Meet Me At the Fair

Lake County Fair1908

Picture yourself walking along the midway at the county fair recently and then suddenly being transported back one hundred years. The neon signs fade away, replaced by colorful banners above the booths. Acrobats amuse passersby, people scream on the rides, the barns are full of the sounds and smells of prize farm animals.

In September 1908 Libertyvillehosted the 55th annual county fair at the fairgrounds north of Libertyville, off of Appley Avenue. Through quotes from the Lake County Independent, the local paper of the time, we invite you to experience the fair one hundred years ago.

In 1908 the fair was certainly a tradition in many households and farms and seemed to grow more exciting every year. “The old reliable and always successful county fair on a bigger, better, and larger scale than ever before” proclaimed the paper.

Each day had its own draw. Tuesday September 1 was opening day, free to all, when exhibits were prepared. Wednesday was Children’s Day; children under 14 got in free. Thursday was “The Big Day—Everybody Goes,” and Friday “The Best Day of All.” (Great marketing!) New in 1908 was “Derby Day,” on Saturday. Horse racing was always big at the fair, and to have an extra day featuring a mile-and-an-eighth derby open to all was exciting news indeed.

“New Additions. New Features. New Attractions”

Two new buildings, built after an earlier fire had destroyed the exhibit buildings, housed the domestic arts and the sewing and natural history displays. The buildings were one-story bungalows, inviting and spacious. A new concrete fountain with a surrounding five-foot walk would provide water for hundreds at its four “jets.”

“The Greatest Agricultural Exposition in Northern Illinois”

Fairgoers saw cattle, (including “Sniff,” a championship bull), hogs, sheep, poultry, general displays of farm machinery from International Harvester, a fancy Mier carriage from the Thompson Brothers in Grayslake, gas engines, and even a Rambler automobile, an “exceptionally good” display.

“A Carnival Week of Amusement and Fun. A Greater Midway with More Shows and a Wonderful Array of Startling and Interesting Sights.”

Big Otto’s Animal Show was fresh from Riverview in Chicago to entertain the crowds with their tigers, leopards, lions, and wolves. Trained ponies, too. Moving picture shows featured “comic, sensational and interesting films” and “illustrated songs and colored slides.”

“Something Doing Every Minute”

Teams from around the county played “base ball” every day. Mitchell’s Military Band lent a festive air.

And then there was the Grandstand where all the races took place. Trotters, pacers, thoroughbreds, jumpers, even a steeplechase thrilled the onlookers. Between the races the fans in the grandstand were entertained by Japanese acrobats. Mr. H. B. Shoop of Nashville, Tennessee was the official starter for the races

From the society folk of Lake Forestand Highland Park to the toddler at her mother’s side, the Lake County Fair of 1908 offered everyone a chance to show off the best products of their kitchens, farms, and handiwork, experience a day of fun and competition, and take a step away from the ordinary. Not so different from today, was it?

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