Delta County Fair has a rich and storied history
By Chuck Farmer
Published Thursday, August 10, 2017 9:51 am
(Editor's note: This article was first published in May in another publication. Chuck submitted it to the DCI because it is fair week in Hotchkiss. He reminds folks that the museum is open with free admission on Friday and Saturday, Aug. 11-12, from 1 to 4 p.m.)
The Delta County Fair wasn't always in Hotchkiss. The Colorado Historical Newspaper website reveals that the first official Delta County Fair was held in September of 1897 in Delta. The fair grounds were where Confluence Park is now located. Newspapers advertised that the new grandstand, stables and a half-mile race track were ready to use. Besides exhibits of produce, animals and horse races, the fair featured two bicycle races, one for one-half mile and one for two miles. This fair continued until 1913, when the grounds hosted the last County Fair at this location.
In 1913 two men from Oklahoma bought the facilities from the county with a plan to conduct spring and fall races, including sulky horses. This endeavor was successful for only a couple of years and then the owners abandoned the property. The buildings and grandstand were destroyed by fire in 1918.
Early Hotchkiss history records reveal that the first "sort of a fair" in Hotchkiss occurred in the fall of 1886 at the newly constructed brick barn built on Enos Hotchkiss' property. Farmers displayed their produce and field crops, then a dance was held. It was the custom at that time to hold a dance in any newly constructed building, usually lasting all night.
In Hotchkiss, the property where the fairgrounds is located was acquired by George Hiram Duke in 1885, under the homestead act. Of his one hundred and sixty acres, Duke sold eighty acres to Enos T. Hotchkiss in 1889, which was south of the present Bridge Street. From 1889 until 1905 the property was used for a slaughter house and as a brick yard. Carl and Alvin Sherman, Hotchkiss' nephews, operated the brick yard and built many of the brick buildings in Hotchkiss and the surrounding area. Many of these buildings are still standing.
In 1905 seven local Hotchkiss businessmen and ranchers formed the Hotchkiss Fair Association with the purpose of conducting a fair in Hotchkiss. Organizers of the association were James Bainard, rancher; C. E. Wilson, George Duke and John Patterson, merchants; M. M. Brokaw, saloon owner; Fred Simonds, banker and Dr. Micklejohn. The association then entered into a lease agreement with Enos Hotchkiss' four sons, Fred, Clair, Adair and Leon, to lease twenty-four acres to be used as a fair ground. The five-year lease called for the payment of two hundred dollars in 1905 and two hundred in 1910, with the option to purchase the property at the end of the lease period. The lease included twenty-four shares of the Vanderford Ditch, which takes water out of the North Fork River.
Fern Wooley Schafer, local historian, wrote a description of the grounds some years ago. Fern was ten years old when she attended the fair in September 1905. She wrote that the land was covered with underbrush, vines and weeds when in June work was conducted in preparation for a July Fourth celebration. By September the race track was laid out and more clearing had been done. The result was a well cleared but shaded park. The only entrance to the grounds was in the northeast corner where fees were charged, twenty-five cents for children and fifty cents for adults. The Fourth Street entrance didn't come until much later. Fern remembered that near the gate was an old building used as a diner. Chicken dinner was sold for twenty-five cents and was sponsored by the First Baptist Church. The original grandstand stood on the east side of the race track, facing west. Exhibits were housed in a circus tent where all kinds of produce and flowers were on display.
Fern recalled that on the third day of the fair a heavy rainstorm hit the grounds. Livestock had to be taken to higher ground and all afternoon events were canceled. About four o'clock a man stood on a four feet by four feet lump of coal and shouted that all ticket stubs would be honored the next day for the final races.
The grandstand was enlarged and moved to its present location as a result of flooding. (This was probably in 1912 when the river took out the concrete bridge leading to Crawford.) Before the fair in 1906 an exhibit hall was erected that ran north and south. A bandstand was built between the exhibit hall and the fountain to complete a very attractive park.
