, as your readers know it full well. It presented the same outward semblance of quiet, that it ever does, though in fact it was in a somewhat excitable state, induced by the preparations being made for, and the expectation raised by, the County Fair, which began today, and of which I propose giving a full and complete report.


     As you are doubtless aware, this is the third annual fair of Madison county. The two former were also held here, under the auspices of a voluntary Agricultural Association. But becoming satisfied that "what is everybody's business, is nobody's," the members of the association formed themselves into a joint stock company, and as such, now own the fair grounds, and hold the fairs thereon. Time has but served to prove the wisdom of this course, and though but a few months old, the company is in a highly prosperous condition. Extremely gratifying is the intense interest taken in this fair by the farmers of the county, and particularly this immediate section of it. They have been awakened to a spirit of competition, and the thought that some neighbor or friend may, by superior skill or industry, produce something finer or better than he himself can do, stimulates each one to a renewed activity. Everything seems to be done with an eye to an exhibition at the county fair. Hardly can one conceive of a change so great as that which has been wrought by these annual fairs in our county. I have conversed with several prominent citizens, and all concur in this view of their beneficial effects, and all represent the farmers as taking a lively interest in them, and in the doings of the company. But for these general topics, though interesting in the extreme, I have not further space, and must betake myself to the more legitimate subject of this correspondence - to wit: The Fair itself, and the various amusements and incidents that cluster around it as a common centre. I shall, in the present letter, confine myself to a description of the fair grounds, and the improvements which have been made thereon. This being the first day, no class of articles on exhibition is complete, and consequently no attempt at a systematic description can be made until tomorrow.


       The Fair grounds are situated about three quarters of a mile southwest of the courthouse, and contain 15 acres, the whole of which is enclosed by a substantial, close, board fence, and is nearly in the form of a square. The road leading from the village to the grounds is one of unparalleled beauty. Level, and densely shaded on each side by magnificent trees, it excites in one an expectation as to the ground itself, which we almost fear to indulge in, lest it should not be realized. Such, however, is not the case, for never do we remember having seen any spot better adapted to the purpose than this. The Eastern and Southern sides of the enclosure are occupied by a beautiful and densely shaded grove, from which the underbrush has been neatly and thoroughly cleared away. About one half of the ground, comprising the Northwestern portion, was formerly an old field, on which the marks of cultivation can still be seen. The whole tract of 15 acres, with the exception of one corner, of which more anon, is perfectly level. Nearly one half of the area within the fence is used as an open space for the exhibition of the stock, and around this is the track for trying the speed of the horses. This track is an admirable one, and withal quite large, being 553 yards in circumference, a little less than one-third of a mile. The only defect that I can see in it is its elliptical shape; but as the exhibitors of horses do not complain, no one else should. Directly to the South of this ring are the seats for spectators. These comprise nine tiers, rising one above the other. Each tier is about 150 feet long, and the whole will seat upwards of one thousand persons. The dense grove immediately back of the seats shades them during the entire day. They are substantially built, and from them an unobstructed view of the whole open ground can be had. Three wells have been sunk on the ground, and all afford an abundance of excellent water. The Northeastern corner of the ground is considerably depressed below the surrounding surface, and here is to be a pond, so soon as sufficient rain falls to fill it. This will be of immense practical benefit, besides adding largely to the beauty of the grounds.


       The buildings will next claim attention. But before speaking of them, it will be well to premise that they have all been erected within the last two weeks. This has been the result of necessity, and not of choice, as the company has been organized but a short time. Coming into the grounds by the carriage road, the first building that meets the eye is a neat looking cottage in the shape of a Greek cross. This is a substantial, and permanent structure, and is intended for the exhibition of light articles such as fruit, flowers, paintings, &c.  The centre of the building is about 20 feet in diameter, and each arm of the cross is perhaps 25 feet long, and 20 feet wide. In the centre of the building is a flag-staff, around which, below the roof, are shelves for the exhibition of small articles. The whole cottage is surmounted by a handsome copula or observatory, from the top of which float the stars and stripes. The building is neatly finished and painted on the outside and presents a tasty appearance. We next come to two sheds which are for temporary use only. Their place will be supplied by better buildings so soon as possible. These are for the exhibition of vegetables, domestic products, and various other substantial articles. A part of one is used as the business office. These comprise all the larger buildings that have yet been erected.


