A rich tradition at ‘The Fair’: For more than 100 years, Beltrami County Fair reflects the area’s history
Editor's note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area. For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org.
Editor’s note: The Beltrami County Historical Society is partnering with the Pioneer on a series of monthly articles highlighting the history of the area. For more information about the Historical Society, visit www.beltramihistory.org .
The first Beltrami County Fair was held in 1906, not in Bemidji, but in Blackduck. Railroads, already well-established in the county, brought hundreds of visitors from other communities to the fair.
On Wednesday, Aug. 29, 1906, it was “Up-the-line” Day at the first fair, especially for residents of towns along the M&I Railroad north of Blackduck. The Big Falls brass band came by train and performed, as did the Kelliher baseball team and lots of fans from both communities. The Blackduck American newspaper boasted, “Nearly every farmer from the surrounding country is in attendance.” Speakers included congressman J. Adam Bede and Judge L. G. Pendergast.
The Beltrami County Agricultural Association had organized this opportunity for farmers to display the fine crops and vegetables grown “up north,” with the express purpose of making the rest of the country take notice. All farmers were encouraged to bring livestock and crops, or items could be shipped by train to the fair at no cost.
The Blackduck American described turnips that weighed up to 10 pounds, 18-inch cucumbers, along with potatoes, pumpkins, cabbages, cauliflower, celery, squash, beans, peas, onions, watermelons and tomatoes. “One does not need to be a great seer to anticipate that fifteen years from now, Beltrami and Itasca counties will be known in the agricultural department at Washington as the richest agricultural counties in the union,” the paper wrote.
The story included details of fine needlework on display -- pillows, tablecovers, doilies, dresser tidies -- as well as butter, pickles, jams, and breads. It praised the women who created these items, remarking on how fortunate their husbands were.
The second day of the 1906 fair was “Bemidji Day,” with a special train on the M&I from Bemidji in the morning. Friday, Aug. 31, was “Walker Day,” once again bringing visitors by train.
Crowds were treated to free exhibitions by Herschell’s dog circus, baseball games, small sports (standing jump, hop-step-jump, etc.), a 100-yard foot race, 200-yard foot race, horse races, a concert by the Bemidji band and a Grand Ball in Blackduck’s opera house.
Blackduck set up two exhibit halls -- one in the Rolf store building and the other in the Blackduck Mercantile Co. building. Livestock were housed at two large livery stables. Businessmen of Blackduck raised more than $1,000 for “premiums” and merchants from Bemidji and Blackduck offered special monetary prizes for exhibits.
A follow-up story about the fair noted that “Results are gratifying. Displays created much favorable comment.” Attendance was “big.” Another story pointed out how the County Fair had benefited Blackduck.
Moving to Bemidji That benefit, however, went to Bemidji in 1907, the organizers citing a better location: “There are excellent grounds in the suburbs of Bemidji, which contain a fine race track, and the conditions are very favorable for a successful fair this fall.”
Displays and contests continued to grow at the fair. While 1906 had brought only a small exhibit of livestock, monetary prizes encouraged wider participation in later years. In 1915, the fair added an auction sale where farmers could purchase necessities and exchange stock with other farmers.
In 1907, Bemidji boasted, “New buildings have been erected and the grounds and the race track (are) in excellent shape.” Races and contests brought competitors from surrounding communities and beyond: “Some of the fastest horses in the state have entered for the races and will compete for the liberal purses.” A story in the Sept. 18, 1907, Bemidji Pioneer stated, “Premiums are paid for race horses amounting to $1,550.”
By 1906, an “Old Settlers” group had been formed, and the group met throughout the fair in Blackduck. In Bemidji, the first day of the 1907 fair was “Old Settlers’ Day,” dedicated to homesteaders who had come to Beltrami County before 1900.
“Balloon Ascensions” were offered at the fair in 1907. (Eight years later, the 1915 Beltrami County Fair offered “airship rides.”) While the fair had its roots in agriculture, it was a community event with music, special events, and lots of friendly competition: races, pulling contests for teams of draft horses and always baseball games between city teams.
Along with money donated by area businesses, the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads each offered $50 trophy prizes and smaller cash prizes for competitions. In 1913, Farmers’ Clubs were encouraged to exhibit, with cash prizes starting at $35 for first place. That same year, a solution to a common problem for settlers in northern Minnesota was demonstrated by a representative from the A. J. Kirstin Co., all the way from Escanaba, Mich.: a one-man stump-pulling tool.
By 1922, the fairgrounds was home to the Doud Cabin, built by Freeman Doud, one of the first homesteaders in Bemidji. That cabin, which originally stood on what is now part of Diamond Point, has since been re-located to two other fairgrounds, moving from the site near what is now the Boys and Girls’ Club to the fairground site where Target now stands, and finally, in 1991, to the current location north of town on U.S. Highway 71. Sunnyside School is situated next to the cabin.
Fair visitors can step back in time at the 2017 Beltrami County Fair, walk through the livestock barns, see the many exhibits, and visit the Doud Cabin and Sunnyside School for a taste of Beltrami County history. Much has changed, many things have been added, but the display of talents and products in the county are still the mainstay of the fair.