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Moab Historic Happenings September 2003

No Fair?
First Grand County Fair held in 1922

by Jeff Richards

Ninety-nine years ago, the idea of having a Grand County Fair was first pitched in the pages of Moab’s local newspaper, the Grand Valley Times, although it would be another 18 years before the first such fair was actually held.

According to the Aug. 19, 1904 issue of the Grand Valley Times (which later became the Times-Independent), a committee of seven men announced that a County Fair would be held the last week of September, and noted that “between three and four hundred dollars had already been subscribed for the purpose.”

“The plan is to have a general display of the products of Grand county and to have horse races, and a purse large enough to attract some of the best horses in the west,” the paper added. “The committee need and should have the hearty cooperation of all the people.”

However, in the very next issue of the paper the following week, it was noted that there was not adequate time to prepare for the fair this year, especially for the proposed horse races.

“Some members of the county fair committee are complaining that there appears to be very little interest in the proposed fair, at least on the part of the members of the committee,” lamented the newspaper on Aug. 26, 1904. “It is suggested now that the race feature be postponed until November and start at once to advertise the program, and make the fair a local Fruit Day celebration.”

Although local fruit growers did continue to showcase their produce at certain smaller events, no formal county fair was ever held.

The following year, on Oct. 13, 1905, the Grand Valley Times noted with more than a hint of ruefulness, “County fairs seem to be the order of the day throughout this inter-mountain country. Most all county fairs are held at this time of year because it is the time when nature is at her best for the display of the vast benefits to mankind. A fair could be held at Moab if the community would only liven up and make an effort for some such form of activity, and interest the people of Grand county. There is certainly nothing lacking in Grand county to make a great agricultural and horticultural display. There is talent here to furnish evening entertainments, fancy work displays, etc. If this could be taken hold of in the right way every one in the county would be willing to do their part to make a fair for Grand county a success.”

Little else was said about a county fair for several years. But then, the Utah State Fair began to attract more attention from Moab-area residents, particularly from 1914-1918. Grand County appears to have had at least some representation at state-level exhibits and pageants during those years, even though no county fair was ever held.

In 1919, Grand Junction, Colo. formally invited Moab area residents to participate in its fair. Wrote Grand Junction Sentinel city editor Frank H. Reeds to the Times-Independent: “We would be pleased to have any entries from over your district, as we hope to make the fair and stock show not a local one, but one representative of the entire territory.”

A year later, in September of 1920, Moab corn farmer Horace W. Sheley suggested that the residents of Moab and Grand County participate in the state fair, and urged county commissioners to “take steps to see that this region is represented at the coming state fair.” Said Sheley: “The people here are overlooking a splendid opportunity to boost the resources of this county by failing to exhibit their farm and mineral products at the state fair.”

Finally, in March, 1921, the beginnings of what would become the first-ever Grand County Fair were set in motion when F.M. Young, the principal of the local high school, wrote a letter to the editor of the Times-Independent urging residents to show their support for a county fair by beginning to plan for it. “If the fair is to be given, preparations must be commenced at once,” the article noted.

In September of 1921, the Moab Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to organize a county fair in the fall of 1922. Young noted that a small community fair had taken place a week earlier with only a few days of preparation, but he declared it to be a “highly successful” event and “the beginning of something bigger and better.”

The ensuing year-long preparations paid off the following autumn, when the first-ever Grand County Fair was held Oct. 13-14, 1922. Predicted the newspaper the week before the fair: “The first annual Grand county fair will be a winner — the biggest thing ever ‘pulled off’ in this section. Every citizen should be a booster for it. Let everybody get busy right now.”

The following week, the Times-Independent proclaimed the fair “a thorough success” and noted that it had “laid the foundation for an annual event which will take precedence as the red letter occasion for the entire year.”

A wide variety of agricultural exhibits were displayed during the two-day event, including fruits, vegetables, corn, poultry, hogs, and dairy stock. Cash prizes were given to all first- and second-place winners. Admission prices to the exhibit hall (the “Star Opera House,” now known as Star Hall) were 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children. A football game was played between the boys on the high school team and a team of men from the local townsfolk, with the boys winning 12-6. A humorous play entitled “Valentine Vinegar’s Vaudeville Agency” was also presented in the high school auditorium Friday night by high school students, and was reportedly well received.

Eight decades later, another highly successful county fair was held, in September of 2002. However, in the spring of 2003, the Grand County Council decided not to allocate money needed by the Grand County Fair Board to hold a county fair in 2003. Longtime fair supporters say they hope that the current fairless situation is merely a one-year hiatus, and that the fair will be back again next year, better than ever. But as history shows, even if good intentions are there, making a fair a reality isn’t always easy.

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