History of Georgetown Fair
Starting in 1931, carnivals and street fairs were held in Georgetown, IL. The first official fair was held in 1938. It is believed that the efforts of Georgetown High School Ag Teacher J.C. Murphy and Ag instructor Prof. Nelson C. Smith resulted in the first Georgetown 4-H Fair and Livestock Show. Records from 1939 indicate key individuals in organizing the fair were C.E. Spang, Louis Hedges, Herbert Parks, Grover Blayney, RF Dukes, Carrol V. Crawford and Prof. Nelson C. Smith. The 1939 fair had 5 divisions of horses, dairy cattle and poultry, as well as vegetables, grain and a home economics division. The home economics division consisted of fancy work, floral, canning, baking, oil painting and a high school division.
Others played a vital role in the early years of the fair. Fred Brown, Richard Graves, Albert Humrichous, and their wives and Mrs. Stella Frazier were instrumental in developing the early fairs.
Early fairs were spread around the town. Fair departments were displayed in various buildings in town. A building along N. Main St, which later housed the Plastics Factory, and the basement of the High School on W. West St. were two of the early places for fair exhibits. Livestock tents were pitched in the vacant lots on the north side of W. West St. which later became the Dyke’s Edition to Georgetown. The carnival occupied either the city square or the city park which was formerly Terrell’s Woods.
In 1948, the Georgetown Fair was recognized by the Illinois Department of Agriculture as an official county fair, thus making it eligible for funds from the Premium Fund. The Fair was eligible to receive up to $6000, a portion of which was to be set aside for acquiring grounds and a building for exhibits.
1954 was a turning point in the history of the Georgetown Fair. It was the only year in the past 76 without a scheduled fair. However planning was underway. Permission was requested from the state to receive funds for the next year. A land purchase was undertaken seeking first 12 acres and then an additional 5 acres. The fair was incorporated on July 22, 1954, as the Georgetown Agricultural Fair Association. The remaining funds were turned over by the old fair board of directors to a new elected group lead by Hubert Myers as president. The original land was purchased from Paul Bonebrake just east of the city park. Later, additional acreage was purchased from the Sheliko family to bring the total to approx. 38 acres. A land fund was created with Land Donors gifting $100 towards the purchase. There were 45 original land donors and later an additional 37 donated. Several donors contributed more than once. The land was purchased for $600 per acre.
State funds from a Rehabilitation Fund allowed for $26,600 worth of building projects on the new fairgrounds in 1955. The North Home Ec Building, the Beef Barn and Swine Barn were built. 1955 was also the start of a newer type of entertainment. Previously music, band concerts, dances and horse mule pulling were typical entertainment. 1955 brought a Tractor Pull and a Tractor Rodeo.
While 1955 might be considered the biggest year in our fair’s development, the years from 1956 to 1972 were building years as well. The late ‘50s brought the South Home Ec building, the Sheep and Dairy Barns, a new fence and over 100 hand dug and transplanted trees. The 1960’s yielded the Poultry Building (now the Roy Ramert Ag-o-Rama building), the Grandstand, the extensions to the Beef and Sheep buildings, and the Food Building.
Two of the biggest impact items from the ‘60s were the start of the modern Queen Contest in 1960 and the 1st Demolition Derby in 1969. Both have been successful events now spanning into their 6th decade.
The early 1970’s brought the building phase to a halt for a few years. The Food Building was enclosed in 1970 and the Goat Barn was completed in 1972. These buildings finished the nucleus of the fairgrounds.
Entertainment and attractions were mainstays of the 1970’s and 1980’s. From Festus, Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker to the Oak Ridge Boys and Randy Travis, the Georgetown Fair was building a tradition of bringing solid talent on the front side of their careers to Vermilion County. Additionally in the early 1970’s, the Golden Wedding Day celebration and the Outstanding Young Citizen Programs were started to honor two key demographics, the golden generation and our youth – the future.
1990 brought likely the biggest future star to Georgetown, Garth Brooks. From a building standpoint, two additions were added to the D.L. VanBuskirk Arena, originally constructed in 1989. The balance of the ‘90s was focused on building upkeep and operational efficiency. Our buildings were aging and the task of replacing roofs, one at a time was underway. Additionally, an overhaul of our electrical systems, helped to support our increasing needs. The purchase of our own complete sound system set the stage for annual savings that would lead to future building. In the mid to late 1990s, we initiated a Corporate Sponsorship Program to cooperate with key businesses and individuals in the area.
The new millennium brought us a major hailstorm damaging all of our new roofs and grandstand light fixtures. That proved to be only a temporary setback, as 2001 brought a completely new fence to replace the 40+ year old woven wire fence. Then in 2002, after applying for an Illinois FIRST Grant submitted by State Senator Judy Myers, the Georgetown Fair received a $100,000 grant for the Banquet and Conference Center. The ground was broken in 2003 and the Banquet and Conference Center was dedicated in time for the 2006 fair. This was a major undertaking relying on hundreds of hours of volunteer help.
2008 was started with our Queen Molly Reeves being crowned Miss Illinois County Fair Queen. Molly was our first state queen and represented not only Georgetown but all of Illinois well for the entire year.
Finally in 2010, we planted more trees, now fifty two years after the first trees were planted. A large parking lot was added for the Banquet center in 2011. A comprehensive emergency response plan was developed and implemented for the 2012 fair. In 2014, a new ladies restroom facility was completed.
This short chronology shares the highlights of an over 75 year tradition which is now enjoyed by the 5th generation of one of our fair’s founders. It would be impossible to list all building activities and progress over the past 80 years. To recognize all the individuals that have contributed to our success and growth would be a daunting task. A thank you to those individuals seems like too subtle a gesture for all they have done. The current board of directors will be forever indebted to all those people.
The greatest building over the past 80 years has been the building of friendships and memories. The Georgetown Fair has made an impact on the lives of many. Thanks for a great 80 years. We look forward to more!