The Bureau County Fair has had an amazing history beginning in 1855. A group of local men formed an agricultural society in June of 1855 and had their first Fair in October of 1856. The Fair has run continuously for 163 years with the exception of 1862 when it was cancelled due to the Civil War.

The current Fairgrounds property was purchased from Andrew Gosse in 1859. At that time the property was half a mile from town. The original Amphitheater was constructed in 1870. It was 128 feet long and 22 feet high and would seat 1500 people. The cost of construction was $1400. Tickets to see the horse races were priced at ten cents.

Some of the items exhibited were brooms, bee hives, lumber wagons, draft horses, hogs, cattle, poultry, upholstery work, needlework, butter, grains and vegetables.

In 1874 A Bryant had a fruit display with many varieties of apples and Concord Grapes, hot house plants and pine trees. Cushing’s Candy and Cigar booth under the Amphiteater had 15,000 bushels of fresh roasted peanuts for sale plus good cigars.

In 1881 there was a contest to find the most beautiful lady and the homeliest man but it didn’t list the winners. In 1882 a hot air balloon assension and a tight rope walker were the entertainment.

In 1890 a new Amphitheater was built which was 190 feet long by 28 feet high. Six years later the Fair went into debt by $1000 to add an 88 foot extension to it.

In 1903 over 14,000 people attended the fair on Thursday. There were over 1300 horse admission tickets sold at fifty cents each and 2300 tickets in the amphitheater at fifteen cents each. That was over one third of the entire population of Bureau County at the time.

In 1905 the cross shaped hog and sheep building was erected at the cost of $2500.

For the first time in 1906 automobiles were used to carry crowds to the fairgrounds. A charge of 15 cents for a single trip or 25 cents for a round trip was charged. As business grew more lively on Thursday morning the owners of the machines began to run them at higher rates of speed so they could make a greater number of trips. Several minor accidents occurred in the mad rush for business. At this time the machines ran from the east gate of the fairgrounds to the Main Street crossing. One driver made the trip in only 3 minutes. Following the fair summons were issued by the City to the thirteen automobile owners who ran their machines at greater than eight miles an hour in violation of the city ordinance. They were fined $4.45. Soon after track was laid for the Interurban train.

By 1909 there were 34 automobiles at the Fair and by 1912 that number had increased to 300. The Wright Bros airplane, minus the brothers, flew during the 1911 fair but had some trouble with crashing when landing. Special train cars were added by the CB & Q Railroad from Neponset, Buda, Bradford, Malden, Mendota and Zearing to bring the large crowds to the fair.

In 1926 three days of rain turned the grounds into a quagmire and knocked out all fair activities. The Fair was in debt by $16,500 so they worked out a plan to save the fair. Life memberships were sold for $25 each which helped reduce the debt.

The first Fair Queen contest was held in 1939. Mildred Stroud of Concord Township was chosen over the 24 girls entered that year.

The Sale Barn was built in 1947. In 1948 Tuesday was the day for the 4H show but by 1950 had moved to a week separate from the fair. The week after the Fair the west end of the Amphiteater was blown off of the foundation and out onto the highway.

The 100th Fair was held in 1955 and “a Rich Treat May Be Expected” The Centennial Parade was held on Tuesday night with the Great Lakes Naval Training Band and Wave Drill team. The Centennial Pageant was three hours long. Fair directors took their part by dressing in the costumes of 1855. Carolyn Williams of Walnut was named the Queen. Awards were given to a man who had been to 88 fairs, the first one at age 3 months. Mr & MRs Centennial were Mr & Mrs Albert Ewalt who had attended for 56 years. They attended the fair in 1898 in their wedding clothes having been married that week. They were presented a large silver tray. Some of the entertainment that week was the best beard contest, a tractor pull, horse shoe pitching contest, harness racing, and a gentleman’s foot race.

In 1961 the Lone Ranger and Silver performed and the first Rolle Bolle contest was held.

The first calf scramble was held in 1963 with the object of haltering and leading a calf out of the pen. The contestant kept the calf and returned to auction it off the next year. A pig scramble for girls was started the following year.

Harness racing remained popular for many years but was replaced by stock car racing in the 1980’s. Tractor pulls and the demolition derby always packed the grandstands. The 125th annual Fair was held in 1980. Some of the entertainment that week was the Joie Chitwood Auto Thrill show, drum and bugle corps, World Rolle Bolle Championships, a western horse show and bocci ball tourney. Barbara Mandrell and Moe Bandy entertained on stage with $5 ticket prices for the grandstand.

First State Bank donated their former drive up building to be used as a ticket booth by the grandstand in 1982. It was replaced in 2018 by a new building.

The 140th Bureau County Fair was held in 1995. “All Roads Lead to the Fair” was held on the Sunday before the Fair when antique cars, motorcycles, horses and a cavalcade of tractors came to the Fairgrounds from all points around the county. Thursday the WGN Radio farm show was held at the Fair with Orion Samuelson and his live band.

Kachunga and the Alligator show was a unique free on grounds attraction. The Confederate Railroad band entertained everyone on Friday night and the Big Hat Rodeo filled the stands on Saturday night. The old Floral Hall building was filled to the brim with historical items from Bureau County from farm to home and old Fair history.

New construction around the fairgrounds since the 140th Fair has included the hog and sheep barn which doubles as a winter storage location for boats and campers. The hospitality tent was finally replaced by a new metal building with a concrete floor and a stage and concession stand area. The box seats in front of the grandstand collapsed right before the 2017 fair and were replaced by a concrete floored structure. Concrete walkways were added in 2018 from the new ticket booth to the grandstand.

The entertainment at the Bureau County Fair has been stellar over the many years going back to the WLS Barn Dance in 1948 and Brenda Lee in 1964. Some of the big name entertainers that have performed here are Brad Paisley, The Beach Boys, Kenny Chesney, Johnny Cash, Mel Tillis, Trace Adkins, Josh Turner, Marty Stuart, Ricky Skaggs, Randy Travis, the Statler Brothers, 38 Special, Tanya Tucker, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Pride, Billy Ray Cyrus, Blake Shelton and the Oak Ridge Boys just to name a few.

The Bureau County Fair Board works throughout the year to put on a great Fair each summer. The Bureau County Fair has had a remarkable past, which has involved normal, everyday people, producing a show to entertain thousands of their friends, relatives and neighbors every year since 1855. Through their resourcefulness over the years, large crowds have been entertained and have returned to the fair year after year. The Fairgrounds is also an entertainment venue throughout the rest of the year with events like the Sauk Trail Gun Show, flea markets, wedding receptions, livestock and horse shows, concerts and more filling the grounds.

The Bureau County Fairgrounds has been the entertainment center of Bureau County for over 160 years. Since 1855 the Bureau County Fair has been the place to enjoy meeting your friends and neighbors, exhibit the best livestock and household items, and make memories with the whole family.

811 W. Peru Street, Princeton, Illinois


Office: 815-875-2905

Cell: 815-303-2905

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