The Crow Wing County Fair had its beginning in 1897 and despite a few setbacks has had a steady history of growth.
Some pioneers will remember the old fairgrounds on East Oak Street, just east of the 1900 block. The fair was operated by M. K. Swartz of Brainerd who owned and operated a drug store. He operated the fair for his own profit.
Some of the events of the early fairs were horse races, bicycle races, tug of war, three-legged races and parachute balloon jumping. There were also cattle, hogs, sheep, poultry and vegetable exhibits.
The main attraction was the horse races where racers and trotters as well as farm work horses each pulled a sulky. Many of the horses were owned by Swartz and kept on the property in a horse barn.
Bicycle races were also as big an attraction as the horse races and were for both men and women. They raced on a half-mile track made of cinder.
CROSBY FAIR--Shown here are first place winners in the Holstein calf division at the county fair held in Crosby in 1929.
Inside the racing circle was a baseball park and grandstand used for all events. Horseracing and baseball were held on Sunday throughout the summer. The first fair went on for 12 to 14 days.
Fairs were held at Pequot Lakes and Crosby after the early Brainerd fairs were discontinued.
The Pequot Lakes fair was organized in 1906 and continued with exhibits every year until 1952. Organizers and promoters included Mrs. Marshall, D. D. Schrader, William Hall, W. J. Stinson, L. H. Dudgeon, Oscar Gravdahl, 0. H. Scott and C. E. Rodean.
The present fair started out as a 4-H affair for the express purpose of providing the 500 or more 4-H boys and girls an opportunity to exhibit their club projects and compete for prizes.
TOP WINNER--Shown here is Gail Prushek in 1929 with her top winning Guernsey calf. She went on to win first place at the State Fair.
The first fair was held at Lum Park in 1937 in a dance pavilion. It was a big success and the group that organized it, decided to incorporate and made arrangements to share in money appropriated by the state for county fairs.
First officers and directors were: Earl Richolson, president; Andrew Wolford, vice-president, Mrs. Dennis Reitzel, secretary-treasurer. Members of the board were: John Heinmiller, Mrs. F. C. Peabody, Frank Hall, C. .W. Campbell, Homer Wells. Ethel Chamberlin, Mrs. Clinton Wheeler and John Hoffbauer.
The association made plans to acquire a permanent site for future fairs. Bane Park, which had been used for league baseball, seemed to be a suitable spot. However, when plans to obtain it were nearly completed, it was learned that there was a stipulation that the property was not to be used for a fairgrounds.
Then it was discovered that the old mill site on Rice Lake was being liquidated. About 52 acres was acquired by the Fair Association and later presented to the county as public property.
Although there was now land for the fairground, there were no buildings.
About that time, CCC camps were being torn down and Victor Christgau promised the Association a camp for use of the fair board for erecting suitable buildings on the new grounds. However, this did not work out.
A WPA project had been developed and building was started with WPA labor.
When the project was partially completed, lack of fund threatened to stop all work. Then businessmen of Brainerd came to the rescue and donated over $3,000 to the project.
However, when time came for the fair to begin, in 1938, the buildings and grounds were not ready. So the Armory was used instead. Temporary barns were built behind the Armory, the carnival was set up in the street outside.
By 1939, the fair buildings were ready.
In 1961-62 the fair grounds make another move. A property trade was negotiated with Northwest Paper company involving land just south of Brainerd along 13th Street.
During the winter of 1961-62,. the move was made and when the fair opened in the fall of 1962, it was in new quarters.
Improvement of the grounds has been steady since that time, with the construction of a new horse barn, the major item. Still other improvements have been made and are still being made, including this year when an addition is being made to the historical exhibits building and a new children's farmyard is being constructed.
The Crow Wing County Fair has grown steadily and is now one of the most progressive and successful in the state. Added for the first time in 1970 were classes for open class cattle, sheep and draft horses.
A chief guiding light has been Birney Wilkins, who has served as the fair's secretary and general manager since 1939. One of the improvement projects carried out in 1970 was an addition to the education building to accommodate the ever-increasing number of exhibits.
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).