LOOKING BACK: The County Fair

Horse racing and trotter racing were popular events in the early years of the Scotts Bluff County Fair, when it was still in Gering. Bujt once irrigation arrived in the valley, muddy conditions at the fairgrounds made it impossible to continue the races.

Nebraska’s Cheyenne County, organized in 1867, spanned most of the southern half of the Panhandle. Curiously, in its first 20 years of existence, no one had ever organized a county fair.

That changed in 1887 when a small group of ambitious businessmen spearheaded the formation of a new town in the central part of the county.

The town’s original name was Vendome. That idea was rejected by the post office, claiming it would cause confusion with the already established town of Verdigre, especially if letter writers had poor penmanship.

After some more discussion, the town was named after the town site company president — Martin Gering.

It seemed strange the county hadn’t staged a fair, because money was available from the state for agricultural societies to organize them. So in July 1887, Gering’s young leaders organized as the Cheyenne County Fair Association.

The first county fair in 1887 was actually held in Gering, not the county seat of Sidney. The event ran three days from Sept. 26-28. All the agricultural exhibits were displayed in a tent. Some of the entertainment included the town’s first druggist, George Luft, who brought a band along. It was the first performance of what would eventually become the Gering City Band, which still performs during the summer months.

Settlers from the north and south sides of the river played a baseball game at the first county fair, with the north siders taking the win.

Another attraction that really caught on and was very popular at the fair for a number of years was horse racing, mostly saddle horses.

The best horseman of the first county fair was W.E. “Sandy” Ingraham of Mitchell Valley. The best horsewoman was Bessie Senderling of Freeport in Banner County.

There was also a trotting horse race that took place on a straightaway track that had been smoothed off. An exact location is unclear, but it was possibly somewhere along the current J Street. The first winner among the trotting horses was owned by Kimball merchant Fred Schaefer.

By 1889, a new county was formed and the fair board reorganized as the Scotts Bluff County Fair Association. Col. C.D. Johnson was named as president and E.P. Cromer as secretary. But without much financial support in its early years, the county fair continued to struggle.

However, the fair was big on attractions. Indian dancers from the Pine Ridge, hot air balloon ascensions, high dives, the first airplane and the first moving pictures all made appearances at the fair.

The fair also lost one of its favorite attractions. Once irrigation was brought to the valley, the fairgrounds became so wet and soggy that horse races and trotting races became impossible.

About that time, Gering businessman Frank Beers moved to the new town of Mitchell, which was organized in 1900. He quietly began buying more stock shares in the fair association, although he owned a large block of them from when he lived in Gering.

Eventually, Beers and other Mitchell businessmen purchased sufficient shares to become majority owners of the association. When that happened, the Scotts Bluff County Fair was moved to Mitchell, where it continues to draw big crowds during the late summer.

We're always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what's going on!

Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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