        Ranged around the fence on every side are the stalls for cattle, horses, &c.  Of these there are forty for horses, twenty-five for sheep and hogs, and forty-five for cattle. A large and substantial coop is also provided for the exhibition of poultry. In the center of the open area is the usual judges stand, built around a flagstaff that can be seen for miles. An excellent eating saloon is also within the enclosure. Here upwards of five hundred can comfortably take dinner at once.


       This, I believe, completes the description of the ground. I am aware that it conveys but a poor idea of their beauty and adaptiveness to the object for which they are used. But no words can; they must be seen to be appreciated in full. I think no county can claim to equal, much less surpass, them. Much praise is due Dr. J. H. Weir, who has been ever active in their fitting up and embellishment.


       The weather, bating the heat and dust, which already begins to fly, is most favorable. Today has not been very prolific of sights on the ground. But few articles had been entered before this morning, and the whole day has been spent in entering them and preparing to exhibit. Up to 9 o'clock this morning, one hundred and twenty-two entries had been made, and by night the number was more than quadruple this. Tomorrow I will give a complete description of the articles on exhibition, taking them class by class, and noticing whatever may be worthy. One article on exhibition, as it belongs to no particular class, I will say a word or two of now. This is an immense mass of coal taken from the mine in this place. It is of superior quality, and occurs in the greatest abundance, the vein being between five and six feet in thickness. The people hereabouts claim that it is better than any to be found elsewhere, in this or St. Clair counties. How this may be I cannot say.


       The Fair has called out the usual amount of popular amusements. The town is literally alive with all sorts of fun. If time permits, I shall endeavor to include some of them in my sphere of notice.


Signed Observer.



MADISON COUNTY FAIR - SECOND DAY        Thursday Eve., September 10, 1857 - Cattle, Horses, Sheep, Swine, Poultry, Farming Implements, &c.

Source: Alton Weekly Courier, September 17, 1857


To the Editor of the Alton Courier:

       Tonight brings to a close the second, and in many respects, the most important day of the Fair. It has been an active, busy day; a day of jostling and crowding, and above all, a day of sight-seeing. Repairing to the grounds at an early hour this morning, I found bustle and activity sufficient to indicate the coming together of an immense crowd. And the expectation was fully realized. From sunrise till noon, the road leading to the fair grounds was filled with one unbroken string of vehicles of every imaginable sort, size and kind. By ten o'clock there were ladies enough present to completely fill the range of seats mentioned in my yesterday's letter, and men and children in the usual proportion. I think I shall not be accused of exaggeration in saying that the number of persons in attendance at one time could not have fallen short of three thousand. But not only in the number of visitors had there been an increase since yesterday - every class of article on exhibition was more fully and extensively represented. Withal the show of articles is quite good, and though classes, in their representation, fall short of my expectations, the defect in these is amply compensated for by the fullness of others.


       I will now endeavor to give your readers some idea of the exercises of the day, as also of those classes of articles mentioned at the head of this. With the exception of an occasional trial of speed on the track, nothing but sight-seeing was done until 11 o'clock. At that hour, the Madison Guards, the Marine [city of ] Guards and a company of Lances, composed of boys only, and also from Marine, marched onto the fairground, and after going through the various drill exercises, stacked their arms on the open space in front of the seats. At the same time the bands belonging to the respective companies, discoursed unto the spectators, strains of martial music. The Madison Guards, commanded by Captain Joseph H. Sloss, made a splendid appearance, and, considering their recent organization, are an excellently well drilled company. Their uniform is also exceedingly neat.


       At 1 o'clock commenced the examination of the cattle and horses by the Awarding Committees. I cannot, in the limits of a single letter, be expected to particularize to any great extent in noticing these two classes, and so shall confine myself to a general description of the same; and first, the cattle. In this class the display is very large and fine. I had not before been aware that so great an amount of blooded stock could be found in the county. Upwards of fifty animals, including all ages, &c., were on exhibition, and the great majority of them were such as would reflect credit upon any county. Most of them were bulls of various ages and sizes, but there were several cows and quite a number of heifer calves. Owing to the largeness of the crowd, and the consequent difficulty, not to say impossibility, of hearing, I was unable to ascertain all of the persons to whom premiums were awarded. Among those that I did hear was a second premium for three year old bull to C. Merriman of Monticello; a first premium for two year old bull to Ben. L. Dorsey; second premium for two year old bull to George S. Rice. For the best cows, the two premiums were awarded as follows, the first to Thomas Judy, the second to Jeremiah Cox. So great was the excellence of all the animals, that great difficulty was experienced by the committees in determining which was the best, and of course all are not satisfied with the awards. Whether they were in accordance with the merits of the animals, I am not competent to judge; but we can have no cause to doubt the ability of the various committees to decide, and should not heedlessly blame them.


