In the Beginning
The first known Fair was held in 1850, it was called the Shiawassee County Agricultural Society. It was held in Corunna, Michigan at the grounds on the South side of the Shiawassee River. By 1854 there were 322 entries and the profits made were $81.25. It was the first time “pure-bloods” stock was shown. In 1855 entries grew to 520 and profits were $146.27.
History of the Shiawassee County Fair In the Beginning There was no Fair for a time, until 1860 when a new Society was formed. At that time, it was decided to hold the Fair in Owosso, Michigan. It became known as the Shiawassee County Agricultural Association. There were three different sites. The first was on East of Hickory Street to Dewey, between Laverock Alley and Mason Street. It had a large display hall, a half mile racetrack, but no grandstand.
When the fairgrounds were moved North of Jennett Street between Ball and Pine Street, William Sawers’ home stood just inside the grounds. There was a fine half mile racetrack and grandstand. It also had a floral hall, agricultural hall, stables for horses and stalls for all kinds of livestock and pets. The last of the four fairgrounds was held in Owosso, between Main and Oliver Street near the Gould farm. It was established as a matinee racecourse.
In 1869 the 10th Fair was to be held in Owosso. It started September 29th and ran for three days. All exhibitors were required to become members at the cost of a dollar. Membership tickets were non-transferable, had admitted one family member, and were exclusive to males over 21 years of age, during Fair. All tickets were purchased at the fair office, adults at 25 cents, children 12 years & over were 10 cents, and kids under 5 years were free. There was a night watchman to protect the animals and property.
In 1878 the 19th Fair started on Wednesday September 25th; it was to run for three days. But because of a heavy rainstorm Wednesday afternoon, the racetrack was in such bad condition, it was extended to include all day Saturday for the races, which were as follows:
Walking match for double teams-one mile; farmers double teams trotting match-two miles Trotting match for horses 4 years old and over owned in Shiawassee County-half mile heats.
Best 3 of 5 three-year-olds-half mile heats
Best 2 of 3 two-year-olds-half mile heats
Best 3 of 5 free for all-half mile heat
Best 3 of 5 heavy weight race (1400 pounds and over)- mile heats
Best 3 of 5 heats
At the time races were done with horses not cars.
In 1878, there was the 2nd annual Fair of the Clinton and Shiawassee County Fair Association, held in Ovid, Michigan. It was held October 2nd - 4th. A statement was made that “The Ovid and Middlebury folks were making energetic efforts in preparatory arrangements for the approaching Agricultural Fair. The grounds were now enclosed by a new fence, lumber for a large floral hall, which will be enclosed and lighted by skylights on the grounds. Large additions to the sheds and pens were being done.”
A Spot at McCurdy Park...
In the 1900’s the Farmers' Clubs held an annual picnic at McCurdy Park in Corunna MI. They were mostly political and musical. In about 1922 it became the Shiawassee County Picnic and in 1933 farm exhibits were shown. The one-day affair brought 12,000 to 15,000 people to the park. This then became known as the Shiawassee County Fair.
The first president of the Fair was William Cline; Vice President, George Kirn; Secretary, Edna Cooley; Treasurer, Verne Brooks; and serving on the board, William Jennings, Earl Lewis, Albert Boursmith, Clyde Norton, and Charles Carland. At the time E.R. Handcock was the Agricultural Agent.
Over the years, several buildings were erected on the grounds. But it wasn’t until 1935 before they added a carnival. In 1939 the Fair was held for five days starting August 16th. The Wade Carnival and Raum Brothers’ Circus provided the amusement. The circus was inside the ball park and the carnival just outside that. There were several large signs used to advertise the circus' shows, one show on the mid-way showed a burlesque style show. The sheriff ordered them all to be taken down.
On Thursday afternoon a group of entertainers from Jackson Prison were to perform. Horse pulling contests were Thursday and Friday afternoon. The tractor parade was on Friday and Saturday. Saturday night was “Thrill Night” and a spectacular automobile collision was staged. On the second day the record was broken for attendance. There was an estimate of 20,000 on the grounds. All the businesses in Owosso closed for the afternoon.
Over the years, the type of exhibits haven’t changed much. In the 1800’s they had horses, cattle, swine, and poultry. On the grounds all kinds of farm implements, buggies, cutters, wagons, reapers, mowers, cultivators and plows. In the Agricultural Hall there were canned goods, vegetables, fruits, grains, breads, butter and honey. The Floral hall exhibits were from businesses that displayed everything from clothes, sewing machines, organs, photographs, vases, wallpaper, silverware, jewelry, shoes, carpets, and such.
