Steele County Free Fair
The first fair in Steele County was held on October 17, 1860. Premiums were awarded in categories such as "best 6 yoke of working oxen", "best butter churn", and "best wagon made in county".
After the start of the Civil War the fair was not held again until 1871. That year it was held on a pasture on Main Street, and until 1917 was held at various locations in the community. In 1883 to 1927 the Minnesota State Fair was held in town; special trains brought crowds from the rest of the state. (Incorrect -Minnesota State Fair held in Owatonna for two years "1883 & 1884." - according to Steele County Free Fair website (under History.)
By 1927 the fair became a "free fair" with no admission charged.
The 1930s brought auto racing and grandstand stage shows with chorus lines. Horse racing has always been a part of the Steele County Fair.
The Modern Fair
The fair remains a free fair, and free stages added by 1979 provide variety, talent, and two dozen bands performing in genres such as old-time, rock, dixieland, and gospel music. The fair remains focused on agriculture; about 2000 animals are shown each year, and the fastest growing show is horses. Vendors came from 25 states in 2006; they staffed 500 booths, including 100 food stands.
From annual attendance in the 1920s of 30,000, to over a quarter of a million visitors today, the Steele County Free Fair remains Minnesota's largest county fair, as it has been for over 80 years.
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