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July 11-14, 2024
what cheer, iowa

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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 are 15 days of harness racing on the fairgrounds scheduled in 2024.

Figure 8 races were first held on the fairgrounds in 1991. There are 4 race dates scheduled for 2024.

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 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. It is now known as the ”What Cheer Flea Market”.

Current fair officers are: Bob Dugger, President; Bill Grubb and Susan Koehn, Co-Vice Presidents; Juanita Roland, Secretary; Roger Roland, Treasurer; and Jackie Culp, Rental Secretary. Other board members are: Betty Armstrong, Janis Collins, Jason Ludwig, Laura Tish, Patty Herr, Royal Roland, Joe Costello, Scott Leer, Curtis Maxwell, Dixie Shipley, Gene Roland, Keith Fisch, Linda Molynuex, Dara Fisher, and Gloria Strohman.

LATESTNews...

2024 Fairbook online!
[ CLICK HERE TO VIEW ]

THOMAS HALL & FLORAL HALL
Rental Calendar...

 

 

 

 

2024 - Thomas Hall  

May 11 - Private Rental

May 18 - Private Rental

May 21 - Board

May 25 - Private Rental 

May 31 - Set up for election

June 4 - PrimaryElection

June 5 - Pick up election stuff

June 8 - Private Rental

June 9 - Private Rental

June 18 Board

June 21 - 23 - ABATE on the grounds

June 22 - ABATE - Mike Hoover

June 29 - Burdock Pavilion - Private Rental

July 9 - Board

July 11 - 14 - Keokuk County Fair

July 17, 18,19 - Private Rental - Wedding

July 20 - 31 - Do Not Rent - Getting Ready for Flea Market

July 25 - Farner

August 1 - 4 - Flea Market

August 5 - 7 - Inventory

August 10 - Private Rental

August 11 - Private Rental

August 17 - Private Rental

August 18 - Private Rental

August 20 - Board

August 25 - Private Rental 

September 12 - 13 - Private Rental

September 17 - Board

September 21 - October 2

- Do not rent getting ready for Flea Market

September 26 - Farner

October 3 - 6 - Flea Market

October 7 - 9 - Inventory

October 19 - Private Rental

October 27  - Stockholders/Board

November 1 - 5 - Election

November 6 - Pick up Election stuff 

November 19 - Board

November 28 - Private Rental

December 28 - Private Rental

 

 Floral Hall - 2024

April 21 - May 1 - Do Not Rent Getting ready for Flea Market

May 2 - 5 Flea Market

May 6-8 - Inventory

July 11 - 14 - County Fair

July 21 - 31 - Do Not Rent - Getting ready for Flea Market

August 1 - 4 - Flea Market

September 20, 21 & 22 - Private Rental

September 21 - October 2 - Do not rent - getting ready for Flea Market

October 3 - 6 - Flea Market

 

Fairgrounds - 2024

April 28 - May 5 - Flea Market

May 18 - Figure 8's 

May 26 - Harness Horse Races

June 1 - Figure 8's

June 8 - Harness Horse Races

June 21 - 23 - ABATE

June 23 - Harness Horse Races

June 29 and 30 - Harness Horse Races

July 4 - Figure 8's

July 11 - 14 - County Fair

July 28 - August 4 - Flea Market

August 17 - 18 - Harness Horse Races

August 24 - 25 - Harness Horse Races

August 31 - September 1 - Harness Horse Races

September 7 - 8 - Harness Horse Races

September 29 - October 6 - Flea Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2024, Keokuk County Fair. All Rights Reserved.