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Murrel BlandMurrel Bland
The annual Wyandotte County Fair will open at 5 p.m. Tuesday, July 23, at the fairgrounds at 13700 Polfer Road. The fair will continue through Saturday, July 27. This celebration, which is still agriculturally based, has gone through many changes since its inception in 1863.
This first fair in Wyandotte County was at what is now First Street and Nebraska Avenue in the city of Wyandot. Admission was 25 cents. I recall editing a story about the history of the fair when I found photos of a 4-H fair in the Welborn community, probably in the 1920s.
A few years ago, I spent time in the Wyandotte County Fair Administration office at 1405 N. 98th St. going over the records of the Wyandotte County Fair Association. The modern organization came about in 1953 when the association became incorporated with the state of Kansas “to promote, publicize and encourage the well-being and welfare of agriculture or related subjects and economics in Wyandotte County…”
The Wyandotte County Commission then approved a long-term lease with the Fair Association in the 1950s on county property near 98th Street and State Avenue. Adjoining property included that used as a nursing home for the indigent and a graveyard. The nursing home building was later used for county offices including the County Treasurer, Extension Services, Aging Services and the County Appraiser.
The first county fairs of the modern era were held at Piper High School near 123rd Street and Leavenworth Road for a couple of years before buildings at the new fairgrounds were constructed; the Fair Association conducted an aggressive building program that resulted in an 8,000-seat arena along with administrative and exhibition buildings.
One of the prime movers of the fairgrounds was Harry Duckers who headed the Extension Services in Wyandotte County.
The role of the county fair has changed both here and in other parts of the country as there are fewer and fewer people living on farms. Simply stated, fairs needed to change their approach to attract a broader audience.
I recall a meeting in 1980 that Gary Grable, a longtime Fair Board member, called to brainstorm about how the fair could be better promoted. The meeting concluded with two basic ideas—better promotion that would reach more people and well-known entertainers who would attract a larger audience.
I headed up an effort that produced a county fair newspaper supplement that covered all of Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties and the northeast area of Johnson County. This effort peaked in 1990 when Garth Brooks, a rising young country singer, attracted a huge crowd; fair officials reported more than 100,000 attended the three-day event.
With the development of the Village West area in the 1990s and 2000s, the Unified Government sold the fairgrounds to the Schlitterbahn Water Park. The Fair Association then moved to its present location in the Piper community.
As the Piper location was being prepared, the fair was held at The Woodlands and more recently at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds in Tonganoxie.
The trend in fairgrounds today is to develop venues that can be used all year around in attracting various entertainment and commercial shows.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.