Walworth County Fair carries colorful history over its 160 years
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An 1891 fair poster, titled “Neck and Neck,” shows a harness racing, an attraction that has remained popular for more than 150 years. Courtesy of Al Gruling.
ELKHORN — For Al Gruling, the Walworth County Fair naturally means horse races and livestock judging. But it means millstones, trains and a cemetery, too.
Gruling, a self-described history buff, is an East Troy resident who’s lived in Walworth County since 1951. A charter member of the East Troy Historical Society, he’s the author of “Good Ol’ Fashioned School Days,” a book about East Troy’s one-room schoolhouses.
Test your fair history knowledge with our quiz HERE.
Gruling also spent about six months researching the history of the Walworth County Fair, combing through files in the county’s historical society and county fair offices.
Earlier this month, in a presentation he gave to the Walworth County Senior Travel Club at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Gruling uncovered a wealth of interesting history and a few surprising facts about the county fair, now in its 161st year.
His talk was punctuated by a digital slideshow, put together by another local historian, Bud Tweed. The slides included photos ranging from snapshots of more recent fairs to pictures culled from old newspaper articles and Gruling’s own collection of fair memorabilia amassed over the years, including old postcards he discovered at area antique stores.
Some of Gruling’s fair history held surprises.
The fairgrounds once held an old cemetery that was located on about an acre of wooded land where a log cabin now stands. When the fair board bought the land, they exhumed the bodies and moved them to Hazel Ridge Cemetery in 1911, Gruling said.
Another photo highlighted a wooden grandstand that burned down in July 1970.
Fair board members scrambled to provide a makeshift grandstand that year, then started raising funds to build a new one. The fundraising drew heavily on public support. Its campaign featured small stickers that donors could wear, saying “I donated to the Walworth County Fair grandstand. Did you?”
But the fairgrounds still have plenty of tangible history, Gruling said.
“People just like to come and see good attractions,” he said. “There’s still a thrill to the fair.”
Read the full story in the Sept. 1, 2010 e-edition of Walworth County Sunday, HERE.