It took awhile to get the idea of a Stutsman County Fair into reality.
An early edition of The Jamestown Alert called for starting county fair in Sept. 19, 1878, after noting the potatoes grown about 65 miles north of Jamestown.
“We will soon have enough to start a county fair ourselves,” wrote the Alert. “If poverty befalls, we will have vegetables’ enough to carry us through the winter.”
A one-sentence news brief in October of 1879 said the Barnes County fair had been a success but didn’t mention any plans for any such festivities in Jamestown. A year later, the 1880 edition of the Barnes County Fair featured a speech by. Nehemiah Ordway, governor of the Dakota Territory.
That is not to say goods produced in Stutsman County weren’t placed on display. Agricultural and garden produce were transported to the Minnesota State Fair. The display was intended to draw new settlers to the area.
Some new settlers to this area even sent some of the produce from their farms back to fairs in their home county as did George Fry who took a few choice things back to a county fair in Crawfordsville, Ind. in 1880.
In 1892, The James River Valley Fair opened its gates to the entire state in early October. The event featured displays of agriculture, garden produce and crafts. The featured events were horse and bicycle races.
The opening event was a baseball game with the schedule proceeding to a baby show, a state meeting of the Republican Party and other events.
A torchlight parade took place the second and third evening of the fair.
By 1895, the fair had grown. The top prize for the horse races was $300 which when adjusted for inflation amounts to about $9,000 now. Horses came from around the territory and as far away as Calgary in Canada and Montana in pursuit of the prizes.
The baby contest was divided into two classes with children under one year competing against each other and children age 1 year to 2 years in a separate class.
“That the babies shall be judged on their own merits, and any rivalry in dress prevented, it has been decided that each shall be dressed in a plain white dress,” wrote the Alert. “Beauty (baby beauty) unadorned, is adorned the most.”
The article in The Jamestown Alert said there were 10 prizes in each class with at least some supplied by the local jewelers.
While the horse races were governed by rules from the American Trotting Association, there didn’t seem to be any governing body setting the rules for the baby contest.
Instead, the James River Valley Fair association named some local experts to the position of superintendent of the James River Valley Baby Show, “The eligibility for such office, is to know a baby from a kitten.”
Author Keith Norman can be reached at www.KeithNormanBooks.com.