The Lake County Fair opened this week in its new digs on Route 137 in rural Grayslake. The move has been controversial, but in terms of the Fair's 157-year history its' had many homes, including Waukegan, Libertyville, Antioch, Gurnee, Wauconda, and of course, Grayslake.
The Fair got its start as the Lake County Agricultural Society in the 1840s, by local nurseryman Robert Douglas, who held arbor and floral exhibits at the county courthouse in Waukegan.
In 1852, the first county fair was held at the Mckay race track in Waukegan. The fair's purpose was to encourage "better farming and livestock raising by holding annual exhibitions of all sorts of farm produce: fruit, vegetables, dairy products, items of home manufacture, poultry and livestock."
This artful arrangement exemplified what the fair association promoted--beautifully grown produce. This display was made by Fremont Township farmers and Prussian immigrants, Christian and Catherine Thomas, and exhibited at the fair, circa 1880. At the center of the apples and grapes are the Thomas's portraits, rightfully proud of the fruit of their labor.
The fair also featured entertainers and horse races. In 1855, General Tom Thumb appeared at the Lake County Fair in Waukegan. This photograph is of Tom Thumb and his wife Lavinia Warren, circa 1875.
The McKay race track was located where the Karcher Hotel building still stands on Washington Street. This image shows a harness race at the track, probably during the Waukegan Days Fair, circa 1880. The courthouse can be seen in the center distance.
Having the fair on the east side of the county was probably a burden for farmers and visitors. In 1854 it was moved to French's Farm in Libertyville, a more central location, but went back to Waukegan from 1855 to 1857. Farmers then convinced the county board to lease 10 acres in Libertyville for the fair's use. It was held at the Lake County Farm (Winchester House) location from 1858 to 1881.
In 1882, the fair moved to Appley Avenue (now Lake Minear) in Libertyville. This location was popular and used until 1925.
Shown at left are the Libertyville fairgrounds which included a racetrack, circa 1910.
In 1928, the fair was reborn in Antioch, where it remained through 1947. In 1948-49, it was again held in Libertyville at Memorial Field; 1950 in Gurnee; 1951-55 in Wauconda; and had its longest run in one location from 1956 to 2008 in Grayslake at Routes 45 & 120.
The Grayslake location was the former property of one of the fair's founders, John Gage (1802-1890). Gage's farm was often praised as being a "model for eastern and western farmers."
This photo shows the Fine Arts Department building at the Grayslake fairgrounds, 1968. Each year, local artists are encouraged to enter paintings and photographs to be judged for fair ribbons.
With the exception of four years, the fair has been held each year from 1852 to 2009. In 1861 and 1864 it was not held due to the Civil War. The fair board stated: "the times are too troublesome for holding of airs successfully on account of the volunteerings of so many of our labouring men for the war, and on account of the general depression all over the land, our people have no heart for such shows." And in 1926 and 1927 there was no fair, for unknown reasons.
Bud Slusser with his "team of pigs" at the fair in 1968.
There's something for everyone at the fair!