The Fancy Department had exhibits from the ladies; like embroidery, crochet, knitted goods, quilts, rag rugs, braided rugs, hair art and paintings. Today, about the biggest difference in the kind of exhibits shown are the farm implements, which have changed from horses to tractors to combines.
In the 1870’s premiums paid to exhibitors were from $10.00 to $.50 and fair entry fees then were $1.00. Compared to today’s premiums which are about $16.00 to $1.00 and entry fees for an open class are $5.00 and youth $2.00. Plus the addition of some animals having stall fees and class fees.
The Fair was curtailed from 1941 to 1945 because of the war. When the Fair started up again in 1945 it was advertised as being bigger and better than ever before. It ran for 5 days, August 7th through the 11th. The circus was every afternoon at 2:00 and the rodeo every night at 8:00. Admission was adults 60 cents and children 30 cents. The Wade Show had 10 rides and 20 shows. There were livestock exhibits, saddle horse shows, horse show parades and a dog show. There was an ad on the paper that read: "Wards Farm Store-harness for $81.95."
The Fair was held for 53 years at McCurdy Park in Corunna. In 1951, the name was changed to the Shiawassee County Free Fair. It stayed a Free Fair until 1981 when the word ‘Free’ was dropped from the name. In 1988, it was moved to its present location on Hibbard Road between State and Escott Road with 127 acres of open land.
We Had a Dream...
In the late 1970s, after many successful years in McCurdy Park, it became very apparent that the Shiawassee County Fair needed to expand. During a meeting with the Corunna City Council the Fair Board learned that they would be unable to build new buildings beyond the boundaries of the buildings that currently existed in the park.
The Fair Board began to explore various properties that would allow for the expansion that would need to take place over the next several decades. They looked at the Owosso Racetrack, S & W Equipment on M-21 and the Bentley Farm on Grand River Road. After serious consideration, 127 acres was purchased (the former Kearney Fitzpatrick Farm) from the Shiawassee County Road Commission. To finance the purchase of the land, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Taylor signed a note with the Federal Land Bank. The “Buy an Acre” program was created, and 153 supporters of the Fair Board’s vision bought an acre of the Fairgrounds. By 1984 the note was paid in full and fundraising for the buildings began in earnest.
Although many people still doubted that the Fair would ever leave McCurdy Park, the first building was erected in 1985. The 60’ x 200’ Commercial Building was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Duane Black and an open house was held to introduce the new fairgrounds to the public. The word in the community soon became, “They really are going to move!”
On the last night of the 1987 Fair the 24 Fair Board members met and made the decision that the 1988 Fair would be held at the Hibbard Road Fairgrounds. "FOR SALE" signs went up on the McCurdy Park buildings and the move to the new fairgrounds was officially under way!
Home Sweet Home!
The first Shiawassee County Fair on Hibbard Road was held in 1988. A huge effort from countless volunteers found several buildings ready for use. The Dairy Barn, Fair Office, Show Arena, 4-H Food Stand, VFW Pavilion, Small Animal Barn and the FFA Pavilion helped to make the first Fair on Hibbard Road a reality. The brick entrance was completed and welcomed all who came to celebrate the first year on the beautiful grounds we enjoy today.
The first year at the new grounds, the Fair ran for eight days. It was one of the oldest of Michigan’s 89 county 4-H and agricultural fairs. It now runs for seven days. The showcase of the new fairgrounds is the 128 by 200 feet indoor show arena, spacious enough to bring most any fair activity inside in the event of rain.
Attendance was at a near record high because of the interest in the new grounds. Most of the visitors were excited and positive about what had been accomplished, but still viewed the grounds as a diamond in the rough. Now, years later, Shiawassee County is proud of the fairgrounds that is considered by visitors from around the state to truly be a jewel of the community!
Today, the Shiawassee County Fair is held for a full week in August. The rules and regulations that are enforced today are about the same as at the beginning of the Fair's creation with minor updates to match the times. Grandstand entertainment features events like Rodeos, Draft Horse pulls, U.S.A. Demolition Derbies, Truck and Tractor pulls, Figure 8 Demolition Derbies, Combine Demolition Derbies, Music, and great times. The Fair has now thousands of exhibits and exhibitors to see ranging in age from youth to adult and sewing to rabbits to dairy cows to chainsaw carving.
The Shiawassee County Fair has something for everyone and has built an astonishing reputation for providing the best county fair they can for their friends and their community.
"Friends, Family, Fun"