Turner County citizens have long been proud of their county fair and with just cause. With the distinction of being the oldest county fair in the state and boasting one of the largest 4-H enrollments in the state, the Turner County Fair entertains young and old alike with an array of agriculture displays, thrills on the midway, and exciting grandstand races. The Turner County Fair is truly the four best days of summer.
The fair has undergone many changes over the years, and yet in many ways provides a certain unchangeableness in an ever-changing world. The Turner County fair continues to be one of the finest agricultural fairs in our state as well as a family-friendly fair. It has been noted by many that the Turner County Fair is like one big family reunion. It is this atmosphere that has pervaded from days gone by and which we hope to convey to the present generation. We hope that what was "the four best days of summer" in mom and dad's day will continue to be "the four best days of summer" for our own children and grandchildren.
So, with that introduction let's take a trip back through the history of the Turner County Fair.
The Fair Begins
The first Turner County Fair was held October 13-16, 1880. There are few records from that first fair, but The New Era records show that the Turner County Agriculture Society was organized in March of1880. The society was formed with the purpose of showing the success and agricultural achievements of the newly settled country. The first fair was held on the Devereaux property, which was north of town on the corner north of the road that leads to Rosehill Cemetery at Parker. There a race track and ball diamond were constructed as well as a bridge which connected the end of Second Street across the river to the fair grounds.
The Big Blizzard
That first fair was a huge success with farm produce, livestock, and fancy work being entered. There were numerous sporting events as well. The first day showed a good attendance; then the second day it began to drizzle and the last day the wind changed and snow began to fall. This was the beginning of a three day blizzard, the first of many in that terrible winter of 1880-1881. This is the winter recorded by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her book The Long Winter. Some fair attendees were caught in the blizzard and had to seek shelter in haystacks on the way home.
The fair was held at Swan Lake, which was the county seat at that time. Later, when the railroads came through, both Hurley and Parker entered the contest to host the county seat. Parker won out, and Hurley is left with a large park in the center of town, the spot they had reserved for erecting the courthouse. Records show that early agricultural fairs were held at Parker, Hurley, and Swan Lake. Later, as 4-H club work entered the picture, fairs were held at the Freya Hall southwest of Viborg. Early fair activities were funded by shares in the Agricultural Society, which were sold for $5.00 each.
An early publication printed in 1886 read:
To our friends and patrons. We desire to call your special attention to your duty as citizens of Turner County without regard to your locality, North, South, East, or West, of building up our fair, both by your money in taking shares of stock and by your presence at the fair so as to help it out in every way. This should be our pride no matter how much we may differ on other points. Come to the fair, bring your families, your livestock, and your farm products, and we will have the best county fair in Dakota!
The Territorial Board of Agriculture appropriated $5,000 for the benefit of county agricultural societies. Turner County's share of these monies came to $384.60. The money was expended for the erection of permanent sheds and pens for stock, fences, and improvement of the horse racing track.
Fair Supporters in 1886
One might find interesting the patrons listed in the 1886 fair book.
Wentworth House Hotel
W.W. Roberts - Hardware and stoves
Parker Mill Company- rolled oats
Northwestern Loan and Trust Co. of Mitchell, DT
Turner County Condition Powders -W.S. Brauch Druggist
Misses M.E. & M.S. Hixon - Milliners
Parker Book & Jewelry Store, H.L. Schwepe, Prop.
The Centerville Chronicle, Centerville, SD
W.W. Hawley - Real Estate & Loans
The Parker Press - Book binding and printing
J. E. Kendall - druggist, paints, and wall paper
Parker Broom Mfg. Company
Parker Dairy - Milk & Cream, Stout & McCurrey
H. C. Pfeiffer & Bros.- Dry Goods
Parker Nursery - Fruit & shade trees
J.A. Steineger - hard & soft coal, Marion Jct.
Marion Roller Mills - best grade flours, Marion Jct.
Finlay Roller Mills, Rev. Finlay, 5 mi. S.E. of Parker
R.C. Tousley - flour, seeds & farm machinery, Parker
O.C. Stuart - Shorpshire & Hampshire sheep
Turner County Herald - W.C. Brown, Prop., Hurley
Parker Meat Mkt. - M.J. Donahue, Prop.
Marion Sentinel - J.E. Hazlitt, Prop. , Marion Jct.
Hinkley Bros. - Drey Line, Parker
H.H. & P.P. Rundell - Breeders of Imported horses, Hurley & Parker
The New Era - Chas. F. Hackett, Prop. Parker
A prairie fire threatened the fairgrounds in the month of March.
In the early 1900s, another prairie fire brings considerable damage to the fairgrounds and a number of buildings were destroyed with a great loss of cattle and race horses.
