First Location: John D. Lee’s Mansion, Washington, Utah 1860
The Washington County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society organized the county’s first fair in 1860 to promote agriculture. Some of the area communities were too recently established to have agricultural products displayed at this first fair. Other communities were well represented with exhibits of livestock, corn, cotton, garden vegetables, homemade articles from county-grown cotton and wool, braided straw hats, and moccasins made from tanned deer skin.
The fair was held in Washington City at the sight of John D. Lee’s mansion. Washington was the county seat and St. George had not yet been settled. The number of people in the whole Virgin River Basin, exclusive of Indians probably numbered fewer than one hundred families, so that such an event could not have drawn very many people. The fair was as much social as commercial, giving the people of the area a chance to get together and visit as well as to exhibit their products and learn what they could from each other. To them it must have been a super-gala event, looked forward to by young and old alike, with all the eagerness and impatience that little children show when awaiting Christmas. They came from east, west, and north as they converged on Washington for that momentous event.
John D. Lee’s Diary shows something of the spirit exhibited:
- Sunday, September 2nd 1860. Today I with several hands made a bridge and repaired the streets. Not that I believe in working on the Sabbath, but the work was required to be done before the Fair. At 12 noon my son in law, M.H. Darrow, started for Harmony to bring down stock to show at the fair….
- Monday, September 3rd 1860. Still at work on my Hall. Finished plastering, glazing & setting the glass in the windows and painting the mantel tree.
- Tuesday, September 4th 1860. Do, do, do.
- Wednesday, September 5th 1860. About 3 p.m. some 15 of my family arrived from Harmony bringing with them some stock for the fair. They were escorted by Music consisting of 4 violins, bass drum and carriage drawn by 4 horses, with the American colors floating in the breeze. The Company from Toker, Grafton, and Virgin City all put up at my mansion in Washington. Some 30 or 40 in number.
- Thursday, September 6th 1860. At sunrise the flag was unfurled at my mansion. The marshal music drawn by 4 horses, serenaded the city, then planted the flags at the Fare House & Receivers Office. Until 4 p.m. the respective committees were engaged in examining the articles and awarding the prizes or premiums. I took the first prize on a mare and colt; 1 do. Best heifer, 1 do. Best ? acre of cotton, 1 do. Best article men’s straw hat, 1 do. Best home made shawl, 1 do., best article patchwork and diploma on crochet work. At 5 p.m. a social party commenced in my Family Hall, it being my birthday. Everything went round sumptuously and the party went off socially and agreeably. All were under my directions. at was used for premiums is not clear; certainly it was not money, and probably blue, red, and white ribbons were not available. Lee’s mention of a “diploma on crochet work” one can imagine his wives’ annoyance at his taking credit for their fancy work and braided straw hats! ???indicates that some kind of certificate was awarded by the fair officials for superior products.
The settlers of Washington opened their homes, such as they were, to the visitors from the other settlements, and that there was an undoubted enjoyment for both hosts and visitors in this rare opportunity to visit with people of other towns. The recognition by the visitors of the limited food supply is evident in the fact that the guests were expected to bring enough food to supply their needs for the period of the visit.
The fairs in the 1860′s were often visited by Brigham Young, who took great interest not only in the fruit displays but especially in cloth woven from local cotton.
Second Location: St. George Hall 1865
After the founding of St. George, the county seat was transferred to that new city (1863).The fair held in September 1865 was described by a member of President Young’s party which visited the Cotton Mission settlements at that time. The fair was held in St. George Hall which at that time was still unplastered and without a ceiling, although the roof was on and the building was in use. Running through the full length of the hall were tables, upon which were presented for inspection the materials made of cotton, wool and linen. There was a display of ginghams manufactured in Dixie which were made from cotton grown in the Cotton Mission, colored with madder grown locally, and spun at President Young’s mill “that cannot be excelled anywhere for evenness and beauty of design.”
