“The Thayer County Agricultural society was organized in Deshler last week,” said the Omaha Bee on August 11, 1913, “and the necessary papers filed with the county clerk.” The first county fair sponsored by the society was planned for September 10-12, with an impressive list of exhibits and lineup of speakers. Nebraska Lieutenant Governor Samuel McKelvie accepted an invitation to speak on the opening day.
The Thayer County Fair since at least 1886 had been held at Hebron, the county seat, but due to problems with flooding, was discontinued by about 1900. In 1912, E. J. Mitchell, editor and publisher of the Deshler Rustler, began a push to reactivate the fair, this time in his hometown of Deshler.
The first county fair held in Deshler in 1913 featured several novelties. The local high school housed “agricultural, horticultural, fancy work and the educational exhibit,” according to the Rustler on September 18, 1913. Fairgoers especially appreciated the high school’s restroom facilities, and exhibitors took advantage of electric lights and city water on the grounds. No admission to the fair was charged, and winners of premiums received a check for their winnings immediately after the award was made.
Of course, not everything relating to a county fair was suitable for the high school building. Livestock and poultry exhibits were located in temporary quarters nearby. Stands for refreshments, souvenirs, entertainment, and games lined Deshler’s main street. A merry-go-round from the Nebraska State Fair was engaged to entertain fairgoers and their children. By 1915 the fair had its own fairgrounds south of Deshler with an exhibition hall and other structures and ample space for parking.
More information on Nebraska’s history is available in Nebraska History magazine, a benefit of membership in the Nebraska State Historical Society. Both full members and subscription-only members receive four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications