The Schuyler County Fair uses the phrase “Since 1941” in our logo, but the roots of our fair run much deeper than that. The first fair was held by the Schuyler County Agricultural Society in 1855, where Webster School is presently located in Rushville. 170 members contributed $1 apiece to start funding the first year. It was held there the first two years, held at the A.C. Edgar farm for one year, then in 1858 moved to the county farm, a half mile west of Rushville on 7 ½ acres. Following the 1900 fair, the association was broke, and there was no fair in Schuyler county for seven years.
In 1908 a new fair association was formed by issuing stock to 400 shareholders who paid $25 each. Ground was leased on the north edge of Rushville, a horse racing track constructed, an amphitheater, barns, and buildings were built. This is the same location and the same dirt track that the fair uses today. Things went well until the 1925 fair, financial hardship hit again, and the buildings were sold or torn down and about the only noteworthy thing taking place there was when it was used as a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in the 1930’s.
In 1941, a group of farmers organized the present Schuyler County Fair and Livestock Show Association, highlighted by the night society horse show. The 1941 fair took place 3 days in September. Admission was 25 cents for adults, 10 cents for children age 6-14. The electric bill for that fair cost $54. During the war years, the fair was 3 days in August, with the 1945 fair setting attendance records as people came out to celebrate Japan’s surrender and the end of WWII. In 1946, the fair board purchased the present fair grounds site, resurrected the original 1908 half mile dirt track to host harness racing, and moved the fair to 4 days around the July 4th weekend that we are used to now.
As American agriculture and society got more mechanized and less dependent on horses, our events have evolved to reflect that change. The SCF held our first tractor pull in 1968, the first demolition derby in 1969, and raced motorcycles, midget cars and minibikes throughout the 70’s. In 1980, we dug a pit, added water and had our first mud sling for 4x4 trucks, and the participants and spectators went wild for it. In 2002 we hauled truckload after truckload of dirt into the arena and had motocross races for the first time later that day.
We’ve had some notable recording artists stop by Rushville for concerts over the years- Jerry Reed, Sylvia, all 3 Mandrell sisters, John Berry, Gary Allen, Thomas Rhett, Travis Tritt and Morgan Wallen. But the concert that people still talk about years later was the hottest group of 2013, Florida Georgia Line, that drew nearly 10,000 people and doubled the Schuyler population on that day.
1960 was the year of our first Queen pageant. Every year we have livestock shows, textile, culinary, and floriculture judging, live music at night in the entertainment pavilion, a church service on Sunday morning, 4th of July fireworks, and of course, a carnival on the midway and a wide variety of mouth watering fair food.
20 board members work throughout the year to maintain, plan, and put on one of the best county fairs in Illinois, assisted by some very able secretaries, countless volunteers from the community and much sponsor support from area businesses. After 145 years’ worth of county fairs in Schuyler, there is still much enthusiasm to carry on the proud tradition.
Sources: Rushville Times Oct 7, 1948, no author listed
Rushville Times June 22, 2016 by David Haney
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