There were displays of fruit, boots, shoes, machinery, and many different kinds of vegetables. Local Indian Chief, Tut-se-gavit, took the first prize for corn. Furniture and curiosities were among the things to be seen and wondered at. George Hawley exhibited a plank three and one-half feet wide sawed at Pine Valley, Richard Robinson a huge cheese weighing 127 pounds produced at Pinto and B.F. Pendleton his “Great Eastern Melons.” “I don’t know adjectives enough to fitly describe J.E. Johnson’s flowers. His vegetables were also a credit, particularly his sweet potatoes. The ladies department had excellent specimens of women’s handiwork. Homemade cigars made from locally produced tobacco were exhibited with rather unusual results. The following sounds as if Judge McCullough had entered the cigars for exhibit himself. “We approve more of the judgement and taste of those who pocketed our tobacco, than we do the judgment and taste of the committee that passed it without notice. The tempting quality and excellency of our cigars were fully demonstrated by their disappearance.” There was also an exhibition of relics and antiques among which were some colonial bills, one bearing the date of 1776 and a key which unlocked one of the doors of the Nauvoo Temple.”
After the people had their fill of observing the exhibits, the hall was cleared and a party was held which continued for about two hours. The President and his company attended the fun-making following the fair.
Third Location: St. George Tabernacle (basement) 1876
In 1876 when the St. George Tabernacle was completed, the fair was moved to its commodious basement which offered splendid facilities, in that day, for such activities. The fair as an institution contributing to the development of Washington County continued to fill an increasingly important role as its activities expanded. By the end of the century the Fair Committee numbered thirty of St. George’s leading citizens. This group was divided into ten committees of three each, responsible for the following exhibits: agriculture, horticulture, livestock, dairy, bees, poultry, manufactures, finance, mining and minerals, curios and relics, diplomas, and ladies department. The president of the Fair Committee was Erastus B. Snow, and the secretary was George F. Whitehead. Many people today will remember the splendid displays in the basement of the tabernacle which was not then divided into the many rooms there today. The animals were shown in the stables which extended from the east side of the public square toward the center of the block, occupying much of the space where the old Dixie College Gymnasium now stands. Between the stables and the Tabernacle was a shady grove of mulberry trees which in relatively recent years has given way to the less attractive parking area now so necessary in the automotive age.
The fair continued for three days, and then in the evening of the third day the piles of melons and fruits were moved out and placed upon long tables constructed of saw horses and fresh inch lumber under the mulberry trees, and people from all over the county and the Mormon settlements on the Muddy and Meadow Valley in Nevada indulged in a fruit feast of huge proportions. It was a fitting close of a very rewarding three days of busy activity.
In 1908, president of the fair, F.L. Daggett and his committee faced some serious challenges. Although the committee at the beginning of the fair lacked funds for premiums to the winner in the various categories, the people of the county said, “Let us have a fair, not to do so will be a step backward,” As it turned out, the number of exhibits in some of the fair departments exceeded entries from the previous year.
Fourth Location in addition to St. George, Hurricane City Also, Different Names for the Fair
In 1909, for some unknown, undocumented reason, the Washington County Fair was being called the “Dixie Fruit Exhibit & Festival”.
In 1910, Hurricane City started to hold a separate event called “Elberta Day” while St. George held the “Dixie Field Sports and Fruit Fest”.
In 1911, Elberta Day was held in Hurricane while St. George incorporated the “Fruit Festival” with Dixie Homecoming.
Thus, Elberta Day and Dixie Fruit Festival were the names used until 1915 when Hurricane changed Elberta Day to “Peach Day”. Maybe the reason for this was because of the many types of peaches grown instead of just the Elberta Peach?
From 1916 to 1917 severe storms damaged fruit and according to the Washington County News, no Peach Days were held, although St. George renamed their event to the “Dixie Carnival” perhaps because there was no fruit to be exhibited there either. An interesting quote in the newspaper reads, “Corrals should be cleaned up as not to offend the strangers through our gates when they attend this great event!”
“Peach Days” was not mentioned in the Washington County News until the year 1922 and then not again until 1929 when the County News called it “Dixie Festival At Hurricane”.
As history indicates, St. George surrendered the so called ????Fair Days’ to Hurricane in the year of 1926. St. George did not have another “Dixie Festival” or “Fair” of any kind.
