The Draft Horse Pulling Contest is an old-time event that has recently been re-established at the Sandwich Fair. Photo: Michael Maroscia
Sandwich Fair (100th Anniversary)
old-fashioned agricultural fair held annually during the week after
Labor Day, this Sandwich, Illinois, event is the last county fair
in northern Illinois, and the oldest continuous fair in the
Midwest. Spread over more than 170 shaded acres in DeKalb County
and dotted with many historic buildings, the event boasts the
largest number of exhibitor entries of any Illinois fair. Sandwich
Fair offers two large midways with the latest carnival rides,
harness races, and home-cooked foods prepared by civic, church, and
school groups. The event hosts the Midwest's largest display of
agricultural and home arts exhibits, a large variety of displays,
and family entertainment.
Sandwich Fair originated in 1887. In 1889, when the
nearby World's Columbian Exposition was thrilling Chicagoans,
Sandwich Fair-goers were more interested in the prize-winning
cattle and hay press being exhibited. In 1902, the
Free Press boasted: "The fair is a good, clean, live show from
start to finish. Gambling fakes are cut out, booze is tabooed, and
the fair grounds are properly the place for family reunions."
Special excursion trains running on the Chicago and Northwestern
and Burlington Lines brought young and old to visit the Sandwich
Fair. To insure the good reputation of the Fair, a Chicago
detective was hired to meet the trains in Sandwich. It was his job
to "spot the hoodlums and tell them to get back on the train."
World War I brought its hardships to the Sandwich
Fair: there was no midway because there wasn't enough manpower to
move the merry-go-round to the fairgrounds, resulting in decreased
attendance and a large deficit. In a fit of patriotic fervor,
however, Fair proceeds of $682.50 in 1918 were donated to the Red
Cross. In 1915 the first automatic corn popper was set up in
Sandwich. It was the main attraction on Railroad Street on Saturday
night as shoppers watched kernels of corn exploding into fluffy
white morsels. During the years between 1910 and 1919, the
Chautauqua Circuit brought high-quality entertainment and
outstanding speakers to the Fair.
During the 1920s, parking spaces for cars became an
increasingly important consideration. In a first, thousands of
people took advantage of a free health test offered at the Sandwich
Fair in 1923, courtesy of the State of Illinois. The 20s also saw
the first night fair (1923) and first dance marathon. During the
Depression years of the 30s, the Fair staggered under decreased
attendance and deficits, but the Fair Board kept the action going;
a few days of diversion were necessary in the bleak circumstances
of the decade. In 1937, the Fair celebrated its 50th anniversary.
For 40 cents admission, it promised good baseball games between
local rival teams, the best draft horses in the area, band concerts
Despite, or perhaps because of, wartime restrictions
on civilian consumption during the early 1940s, people came to the
Fair, where they were sold war bonds and asked to contribute to
"Smokes for Yanks Overseas." There was a new Victory Garden
exhibit. When the war was over, the Fair Board recognized returning
veterans by allowing them free admission to the event. During the
1950s, the Sandwich Fair Board catered to the excitement of the
times by providing grandstand entertainment with stunt drivers
crashing through blazing barriers and playing leapfrog on
motorcycles. Ostrich races and camel races added a new twist to
Fair entertainment. During the 50s, childrens' events were added:
clowns, trick mules, circuses and wild west shows.
The 60s saw area teens dance to the music of rock n'
roll groups at the Fair on Thursday nights from mid-June through
Fair Week, and the Home Arts exhibits featured the new microwave.
Reacting to the cynicism of the popular media during the 70s, the
Fair responded by recognizing the institution of marriage by
admitting free Golden Wedding Anniversary couples. Each day of the
Fair was dedicated to those who represented quintessential American
values and traditions: Wednesday was Family Day; Thursday was
Senior Citizens Day; Friday was Armed Services Day; Saturday was
Youth Day; Sunday was Neighbors Day. During the 70s, too, the Fair
Board began to provide free grandstand entertainment: harness
racing, and tractor and truck pull competitions.
In the decade of the 80s were added thrill-inducing
amusement park rides, and a "Sandwich Fair 10,000 Meter Road Race,"
attracting 150 runners from nearby communities. In 1987, the
Sandwich Fair celebrated its 100th anniversary. A variety of music,
a petting zoo, harness racing, powerful noisy trucks and tractors,
clowns and craft demonstrations were just a few of the events that
entertained fairgoers, but centennial activities emphasized that,
at heart, the Sandwich Fair was still an agricultural fair. The
decade of the 90s witnessed the growth, both literally and
figuratively, of machinery and equipment displayed at the Fair, as
the number of farmers in the region declined and each cultivated
more acreage. Yet attendance at the fair surged, and the Fair
Association purchased new land and developed a new traffic plans
for the fairgrounds.
As the last Sandwich Fair of the century closed on
Sunday, September 12, 1999, it was a time to celebrate the
dedication that has made the DeKalb County Fair at Sandwich,
Illinois, so successful for the long 112-year history, and to look
forward to its continued success in the new millennium.
Project documentation includes 21 pages of text
outlining a decade-by-decade Fair history; twenty-nine 8 x 10
photographs and accompanying descriptions; a videotape; postcards,
brochures, flyers, bookmarks, a Sandwich Fair lapel pin, and other
promotional materials; a Fair newspaper; and several premium list
books (1888 and 1999).
Originally submitted by: J. Dennis Hastert, Representative (14th District).
The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.