Since 1948 the Monroe County Fair has been part of the culture of Monroe County. Over 70 years of rides, games, 4-H competition, contests and live entertainment has been a part of every summer. For many school children and parents, The fair heralded the end of summer vacation and was one last hurrah before school started in the next few weeks.
We say that this fair is the 70th annual, but what that really means is that the fair as we know it has existed for 70 years. The fair is actually much older than the official start in 1948. There are records of animal exhibitions going back to the 1830s and 40s, but the fair did not have a permanent location. The location jumped around. In 1938, it was held at a farmer's market building on Willow Street in Monroe. The next it was at the Ilgenfritz Nursery. It seemed that the nursery would be the permanent home for the fair because that was the location through World War II, but in 1947 the fair was moved once again to the Navarre Airfield.
That year, the day before the fair was set to open, a massive windstorm devastated the fair. It knocked down tents and forced fair volunteers to work through the night to prepare to open the fair. That winter, the county decided that the fair needed a permanent home, and decided on the current location on the corner of South Custer and Rasinville roads was to be the permanent fair location.
And there it has stayed for the last 70 years.
In 1948 the price of admission into the first fair was 21 cents plus a tax of .04 cents for adults. Admission was free for anyone under the age of 16. Parking also cost 25 cents in the large parking area that could accommodate 4,000 cars. That first fair had an estimated attendance of 50,000 people. That number jumped to 75,000 in 1949 and to 80,000 in 1950
The first fairs featured competitions like pie eating, milk drinking (also known as nursing), hog calling, husband calling, horse pulling, and many more. Horse pulling is still an attraction at the fair to this day as is the merchant stalls and of course, animal exhibitions.
There have been a few changes to the fair over the years, of course. Horse pulling was joined by tractor and truck pulling. In 1973, the fair introduced the popular demolition derbies. The merchant booths are no longer under hot tents, but in an air-conditioned show room, and entertainment has featured big names like Reba Mcentire, Johnny Cash and REO Speedwagon.
Some things change over the years, but the residents of Monroe County can always count on the fair to bring smiles and great memories.