Peach Days continued to be strong and to grow with the addition of Boxing Bouts in 1923, parades and beauty pageants in 1939. The cities throughout the county seemed to be consistently involved and supportive.
In 1937, the dedication of the new bridge over the Virgin River between Hurricane and LaVerkin took the place of Peach Days due to the fact that there was a deficiency of fruit that year. Governor Henry H. Blood and also President Heber J. Grant attended this event which was an honor in this area at this time.
In 1944, Homer Englestead made the following invitation to the citizens of Washington County, “Come out and forget your cares and troubles. It is as necessary for people to forget cares and troubles and have a good time now and then as it is for them to eat and sleep!”
1951 had a major impact on Peach Days and Washington County. Financial struggles initiated an emergency meeting to discuss the budget. In the fall of 1950 a meeting was held in the county courthouse in St. George with about 60 people in attendance, two representatives from every town in the county. A plea to the county commissioners for financial aide was sought. The county agreed to subsidize this important event with one request. That they change the name back from Peach Days to the Washington County Fair. The request was granted and it was also decided that Hurricane would become the nucleus for the fair.
An editorial column in the Washington County News by Nora R. Lyman reads: “Our county as a whole is going to have an event of which we shall be justly proud. The cooperation which seems to be in evidence bespeaks a united countywide effort such as I have not seen exhibited previously, and I think it is a fine indication that we, as a county, are growing to the stature of the best counties of the nation. A county can never hope for development and accomplishment as long as indifference, division of purpose, or jealousy are permitted to disunite it. In union there is strength, and by cooperation of the towns in the county this fair can be made one of the biggest and finest things in the way of boosting and advertising Washington County not only in the state, but in all the Western States.”
Fifth Location: Hurricane High School
The county fairs within the next few years were not only getting better, they were getting bigger! There was no one place that could facilitate all of the events the fair was accumulating year by year. The fair was spread throughout Hurricane from the ball fields to the boxing arena and dance area to the old Hurricane school until special permission from the Washington County School Board was granted to be able to use the new Hurricane High School, Fine Arts Building, and Elementary School as needed. Commercial Booths as well as food booths were lined up on the streets of Hurricane which many old timers remember as festive and exciting as well as inconvenient for the homeowners along the fair path. Blocked drive ways and streets, vandalism, and lights and noise til mid-night discouraged some.
Sixth Location: Hurricane Middle School
In 1993 Hurricane High School would be going through some extensive building additions and could not accommodate the fair. The dreaded question was, “What do we do now?” At an emergency fair board meeting, chairman Tom Hirschi made the recommendation of using the Hurricane Middle School. The school board okayed the request and the Middle School was used for the next four years.
Seventh Location: Washington County Regional Fair Park
The pressure was now on the county commissioners to find a permanent location for the fair and other similar events that could be accommodated throughout the year. The county made an application to the BLM for a recreation and public purpose lease on some 180 acres of land in the “Purgatory Flat” area. Approval of this application came in late 1995. Early in 1996, site grading began for the development of the project.
In March of that year, the County became aware of an equestrian facility located in Wichita, Kansas that was being dismantled and offered for sale. After a trip to visit the facility, it was determined that this facility could be moved to Washington County and erected on the County Park site. The acquisition of these facilities cut the projected development by many years, and cut the projected cost by more than fifty percent.
In August of 1997 the Washington County Fair moved to it’s new home. Even tho it wasn’t completed, and the dust blew, and the buildings were hot, most fair goers commented that it felt more like a fair and it was good to be in a spacious facility where you could move around freely without continually bumping into your neighbor! Improvements continue to happen until completion date of approximately 2005 or until county budget facilitates.
The Washington County Commissioners and Fair Board expresses its thanks and appreciation to you, the citizens of Washington County, for the support, the excitement always generated, and the love you have for the fair. It is the biggest event the county has. It brings the county together in a positive, entertaining way which puts a ????holiday in August’ of which we all need. Thank you!
Information for this history of the Washington County Fair was researched by Wendy Sandberg using the following sources:
- Washington County News since 1908
- “The Red Hills of November” by Andrew Karl Larson
- “I Was Called To Dixie” by Andrew Karl Larson
- Personal Interviews with many individuals too numerous to mention.