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July 10-12, 2020
what cheer, iowa


History of the Keokuk County Fair

What Cheer, Iowa officially became a town in 1865. By the late 1880’s, What Cheer had become a “boom town” due to the extensive deposits of coal in the area. Two railroads serviced the town carrying both freight and passengers. There were 13 mines in operation as well as more than 50 manufacturing and processing plants. Among the many products made were mining tools, wood stoves, buttons, overalls, shoes, and soft drinks.

Immigrants from several European countries came to work in the mines. The population in 1889 was estimated at 5,000 in What Cheer proper. Eight mining camps just outside of What Cheer added to the area’s population.

In June 1889, a group of civic minded residents met to discuss the idea of having a “fair” in What Cheer. The group proceeded to sell shares to raise money and elected officers from the shareholders. In the next 3 months, land at the north edge of What Cheer was purchased from Samuel McFarlan, a race track was graded, a floral hall, judge’s stand, an amphitheater, and barns were erected.

Opening day of the What Cheer District Fair was October 2, 1889. The local newspaper reported people poured in from every direction in horse drawn vehicles and on the passenger trains. Enterprising men sold rides to the fairgrounds from the train stations in hacks for 10 cents. The fairground was packed with people and exhibits. Entertainment included horse and bicycle races.

In the early years, the Floral Hall was filled with exhibits similar to those filling it today. The barns contained horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, rabbits, and poultry.

Over the years, grandstand entertainment has included concerts, thrill shows, circus acts, dog races, wrestling, talent contests, rodeos, harness horse races, and figure 8 car races.

The fairground is used now for a variety of interim events outside of fair week.
Harness racing has been a constant at the fairgrounds since the first fair. From 1985-1988, pari-mutuel betting on the races was held during the fair. There will be 10 days of harness racing on the fairgrounds in 2015.

Figure 8 races were first held on the fairgrounds in 1991. There are 5 race dates scheduled this year.

Bingo is played every Sunday afternoon from January through March in Thomas Hall. Several family celebrations are held each year in Thomas Hall, also.

The largest event held on the fairgrounds currently is the Collectors’ Paradise Flea Market. It is held on the first full weekends of May, August, and October. Larry and Phyllis Nicholson held their first flea market in June 1977. There were 20 dealers plus food concessions set up in Floral Hall. Now there are hundreds of dealers participating from throughout the Midwest covering the entire fairgrounds. 5 concession stands manned by volunteers from community organizations serve food for 4 days. The Nicholsons retired from the flea market in 2014. Bill Ludwig is now the onsite flea market manager.

* Some of the photos on this site have been contributed by Mendy McAdams of Mini's Many Moments.


2019 Fair Results

2020 Fairbook online!

Rental Calendar...



Keokuk County Fairgrounds - 2020

April 30, May 1, 2, & 3 - Flea Market - CANCELLED!

May 9 - Figure 8's

June 6 - Figure 8's

June 19 - 21 - ABATE

July 4 - Figure 8's

July 10 - 12 - Fair (Saturday night Figure 8's)

July 30, 31, August 1 & 2 - Flea Market

August 22 - SIDS Walk

October 1, 2, 3 & 4 - Flea Market

Thomas Hall - 2020

March 15 - Bingo & Board following bingo at 4pm

March 22 - Bingo

March 28 - Private Rental

March 29 - Bingo

April 18 through May 4 - Flea Market

April 23 - Farner Order Comes

May 9 - Private Rental

May 10 - Private Rental

May 11 - Blood Drive

May 15- Private Rental

May 16 - Private Rental

May 19 - Board

May 22 - Private Rental

May 23 - Private Rental

May 24 - Private Rental

June 13 - Private Rental

June 20 - Private Rental

June 27 - Private Rental

July 9 - 12 - Fair

July 15 - Blood Drive

July 18 - Private Rental

July 18 - August 3 - Flea Market

July 23 - Farner Order comes

August 9 Private Rental

August 11 - Board ? Up a week due to Iowa State Fair

August 15 - Private Rental

August 16 - Private Rental

September 10 - Blood Drive

September 15 - Board 7 pm

September 19 through October 5 - Flea Market

September 24 - Farner Order comes

September 30 through October - 5 - Flea Market

October 20 or 27 Stockholders meeting/ board?

October 31 - Firemen Breakfast

November 1 - FFA? or October 25

November 17 - Board 7 pm

November 18 - Blood Drive

November 26 - Private Rental

December 23 - Blood Drive

December 26 - Private Rental


Thomas Hall - 2021

 May 8 or 15 - day of graduation - Private Rental

May 9 or 16 - day of graduation - Private Rental













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