Old Missoula

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Fair Dates Back To Early History by Arretta Dobrovolny

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Sixty-four years ago, when Montana was still a territory, residents in the vicinity harnessed old Sue or put the saddle on Grey Boy early in the morning and rode all day over rough trails to attend the first fair in the history of Missoula.

          This year automobiles will take spectators and competitors to the Western Montana fairgrounds in a few hours, or fractions of an hour.

          A private corporation, “The Western Montana Agricultural Mechanical and Mineral association,” was responsible for the beginning of the fair movement in Western Montana. The articles of incorporation were filed December 29, 1874, the actual organization taking place the following spring. Officers and members of the organization were C. P. Higgins, president; W. E. Bass, W. G. Edwards, J. Pardee, J. K. Clark, Thomas Foley, Daniel J. Welch, R. A. Eddy, and A. G. England. Four hundred shares, to expire in 20 years, were sold at $25 each. The place of business was the “Town of Missoula, County of Missoula, Territory of Montana;” the purpose, “to hold annual fairs.”


Community Gathering Place

          This fair provided a chance for farmers to see the vegetables, grains and livestock produced in Western Montana, but above all it was the meeting place for old and young alike. Individuals would form small huddles everywhere, discussing farming or mining problems, or indulging in idle gossip. Each individual had his tales to tell. Typical storytellers were the Indian fighters and scouts with adventures which one can get today only out of 10-cent westerns. Veteran military men, men who once were vigilantes, pioneers, four-horse stage drivers, and a few one-time outlaws who had escaped the red terror of the vigilantes told of experiences which would make any sophisticated skeptic of today’s kindergarten generation wish with wide-eyed wonder that he had been born 70 years sooner. Clean-shaven, freshly groomed men from cow countries and mining camps loitered with big, sun-tanned muscular cattlemen. No question was asked about anyone’s past; he was judged by the standards of copper and gold, cattle and sheep.

          The association provided for and erected several show buildings on the grounds northwest of the city, including a large exposition hall, a ticket office, a grandstand, seven stalls, and seven or eight other structures. The site was such that little work was needed for an excellent one-mile race course. One plowing and harrowing and a thorough rolling sufficed to make an excellent track. About the entire grounds was a high board fence, the fairground stamp.

          Two years later the “biggest fair in the history of the state” was again sponsored by the association. A premium list of $2,000 plus $1,000 in donations by interested residents of the state, attracted many competitors. Family tickets which would admit children under 15, the father and mother at any time attracted large families to this third annual display. Another “special” as advertised in the local paper was the cocktails of the Missoula Exchange on Front street for 12 ½ cents a drink.

          For three years the corporation continued, then retired from the field, its work accomplished. It had provided the framework for a fair and a fairground ready for the use of the county. All the work was undertaken by public-spirited citizens with no thought of financial gains.

          August 23 to 25 are the dates set for this year’s Western Montana fair. Residents from all Western Montana have become interested in what again promises to be the “biggest fair in the history of Montana.” With over $7,000 in premiums to be given away, all available space will be filled with the best quality stock grown on Montana soil. The new section of grandstand, which alone accommodates 1,000 people, and the newly-paved walks and roads are recent improvements to the grounds. Exhibition booths for commercial education and agriculture and home arts, as well as buildings for horses and sheep, cattle, and chickens, and stalls for pigs and wild life, are some of the ground structures. There are also a half-mile track and two race horse stables.


Established in 1879

          The first official Western Montana fair was established in 1879. On the fair board were President Alfred Cave, Secretary B. A. Wolf, F. L. Worden, R. A. Eddy, William Kennedy, J. P. Reinhard, John Rankin, Thomas M. Pomeroy, C. P. Higgins, William E. Bass, and Benjamin Keron.

          The fair was scarcely begun when in the following year, 1880, a small-pox epidemic caused the fair to be abandoned for that year and the one following.

          After the epidemic the growth of the fair was steady, with exhibits small and unorganized and exhibitions scattered at first. However, old-timers declare that the quality was as good as it is today in the agricultural divisions, and that the stock show was excellent, although no purebred or thoroughbred stock was found in the state.

          In 1912 a petition demanding a popular vote on a bond issue of $50,000 for the purchase of land and the construction of buildings for a fair was presented by the taxpayers to the county commissioners. The returns for the election of November, 1912, favored the bond issue by a vote of 2,254 to 2,066. On December 4, 1912 a notice for a call for bids was published and on January 13, 1913, the State Board of Land Commissioners was granted the contract. The fair was established at its present location southwest of the city.

          In 1879, when the first official Western Montana fair was established and the old corporation disbanded, there was no government aid to the enterprise. The money which financed it came from public-spirited citizens.

          It is puzzling how the fair of 1913 was financed, since the county levy of 1913 bore no item for a fair. It did, however, contain a “territorial tax” of three mills which may have sustained the enterprise.





Last Updated on Saturday, 29 December 2012 16:47