In 1909 a lagoon was dug east of the park and north of the original grandstand. The water was only about four feet deep but provided boating in the summer and skating in the winter. There are old photos of a high diver jumping into the water from a platform about forty feet high. In 1912 the Town of Hotchkiss hired someone to shovel the snow off the ice. After the flood that occurred in May of 1912, no further mention can be found of the lagoon.
The fair was very successful with large attendance each year. Exhibits displayed were by the county schools and mesa clubs. (There were no 4-H clubs back then.) Fairs were held in September when agriculture products were at their peak. A different school band came to play every day from Delta, Paonia and Hotchkiss. Most years a carnival came to town for several days with booths and stands along the streets. A dance platform was set up either at the fair grounds or in town. (One platform was on First Street across from the present Memorial Hall where the Church of the Art is presently located.) Fern wrote that early parades always went to the park and around the race track where viewers could watch from a shady spot. The horse races were the big attraction as the purse was larger than at the other fairs. The railroad offered special round trip tickets from anywhere on the western slope.
In 1910 the Hotchkiss Fair Association exercised their lease option to pay the Hotchkiss brothers for the property. In 1914 the Town of Hotchkiss acquired the property. In April of that year town voters authorized the town to acquire bonds and pay the Hotchkiss brothers forty-five hundred dollars for the grounds. Sam Hartman was the mayor of Hotchkiss at that time.The town operated the fair through 1918.
There was no official Delta County Fair from 1914 through 1918, either in Delta or Hotchkiss. The fire in 1918 had destroyed the facilities in Delta. In 1918 the Delta County Commissioners entered into a contract to purchase the facilities in Hotchkiss from the Town of Hotchkiss.
The first official Delta County Fair was held on the present grounds in September 1919. The stone columns on the Fourth Street entrance were constructed in 1938 by William Coutts, a local stone mason. One column has the date 1919, the year the Delta County Fair was established in Hotchkiss, the other column has the date 1938, the year the columns were erected. A wooden entrance sign spanned the columns.
By 2008, the entrance sign had deteriorated and was removed. The stone columns were eight inches out of plumb due to improper drainage and the town planned to have the columns removed. However, the Hotchkiss-Crawford Historical Society interceded as they determined the columns were a historic feature and should be saved.
An estimate to have the columns straightened was obtained from Foundation Repair of Western Colorado, using hydraulic jacks. If this could be accomplished, a metal entrance sign could be installed between the columns. The historical society conducted a yard sale type auction to start raising funds for the project. Additional funds were raised from many individuals, county businesses, the town and the Delta County Commissioners. When funds were sufficient, the foundation company was able to jack the columns back to plumb. The curved metal entrance sign was fabricated by a company in Spanish Forks, Utah. Hank Le Valley volunteered to transport the sign from Utah. Paul Schmucker oversaw the project and Jim Hardin welded the brackets to attach the sign to the columns. Annette Murray painted the lettering and art work on the sign.
The race track is long gone. The last race that I can remember was a mule race about 1990. In the 1980s, one featured attraction was a tractor pull, now it is a demolition derby. There is usually a concert one night and a rodeo on the last night of the fair. The fair now mainly consists of 4-H Club exhibits in Heritage Hall and the showing and selling of their livestock.
In 2010 Delta County purchased the adjoining nineteen acres and all the buildings from Lois Maloney. This allowed for an east entrance to the grounds, which has been constructed. Over the years there have been many boundary adjustments and improvements made on the grounds. Now there is a metal grandstand with restrooms, a covered riding arena, with restrooms nearby and an exhibit hall. There are two small baseball diamonds, the parking space has been improved and there is a disc golf course in the area along the river. Team penning competition is conducted in the covered arena. The attractive park is used by many out-of-town groups as well as local organizations and families.
Individuals volunteer to become fair board members and are appointed by the county commissioners. Ranchers, farmers, 4-H Club leaders and businessmen have all been members of the fair board. Through the years there have been many dedicated fair board members to whom we owe our thanks.