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.
2021 Fairbook online!
[ CLICK HERE TO VIEW ]
Thomas Hall - 2021
October 9 - Private Rental
October 16 - FFA Breakfast
October 26 - Stockholders Meeting / Board
October 29, 30 & November 1 & 2 - Election Prep and Election
November 3 - Blood Drive - cancelled
November 6 - Private Rental
November 16 - Board
November 19 - 20 - Private Rental
November 25 - Private Rental
December 17 - 18 - Private Rental
Keokuk County Fairgrounds - 2022
May 5 - 8 - Flea Market
May 21 - Figure 8's
June 4 - Figure 8's
July 4 - Figure 8's
July 8 - 10 - Keokuk County Fair
July 9 - Figure 8's
August 4 - 7 - Flea Market
August 27 - SIDS Walk
September 29 - October 2 - Flea Market
Thomas Hall - 2022
January 1 - Private Rental
Janurary 2 - Bingo
January 9 - Bingo
January 16 - Bingo with board following
January 23 - Bingo
January 30 - Bingo
February 6 - Bingo
February 13 - Bingo
February 20 - Bingo with board following
February 27 - Bingo
March 6 - Bingo
March 12 - Freedom Rock
March 13 - Bingo
March 20 - Bingo with Board following
March 27 - Bingo
April 19 - Board
April 22 - May 5 - DO NOT RENT Ready for Flea Market
April 26 - Town and Country comes
April 28 - Farner order comes
May 5 - May 8 - Flea Market
May 9-11 - Inventory
May 13 & 14 - Private Rental
May 15 - Private Rental
May 17 - Board
July 5 - Board
July 6 - Set up Floral Hall for the Fair
July 7 - Early Entries
July 8-10 - Fair
July 26 - Town and Country comes
July 28 - Farner Comes
July 23 - August 3 - DO NOT RENT - Ready for Flea Market
August 4 - August 7 - Flea Market
August 8 - 10 - Inventory
August 14 - Private Rental
August 23 - Board
August 20 - Private Rental
August 21 - Private Rental
September 20 - Board
September 20 - Town and Country Comes
September 22 - Farner order comes
September 17 - Sseptember 28 - DO NOT RENT - Ready for Flea Market
September 29 - October 2 - Flea Market
October 3 - 5 - Inventory
November 7 & 8 - Election
November 15 - Board
November 24 - Private Rental
December 31 - Private Rental
Thomas Hall - 2023
May 13 - Private Rental