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Leah Street
Extension Program Coordinator - 4-H Youth Development, McLean County
University of Illinois Extension
1615 Commerce Parkway
Bloomington, IL 61704
Phone: 309-663-8306
FAX: 309-663-8270

McLean County 4-H Fair

McLean County 4-H Fair

4-H Fair History

The McLean County 4-H Fair History Book tells the story of the McLean County 4-H Fair from its earliest beginnings until 1997. This chronicle of the fair has been developed through the personal interviews, reminiscing sessions and by research of the fair books, files, and other archives. Some of the research facts follow.

McLean County has a rich history with the 4-H Royalty Program.

Click here to see the list of past King & Queens of the Fair.

"The McLean County 4-H Fair in Illinois has been a unique event in this county since 1923. It is believed to be the oldest running and largest 4-H fair in the world."

"The first Agricultural fair in the United States was held October 1, 1810, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. It was known as the Berkshire Cattle Show."

"The history fairs in McLean County dates back to 1852, nine years prior to the Civil War. It has been speculated that Abe Lincoln, who was wandering over Central Illinois as a lawyer, may have visited Bloomington and stopped by the fair; however, no written proof of that exists."

"In 1877 a fair celebrating the 25th anniversary of the McLean County agricultural society was held."

"With the passage of the Smith-Lever Federal Act, the Cooperative Extension service, as well as 4-H were born. This act was passed in 1914 and was a part of the USDA. The principles of the Act were for the involvement of local and state partners to evolve in conjunction with the Federal funding."

"The concept of helping young people achieve in agriculture had its birth in McLean County in 1917 with the forming of a Boys and Girls Club program. A clipping in the Daily Pantagraph proclaimed McLean County as the first county in Illinois to have a club."

"In 1918, 1435 rural boys and girls enrolled in a 4-H Club program to raise gardens and livestock as their part of the war effort. William R. Brigham, who was then assistant to the county superintendent of schools, worked in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Illinois Extension Service to begin the program. In 1919 it was transferred to the Farm and Home Bureaus. An exhibit was held September 17 and 18 of that year in connection with the McLean County Swine Breeders Association."

"In 1922 the projects were separated, and Frank Leggitt, associate farm advisor, became county leaders of boys 4-H, and Miss Clara Brian, home advisor, was made county leader of girls work."

"The idea of a 4-H fair was conceived in 1923. The first fair was held at the Ed Coolidge farm three miles west of Bloomington near the present site of Mitsubishi Motors on an August afternoon. Thirty boys and girls exhibited livestock, a few vegetables and sewing. About 150 people attended the event. Some type of fair was held at the Collidge farm until 1926."

"In 1927 the fair moved to Bongo Park which was located on Route 51 south of Bloomington."

"The fair was incorporated in 1932. The fair was held at Bongo Park through 1933 when 10 tents 40 X 100 feet held exhibits. In 1934 the fair moved to Fans Field, the home of the former Three I League Baseball Park behind the National Guard Armory on South Main Street. In 1935 the fair was held at Illinois State University farms where Horton Field House now stands. The fair moved back to Fans Field in 1936. The 1936 fair expanded to a three day run. The grounds were purchased by the Farm Bureau in 1938."

"The fair began outgrowing the grounds in the 1950's, and it was in 1956 that 78 acres was purchased for $60,000 on the south side of Route 9, one-fourth of a mile east of U.S. Route 66. Thirty eight acres were utilized by the first fair held at this site in 1956. An estimated 4,500 people were on hand to dedicate the fairgrounds as the first fair there began its 4-day run, August 6-9, 1956. The east side site served as home for the 1956 through 1996 fairs, the longest run at any site in the county. The fair would stay at this location for 40 years. It will long be remembered for many community members as one of the finest fair sites of its time."

'The road now leads to a new fairgrounds west of Bloomington. The fair has come full circle since the site of the first fair was just a few miles north of the new location."

Since publication of the book, the following adds to the chronicle of the Fair.

In 1997 the McLean County Fair moved to the Interstate Center west of Bloomington on Route 9. Ironically, the site of the first fair was just a few miles north of the new location

In 1998 the McLean County Fair began a 9-day run from Friday to Saturday.

In 2000 the McLean County Fair returned to a 5 day run from Friday to Wednesday.

In 2007 livestock will join the fair "in progress" with a Wednesday evening check-in. The rest of the projects arrive on Tuesday and the Fair will run until Sunday evening.

2008 marked the return of the Section 9 Vo-Ag Fair. It was on Wednesday, the first day of the fair.