It’s a fairly exciting time across Iowa as the many county fairs wrap up activities and the Iowa State Fair opens its gates. A multitude of county ribbon winners are more than anxious to compete with fellow ribbon holders across the Hawkeye State.
Fairs have long been a summer tradition in Iowa and the excitement still draws fans from across the state and many parts of the world. Even with the number of farm and farmers steadily dwindling – more than a million folks will no doubt visit this year’s state fair, proving agriculture is still a very important part of our society.
Collins farmer Roger Huntrods has long been a fair enthusiast. He and his family are well known for their sheep and their shearing expertise. Rows of trophies and ribbons from showmanship competition line the walls of Huntrods’ office.
Visiting with the 91-year-old farmer quickly brings out one fact. His interest in fairs goes back to those in the past rather than those of the present and future.
“I like history,” he said and produced a book “Report of the Board of Directors of the Iowa State Agricultural Society for the year 1884.”
The report includes information and results from each of the county fairs across Iowa, as well as the 1884 state fair.
“One of the big things taking place that year was the introduction of barb wire and the fact that if draft horses got caught up in it they would stand there and paw, and ruin their feet, Huntrods said, “So there was great concern there.”
Huntrods found that especially interesting because he and his two younger sons have collected barb wire fencing for years. He noted that patents for three particular types of barb wire were issued to firms in Ames, Nevada and Cambridge. Marshalltown was the center of barb wire back in the late 1800s.
The main business facing the state Ag Society and board of directors in 1884 was deciding on a new and permanent location for the state fair. Among the chief requirements was a location near to a railway. Rail service was necessary to ship livestock from a distance.
On the county level, Huntrods noted that the 1884 Story County Fair was held in Nevada, Sept. 16, 17, 18 and 19. As 4-H was not yet in existence, most of the entries were by senior exhibitors. The fair was sponsored by a fair society with 300 members.
The account mentions an exhibit of stock from the Agricultural College at Ames. The floral and vegetable hall were centers of attraction. There was also a record attendance. $1,000 were paid in premiums.
Huntrods stated that the listing of breeds of livestock reveals the animals then popular. There were 25 Shorthorns, 4 Holsteins, 7 Jerseys and 29 grades shown in the cattle department. Hogs were represented by 18 Poland-China, 10 Chester White, 7 Essex and 10 Durocs. Sheep entries consisted of 3 Marinos, 5 Cotwalds and 3 mixed breed. Showing the great importance of horses to the early settlers that day were 4 Thoroughbreds, 26 Roadsters, 29 horses of all work, 3 Clydesdales, 1 Norman, 7 other breed, 4 mules, 20 speed, 7 standard and 20 carriage horses.
Other entries are listed as poultry 25, fruits 19, flowers 20, grains 12, vegetables 56, machinery 9 and tile 3. Pantry stores 135, household 186, fine arts 88, misc. 5, boys and girls 49, Story County public school exhibit 105.
Then as now, corn was the popular crop. Dent corn was grown on approximately 120,000 acres and yielded 30 bushel an acre and brought 25 cents a bushel. Wheat yielding 20 bushels was grown on 4,000 acres and sold for 65 cents. Oats were grown on 50,000 acres, averaging 35 bushel and sold for 20 cents. Rye acreage was 4,000 averaging 18 bushel and selling at 40 cents. Flax was grown on 10,000 acres averaging 10 bushel and sold for $1 per bushel. Some buckwheat, broom corn and sorghum were reported as well as 2,000 acres of potatoes.