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Clearwater County to celebrate fair's centennial

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Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

BAGLEY -- In 1902 Clearwater County was established. Five years later, residents organized their first county fair in downtown Bagley.

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According to an article announcing the fair in the Aug. 15, 1907, edition of The Olberg Journal: "This is a fact; there is no longer a guess about it. The dates are October 10th, 11th and 12th. The business men at Bagley have at last awoke and realize the necessity of being up-to-date in their methods."

This year, for the centennial anniversary, the Clearwater County Fair Board has assembled a display of memorabilia in a booth in the commercial building. A special feature is the collection of prize ribbons Daisy Luggar inherited from her great-great-grandfather, Jerome Thayer. Two of his exhibits in 1907 were a pair of giant pumpkins that barely fit in his farm wagon.

"We've been meeting every Friday morning down here since February -- planning," said Dee Strandlien, Clearwater County Fair Board member for 32 years.

"Somebody said to me. 'Are you working again?' and I said, 'No, we're just having fun,'" said Betty Johnson, Fair Board member.

The free gate fair opens in Bagley today with the 4-H horse show and dog agility show and continues through Sunday evening. However, the celebration actually started last Sunday with a fairgrounds breakfast that drew 1,500 people, said Johnson.

The committee is also selling calendars with historical photos of the fair during the last century. They cost $20 and are also a raffle ticket for cash drawings each day of the year. "You have 365 chances to win," said Johnson.

Another special event will be Saturday's birthday cake contest. The cakes must be entered by noon, judging will be at 2 p.m. and serving will be at 3:30 p.m. "It's $100 for first prize," said Strandlien.

The logo for the centennial fair is "Food, fun and friendship," with the souvenir pin designed by Clair Rydeen, a Clearbrook-Gonvick student.

During the early years of the fair, the site was downtown Bagley on the lot now occupied by the elementary school. Tamara Edevold, Clearwater County Historical Society director, said the fair acquired the property on the north side of town and moved there in 1939. Works Project Administration employees built the grandstand that summer, completing it by fair time. The original grandstand burned on May 28, 1981, due to an electrical malfunction.

Horse races were a major feature of the fair until about the middle of the 20th century and 4-H has been part of the fair since 1918. Johnson said for many years, professional wrestlers would challenge the local young men to matches. And politicians have seen the opportunity of a free public forum at the fair from the beginning.

"There were a lot of speeches, Chautauqua," said Edevold. "It was more educational in the early days than fun."

From the beginning, the Clearwater County Agricultural Association paid prize money to exhibitors of the best entries. The premiums ranged from $3 for first place in many categories to 50 cents for third place. That was significant money in the early 20th century.

"That would be the headlines -- how much they paid out," said Edevold. "That was a point of pride. I was teasing Allen Paulson (Fair Board secretary) about that," said Edevold. "They haven't changed much."

Although many changes separate 1907 and 2006, exhibitors still heed the encouragement from The Olberg Journal fair announcement: "Bring the best you have in the line of horses, mules, stock, pigs, wheat, oats, barley, flax, potatoes and garden truck." And "Articles of Home Manufacture," as the 1907 premium list calls them, continue to arrive as entries in the quilt building, sewing, knitting, carving and woodworking.

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