A harvest picnic was held in Canoe Creek Township at Marshall's Grove. In his Memoirs, Marx Hauberg wrote, "Some of the picnicers [sic] brought a big pumpkin, a big squash, a big potato, a big apple, or a big colt, etc. to show what they had. We all agreed that if they would do that next year, we would give the fellow who had the biggest pumpkin a quarter, and a quarter to every fellow that had the biggest article of its kind. We all chipped in a nickel."
The 1869 version of the harvest picnic was a success, and even the women got involved that year with their quilts, fancy needlework and knitting. Before leaving the picnic, everyone agreed to have a fair the following year, and they set January 1870 as the date to organize and elect officers.
On the first Saturday in January 1870, the Rock Island County Agricultural Board of Coe and Canoe Creek was created, along with its officers and committees. The board was made up entirely of farmers; there was no representation by commercial interests.
The group chose Martin's Grove, just west of Hillsdale, as its fairgrounds. The board paid owner Joseph Martin five dollars per year for a five-year lease. The fair would be known as the Hillsdale Fair.
At the third annual meeting of the board, Marx Hauberg was elected to write a preamble, by-laws and regulations. When Hauberg started to read the regulations to the directors, they thought it would take too long, so adopted the entire document in its entirety.
The growing popularity and economic success of the Hillsdale fair inspired farmers on the far west side of Coe Township and Port Byron businessmen to create another association, the Coe Agricultural Association. The first fair of this new association was held on August 30, 1876 on land owned by William McRoberts, about two miles east of Port Byron and about six miles west of Hillsdale. Competition between the two fairs was fierce, to the extent that, for much of their existence, both fairs were held on the same dates.
By 1884, the Hillsdale Fair had run its course. The remaining Coe Fair flourished and was well regarded by participants and patrons alike. The fair continued to grow and added permanent buildings to their site.
Three major issues were causing concern for the fair: the desire of older association members to retire, the expiring lease on the property and the lack of railroad transportation to the remote location. Fortunately, in February, about a dozen new members were added to the board and the lease was extended for one year. However, this did not solve the railroad problem. If larger audiences were desired, a new site would have to be found.
Looking at the larger picture, the Coe Agricultural Association had disbanded, and the Rock Island County Agricultural Association was formed in its place. Its chartered purpose was to hold an annual fair and exhibit. The exhibit was to consist of "farm products, such as vegetables, grain, and livestock, and to encourage domestic arts, such as the cooking of cakes, pies, and other good things, which are natural to the kitchen of a thrifty farmer." Formally, the fair was known as Rock Island County Fair, informally, The Joslin Fair.
30 acres of land, located less than a mile from Joslin, was leased from Eder Vanderburg, for a period of 25 years. According to the September 21, 1894 edition of the Rock Island Argus, the first Joslin Fair was "A success in every way." Special cars from the Burlington Railroad ran to the Joslin station from the cities several times daily, thus solving the attendance issue. Prosperity seemed assured.
Several years of deficits forced a reorganization of the fair at this time. The buildings and contents owned by the Coe Agricultural Association were sold, and the county Farm and Home Bureaus took over fair operations. The new fair was held at Watch Tower Park in Rock Island and labeled an Agricultural and Industrial Exposition. Along with the expected produce, livestock and farm goods on display, there were rowing and swimming competitions in the Rock River, and a parade of 48 highly decorated boats too!
Once again, the fair was again in a state of flux. While still under management of the county Farm & Home Bureaus, exhibitors were now limited to 4-H members. Premiums were awarded, but there were no carnival rides or professional entertainment. The Great Depression was influencing everyone, and downsizing kept the fair in business during this time. The fair was moved to Riverside Park in Moline where it remained for the next several years.
As the economy recovered, so did the fair. It was decided to combine the 4-H show with a Junior show, open to all youth under the age of 21, and seek assistance from the Illinois State Fair Association for awards. Plans for a larger show required more space and the fair moved to Wyman Field, also known as Wyman's Hill [the northwest corner of Blackhawk Road and Route 150 in Moline.] In August, the organization was incorporated, and the Rock Island County Agricultural Fair Association was formed.
Interest in the fair continued to grow, and as before, a new site was chosen to accommodate the increasing crowds. According to the August 21 edition of The Daily Times, "Douglas Park will resemble a 'Circus' grounds during fair." Eight tents, the largest being 60x90 feet adorned the park for the 3-day event. Attendance was estimated to be 4,000 persons.
At the request of Joseph B. Eastman, director of the office of defense transportation, fairs across the country agreed to cancel performances for the duration of the war - or at least until the tire and gasoline situation improved throughout the nation. As a result, 2 4-H shows were held in the county, one in Hillsdale and the other in Taylor Ridge.
For the next several years, the fair was constantly on the move. Blackhawk Forest Preserve [today, the Indian Bluff Golf Course], Moline's Wharton Field House, the newly opened QC Speedway [a mile and a half east of the present-day QC Airport], and eventually Illiniwek Forest Preserve in Hampton. The fair continued to draw decent crowds, but emphasis was shifting to commercial and entertainment features rather than livestock and handiwork.
Realizing that success depended on a permanent location, in May 1955, the fair association decided to purchase a 31-acre site south of East Moline's Colona Road [today's Avenue of the Cities]. Purchase of the $50,000 tract was made possible with funds contributed by individuals, organizations and through the sale of bonds. A flurry of activity ensued, and on August 24, the first Rock Island County Fair was opened at its new home. Two permanent structures, an exposition building [Roxie Marks Hall], and a livestock barn [the current Dairy barn], had been completed. 4 days of various livestock, horticulture, produce, and craft judging, as well as a rodeo, circus acts, and a queen contest, highlighted the event. In 1957, the grandstand was erected, making it possible to expand entertainment to include tractor pulls and stock car races.
Grounds: 10 a.m. to 12 a.m.
Expo & Vendor Buildings: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Carnival, Tuesday - Friday: 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Rides, Tuesday - Friday: 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Carnival, Saturday: 1 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Rides, Saturday: 1 p.m. to 12 a.m.