Wyoming State Fair celebrates 100 years | TSLN.com

Wyoming State Fair celebrates 100 years

Heather Hamilton
for Tri-State Livestock News
Nina Huston with her sheep at the 1949 Wyoming State Fair. Courtesy of Wyoming Department of Agriculture

“We have a lot of new things going on in addition to the traditional youth and open shows this year,” explained Wyoming State Fair Director James Goodrich. “Among the new competitions is one somewhat unique to Wyoming – a sheep wagon contest. We’ve also added a youth alpaca show and returned the draft horse show. There is also a new ‘coolest pickup contest,’ which is open to customized, preserved and/or restored pickups. Information on all of our new competitions is available in this year’s premium book, which can be found on our website.”

Goodrich noted that the entertainment at this year’s fair has also been increased and enhanced. Featured acts include a Diercks Bentley concert on Aug. 15 and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as the rodeo specialty act from Aug. 16-18. Chancey Williams and the Younger Brothers Band, The Guess Who and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers will also provide entertainment to fair attendees throughout the week.

A brief history

The Wyoming State Fair officially began in 1905 in Douglas, WY. Its unofficial beginning was several years earlier, in 1886, with the “First Annual Wyoming Territorial Fair” held by the Board of Trustees of the Wyoming Fair Association.

Wyoming Department of Agriculture Public Information Officer Derek Grant explained that in 1901 the Wyoming Industrial Convention was held in Laramie and travelled around the state for three years.

“The 1904 show ended with a resolution for the establishment of a permanent fair,” Grant said. The passage of a bill in the 1905 Legislative session created the State Fair, and approximately $10,000 was set aside for a two-year period. The Clark Brothers were contracted to build a grandstand with a roof, exhibition hall, two horse stables, one cattle and one sheep shed, a poultry house and a two-thirds- to three-quarter-mile race track with board fence.

The State Board of Charities and Reform was in charge of the fair until 1923. At that time, the Department of Agriculture was given direct supervision. The Teens and Twenties saw major growth of the Wyoming State Fair, with building construction and first-class entertainment performing each year. The state of Wyoming also became increasingly involved, and the fair became known as the place to gather in the summer.

“The 1935 and 1936 State Fairs were cancelled because of the depression, and the 1937 fair was also cancelled because of a polio outbreak. WWII caused the State Fair to close its doors for four years, from 1942-45. However, Wyoming has not cancelled a State Fair since, and from the 1940s on it has been in constant motion and change,” Grant noted.

Youth a primary focus

“In Wyoming, we’re still on the system where competition at the county fair level feeds toward the State Fair competition in most cases and this is the finals, so to speak, for all those year-long projects,” Goodrich said of the fair’s importance to 4-H and FFA members from across Wyoming.

Over 500 youth will be in attendance for the entire week, with several hundred more showing up for day contests, such as the horse and dog shows. Still others will send projects, but may be unable to attend personally for various reasons.

Youth livestock competitors will also have additional opportunities outside their respective market and breeding classes to showcase their projects. These include various jackpot and breed-specific shows throughout the week and a “Champion-of-Champions” class for each livestock species, which puts all county fair champions against each other in a single class.

All of these events and contests will take place on an extensively remodeled and upgraded fairgrounds. Over the last few years the entire grounds have been improved, with projects including new buildings, upgraded bathrooms, new pavement, remodeled campground facilities, and air conditioning in several existing buildings. A permanent monument commemorating the 100th State Fair and the fairgrounds itself is also being constructed this year.

“We’re still focused on the core competitions, youth events, and schedule we’ve had for a long time; we’ve just enhanced them and the fair as a whole. In planning for our 100th year, we didn’t want to lose sight of our values, we just wanted to add to the celebration of this important year,” noted Goodrich.

“Through all the improvements and changes, the State Fair has never lost its focus on agriculture. While many events and attractions at the Wyoming State Fair have come and gone, the tradition of education, youth competition and showcasing the agriculture industry in Wyoming has always remained at the forefront. Today, the Wyoming State Fair offers 19 different departments and more than 5,000 classes to allow all Wyoming residents to showcase their talents,” added Grant. F

Editor’s Note: For more information, schedules, and the Wyoming State Fair Premium book, visit http://www.wystatefair.com.