       Of the horses exhibited, I hardly dare trust myself to speak, knowing that in so small a space justice cannot possibly be done them. This class was more fully represented than any other on exhibition. The exact number entered I did not ascertain, but including in all kinds and ages, I should say that not less than one hundred were on the ground. These came from every part of the county, and I venture to say that a finer display of horses from any other one county cannot be had. Particularly worthy of notice were the Morgan stallions of John Y. Sawyer, and the brood mares of Nelson G. Montgomery. The former have been seen by many of your readers, and have always been at once picked out as superior and noble animals. They comprise an old Morgan horse and two colts, one four years old, the other three. The old horse has not yet been exhibited, but will on tomorrow. The four year old colt received the first premium and the young one the second. The first premium was also awarded, and deservedly, to the brood mares of Mr. Montgomery. Were it possible, I should be pleased to enter into a minute description of some of these horses, but I cannot do so to all; and as distinctions are invidious, it is perhaps as well to give only a general account of them. One of the most interesting scenes in the Exhibition of this class was the bringing of the sucking colts into the open area. They were in number some twenty-five, and all, so far as my eye could determine, of a like excellence. The judges who could decide between them must have been endowed with the wisdom of Solomon himself.


       Class C (sheep), though not so fully represented as either of the two preceding ones, yet was not lacking in interest. Several fine specimens of imported and native breeds were on exhibition, and considering the small degree of attention that has hitherto been paid to this branch of stock, the display was very creditable.


       Class D (swine) was, so far as my observation extended, the worst represented of any of the varieties of stock. What may have been the cause of this, I cannot take upon myself to say, but very possibly, owing to the extreme heat of the weather, the difficulty of transporting such unwieldy animals, may have prevented a full display. In this class, I saw nothing particularly worthy of note, and so will pass on to the next.


       Class E (poultry), though an exceedingly common one, yet excites an unusual amount of interest, and especially among the ladies. As evidence of this, we have the fact that all day the coops containing the specimens of feathered monsters, were surrounded by crowds of admiring spectators, and nearly if not quite all, were ladies. A large number and variety of chickens were on exhibition. As they were not inbelied, and as I am not sufficiently skilled in the science of henology, to tell the variety by outside appearance, I shall not be able to enumerate the different kinds shown. Suffice it to say, then, that they were there in full force, of all sizes from the duck-legged bantam, to the giant Shanghai looking something like a cross between a giraffe and an ostrich. Of other kinds of poultry, but few specimens were exhibited; and none of these were of sufficient interest to merit a separate and particular notice.


       The last class of articles that I shall today describe is that of farming implements. The variety is not so great as I expected to see, and though several important and useful machines are on exhibition, I cannot regard this class as even tolerably represented. I noticed one large prairie sub-soil plow, which seemed admirably adapted to the purpose. Three or four patterns of wheat drills were also shown; one kind I observed was manufactured by Clark, Plant & Morris, of St. Louis, and one by a manufacturer in Belleville. There was also a machine for laying off a corn field into furrows, as also for dropping the corn at the same time. The corn is intended to be covered by a roller that follows immediately after the flook, from which drops the corn. One of Smead's patent corn and cob-crusing mills, manufactured in Alton, was also on the ground, and while working gathered quite a crowd. Of its merits I am not at present prepared to speak. These, with the usual amount of smaller articles, such as churns, axe-halves, &c., completed the variety of this class. It is to be regretted that our manufacturers had not taken more interest in the Fair, and sent hither a large assortment of agricultural machines.


       In another letter, I will endeavor to notice the remaining classes of articles exhibited, and especially the fruits, and the samples of needle work, of which the display is large and excellent. The day, excepting the heat which has been intense, has been exceedingly favorable. Toward evening the sky became cloudy, and a severe shower of rain fell. This, though for the time disagreeable, will result to the benefit of the visitors and exhibitors of tomorrow. The thunder was severe, and the lightning once or twice struck quite near. This of course created considerable excitement among the nervously disposed, but not injury occurred on the fair ground. A horse standing near the old court house, however, was struck dead.


Signed Observer



More to come ....


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