Fairs in the early 1900s were held in the town of Parker with many of the activities being held on Main Street. The fair in those days consisted of a carnival, a circus, Chautauqua, parades, and barn dances at the Moonlight Pavilion. Records show some of these fairs were single day events.
New Era records report three days of celebration August 30, 31, and Sept. 1 at the T.V. Smith Feed Yard and the Moonlight Pavilion.
New Ear reports that all business places in Parker shall remain closed from Aug. 27-29 for the celebration of the Turner County Fair. Livestock pens were available two blocks east of Main St. (Present Ken Hofmeister site). Space for domestic and industrial arts were at the Moonlight Pavilion, the City Hall and Courthouse.
The fair was expanded and new attractions were added. The fair was held at the George Ford property east of Parker (the current Arnold and Clara Wollman place). The large barn on the property was converted for exhibition of displays on both the first and second floors.
Fair reported to be even better with $2,000 worth of prizes awarded.
Directors of the Turner County Fair Association solicited donations from local businessmen to hold the property that was sold by the State Banking Department for a mortgage of $2,600.
4-H & Extension Club Work
4-H and extension club work also began in the 1920s. Probably one of the first 4-H programs and extension clubs was founded by Mrs. Earl Dickerson of Irene. Early Turner County 4-H Achievement Days were held at the Freya Hall, which was located on the Dickerson farm. Mrs. Dickerson was a very progressive and hard working farm woman. She was honored by the South Dakota Federation of Extension Clubs.
An extension agent was hired to serve the county. 4-H membership and activity continued to grow. Other notable early 4-H leaders were Wm. Noorsby, August Schmeichel, Vivian Visser and Carl Miller.
Fair premium book shows admission to be 25 cents for adults. Children ages 6 to 12 at 15 cents. One adult season ticket $1.00 with bleacher seats running extra.
4-H Achievement Days held in conjunction with the County Fair. Fair dates moved to earlier in August instead of the end of the month or in September or October like earlier fairs.
The Final Move
W.P.A. helped to build the new fairgrounds on the site where the fair is currently held. A quarter mile track was completed and buildings erected.
During this period of time, many forms of entertainment were added in addition to the 4-H and Open Class competition at the fair. Art B. Thomas shows provided carnival amusements and Vaudeville acts. Ball games, high school bands, Donkey Ball, and professional wrestling were among some of the advertised sources of entertainment. There was even a Better Baby Contest with doctors A.P. Reding of Marion and Dagmar Glood of Viborg acting as judges.
Notable radio personalities were also entertainers at the Turner County Fair. The famous WLS Barn Dance Band played here in 1946 along with Jackie Gray and singer Helen Haynes.
A tradition that began in the early 1900s and which is still observed at the fair is “Pioneer Day.” This special event has long been a tradition at our fair where the senior citizens of our area are honored. An afternoon program of varied entertainment is planned with treats provided. Various individuals are recognized such as: oldest man & woman; the longest married couple; couple having the most children & or grandchildren; couple coming the farthest; oldest active farmer, etc.
World War II
No fair due to the war; 4-H Achievement Days only. During the WW II a "junk rally" was held for Uncle Sam.
No 4-H involvement because of the polio epidemic.
$1,000 firework display. 467 boys & girls reported to be involved in 4-H club work in the county.
Extension Club booths put in. Many may remember that each extension club in the county had a booth where they had an educational display dealing with a certain theme or showed the handiwork of the ladies in their club. This tradition carried through the next several decades.
Turner County 4-H Band
It was at this time the Turner County 4-H band made an appearance at the fair. 4-H club work really took off in the years following the war.
The race track was made into a half-mile track.
Turner County Fair plays host to first tractor pulling contest in the state.
Period of growth and expansion. Two quonsets & two exhibit halls built between 1950 & 1955.
New covered grandstand built to seat 1,250 people.
Last of the fairs to charge a gate fee. Admission for adults was 25 cents, the same as thirty years before but children under 15 were now admitted free.
Our county fair opened its gates to all with no gate fees. The fair has remained a FREE GATE FAIR ever since. The 1960s saw the addition of the V.F.W. Bingo Stand, a new 4-H office and lunch stand were built in 1965. A sheep barn was built in 1966, and two steel buildings were purchased to house dairy and 4-H horticulture and arts and crafts.
Turner County's First School
The Hurley Women's Club saved Turner County's First School building from demolition and paid to have it moved to the fairgrounds. Many will remember Miss Pearl Hemphill, long time County Superintendent of Schools sitting and watching the schoolhouse for many years. She enjoyed visiting with the many visitors and former rural school students.
Turner County's first jail was moved here too.
New fair office building built. This building also houses ladies restroom and the First Aid Station.
