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Famed Iowa State Fair has deep local roots

An artist's sketch of the first ever Iowa State Fair in 1854 held in Fairfield. (Iowa State Fair/Submitted)

This week, millions of people from around the world will descend upon Des Moines for the annual state fair.

The fair has been held in Des Moines since 1879. But it got its start right here in the Heartland.

Gene Luedtke is a lifelong Fairfield resident and works with the Carnegie Historical Museum.

He tells KTVO that the Iowa State Fair was started by a few men from Jefferson County in October of 1853.

“It was four men here in Fairfield starting the Jefferson County Agricultural Society in 1853 and planning the first agricultural event,” Luedtke said.

After a year of discussions and planning, the first Iowa State Fair began on what is now the corner of 4th and Grimes street in Fairfield.

A stone marks the entrance of the first two Iowa State Fairs held in 1854 and 1855. The stone was placed there in 1925 by the Iowa Society Daughters of the American Revolution.

The fair was held on six acres of land with approximately 10,000 visitors and 300 animals.

Visitors traveled by horse and buggy from Wapello, Van Buren, Jefferson, Lee, and Henry counties to attend the fair.

“It featured a big fence around the outside edge, did have a grandstand, with about a 1,500-hundred-foot track and buildings for housing the livestock and other exhibits,” Luedtke expained.

That’s a humble start compared 1.1 million people and 20,000 animals that now arrive in Des Moines each year.

Luedtke takes great pride in the fact that the nationally known Iowa state fair started right in his hometown.

I think it’s important that we carry on that tradition and heritage to younger people.

The Iowa State fair begins on August 10th and runs until August 20th.


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