“We are here! We are here! We are here!
There’s a bright spot in the Mississippi valley
Where health, wealth and beauty wins.
We invite you one and all to rally
In our city where the west begins,
We will give you the best there is in us,
And take the greatest care,
To furnish you snappy entertainment,
At the Mississippi valley fair.
You’ll be there! We’ll be there!
At the Mississippi valley fair,
Where is the fair?
In the place of glee and fun and sport
In dear old Davenport!”*
Something exciting is happening in “dear old Davenport” this week! From August 4th – 9th the Mississippi Valley Fair will be held. In fact, this tradition of “glee, fun and sport” is marking its 90th year at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in western Davenport. Anyone interested in going?
This modern fair dates back to late 1919 when eighty-five acres of land was purchased for $91,000 according to an August 16, 1920 front page story in the Daily Times. The fair association needed space for their grand vision: The Mississippi Valley Fair and Exposition. The concept was simple: create an event not only for entertainment, but also as a way to share ideas and inventions between professionals and the general public.
Des Moines had (and still has) the state fair, but few local residents had the ability to attend the grand event on the other side of the state. The Mississippi Valley fair board not only wanted intellectual concepts such as those on display in Des Moines to be shown here in Davenport, but they even encouraged other towns to hold their own modern fairs. The board felt knowledge should be shared to make progress possible in a changing world.
The first Davenport fair reportedly occurred in 1854. Held on one acre of land and hosted by the Scott County Agricultural Society, the fair focused on produce and animal displays and sales. Over the years, the location of the fair was moved from site to site in search of a permanent home. Locations included what is now Oakdale Cemetery (before it was a cemetery of course), the area around present day 16th and Main Streets, and on thirty-three acres of land including what is now Vander Veer Park.
With the purchase of land in western Davenport in 1919, the Mississippi Valley fair association quickly began to build structures on the new fair grounds. A new half-mile racing track was installed, an auto park created (that would be our present day parking lot), a 6,000 seat grandstand, comfort stations, grand entrance, exposition building, barns, and more. All of these additions cost the fair association around $200,000 in 1920s currency. The fairgrounds were a showcase when completed with modern day ammenities for all to experience.
The first Mississippi Valley Fair and Exposition opened on August 16, 1920 and ran through August 21st. The fair was so exciting that Davenport Mayor Barewald declared Thursday August 19th a half work day for city and local businesses so everyone could attend the event. Even the local retail merchant board held a special meeting and approved the mayor’s proclamation.
An estimated 115,262 persons attended the modern Mississippi Valley Fair and Exposition that first year. The fair was a success and has been a crowd favorite for 90 years. Anyone else feeling like eating cotton candy right now?
If you are wondering about the booster song at the top of this article, you will need to come back on Monday August 10th to find out the interesting history of the fair song and about the entertainment showcased at the first Mississippi Valley Fair and Exposition!
*”Mississippi Valley Fair Booster Song” written by Albert Petersen, copyright 1924.