Turner County Commissioners purchase the Francis E. Donahue property at public sale. This property is located at the south side of the fairgrounds.
Over the years many early settlers had donated items of "historical significance" to be displayed at the fair. For many years a small building on the fairgrounds housed these artifacts. Mylo Preheim of Parker took great interest in collecting these items.
With the purchase of the Donahue property, work began constructing a "pioneer village" in a park-like setting.
1975 was also the year when Old MacDonald first made "his" or should we say "her" appearance at the fair. Various Marion area ladies wanting something to entertain their young children that didn't cost money "hatched" the idea of Old MacDonald's Farm. They moved around for the first several years eventually finding a home in a building purchased from the Soil Conservation Service.
The fair celebrated along with the rest of the country our nation's Bicentennial. With renewed interest in our past, many hands pitched in to help create Heritage Park to preserve our county's history for future generations.
The first school in the county was moved from the fairgrounds to the park. The Marion depot was sold to the fair board in 1976 for $1. This building was built at Marion Junction by the Milwaukee Railroad in 1887. The depot was moved to Heritage Park where it became the centerpiece attraction and housed many relics. It also formed the backdrop for the Freedom Stage which would be built some years later.
Becker Brothers Moving Company of Marion was again called into service. (They had moved the depot), and the Grace Lutheran Church which was located four miles northwest of Centerville was moved to the Park.
The grounds were landscaped and over the next couple years many hours were spent in renovating buildings, planting trees, and putting in a beautiful flower garden.
An old wooden windmill was located on a farm near Centerville, and Corney Unruh of Marion rebuilt the wheel and it was set up in the center of the grounds along with a flagpole from a rural school near Davis.
Buildings and a boardwalk were built along the east end of the park just north of the schoolhouse. These buildings house storage, a millinery shop, a general store & post office, Doc Jones's Barber shop, a hotel and old saloon as well as a print shop housing the printing equipment from the Hurley paper.
New Expo Building built.
New covered show ring built.
New 4-H Exhibit Building built. Building #3 moved to Heritage Park & converted to the Shades of Yesteryear Museum.
A 40 x 80 hoop building was built to house picnic tables for eating.
New hoop building erected for dairy.
New steel Dairy building built.
On the evening of June 24, 2003, a tornado struck Parker and the surrounding area. The storm was later classed as an F-2 with winds between 113 and 157 m.p.h.
The city of Parker and many surrounding farms sustain much damage. The dome of the Turner County Courthouse is damaged, and the Turner County Fairgrounds is left in a shambles.
Trees are down everywhere. Heritage Park sustains severe damage. The old Marion Depot is completely destroyed along with the antiques housed therein. The recreated offices of Doctor Graber and Doctor Reding are demolished.
The steeple of the Park's church is damaged. The windmill in the center of the park is completely destroyed. The Freedom Stage roof is caved in. Gone too is: the Grandstand roof, exhibit Quonsets, Old MacDonald's Farm, the VFW Bingo Building ,the Republican building, and wires are down everywhere and nearly every building on the fairgrounds sustains damage.
Many hours of labor by county employees, volunteers, and 4-H members have the fairgrounds cleaned up in time for the fair. Roofs of remaining buildings and the Grandstand are repaired and the show goes on. Publicity due to the storm brings the Turner County Fair record attendance.
New Open Class Exhibit Hall is built to house the Horticulture, Flowers, Canning, Baked Foods, Art, Photography, Arts, & Crafts Departments.
Old Mac Donald's Farm moves into the former Horticulture building. This is the oldest remaining fair building on the grounds. With a coat of red paint, some new doors and the addition of pens, it's a super "barn."
New beef barn erected as well as a new rabbit & poultry barn, which is attached to the east side of the new Old MacDonald's Building.
The Republicans erect a new building.
Having survived blizzards, fires, financial panics, wars, epidemics and tornadoes, the Turner County Fair celebrates its 125th Anniversary with a huge parade and a pancake feed.
Additions and improvements in this year include:
Paving streets in the fairgrounds and continuing to put in sidewalks at Heritage Park.
New food court added so all the food stands with the exception of 4-H are under one roof.
Salem Mennonite Ice Cream stand was repaired and converted to commercial.
V.F.W. Bingo stand moved to next to the Open Class Exhibit Hall.
New steel building erected to replace quonset that housed antique cars. This is to be used as new commercial space.
Bleachers replaced in part of the grandstand. Former rabbit and poultry building converted back to a poultry barn. More pavement and sidewalks added.
We entered the computer age by going "online."
Turner County Fair celebrated 130 years.
A new 4-H lunch stand was built in honor of Joyce Merrill, longtime manager of the 4-H lunch stand, who passed away earlier that year.