The Howard County Agricultural Society was organized in 1858, and in the fall of that year was the first Howard County Fair. There was no fair held in 1859 but in 1860 the county fair was held at Howard Center on October 11 and 12. The 1860 New Oregon Plain Dealer stated the fair program included an address by Augustus Beadle (the founder of Cresco), an exhibition of prize products including a pumpkin that weighed 78 pounds exhibited by Augustus Beadle and a horse show where premiums were paid for trotting stallions. The 1861 fair was held October 16 and 17. When the Civil War broke out the county fairs were discontinued.
The next recorded Howard County Fair was held in the new town of Cresco in 1866. The Fair was held at Howard County Court House Square with the top floor of the Court House housing the arts & crafts, and produce exhibits. Larger exhibits were placed around the outside of the Court House on the lawn. The Fair moved to a location just north and east of the current Cresco Library, where a few exhibit buildings were built and a horse track installed. The last Fair under the first organized Society was held in 1899, after which the Society was disbanded.
The current Howard County Agricultural Society re-organized in 1923, and with cooperation from Howard County, built their new fairgrounds complex at its current location on West 7th Street in Cresco. The first structures built were the main amphitheater with a 5/8 mile horse track, the brick cattle barn, a hog barn, a round flower building and a couple other small buildings. Over the new several years more buildings were added, including an elaborate horse barn in 1934 (current County Shop building), and a “grand” exhibit building (current Expo Center).
The first Howard County Fairs were held in early September, then moving to the middle of August. In the 1960’s the Fair moved its dates to mid-July. During this time, many county fairs were held at this time, so the Fair Board made a “drastic” move in 1974 to the last full week of June. For many years, the Howard County Fair was the first fair of the year in the tri-state area. Only in the last 10 years have a handful of fairs moved their dates into June.
Today the Mighty Howard County Fair features a free gate, free parking and a pay-one-price grandstand button, which gives the button purchaser admission to all the grandstand shows for a single affordable price. The Fair offers to fairgoers a wide variety of grandstand entertainment, including the nationally know entertainers, the up and coming regional acts and depending on availability several other types of entertainments. These have included rodeos, stock car races, demo derbies, thrill shows, and other track related entertainment venues.
Free entertainment abounds at the Fair, with several attractions held each year. Some of these venues have included chainsaw carvers, acrobats, animal attractions and zoos, marionettes, magicians, musical venues and various strolling acts. The Scheidel Plaza, the focal point of gathering on the fairgrounds, each year features free events all during the Fair, including car shows, outdoor contests and a wide variety of musical entertainment. The Expo Pavilion is the place to be to enjoy nightly music and great conversation, serving fairgoers their favorite beers and spirits. The Creative Activities during the Fair include Arts & Crafts and Flowers, along with 22 fairgoer contests. Also featured are Master Gardener demonstrations and exhibits, Cresco Wildlife Club’s superb wildlife exhibit, numerous commercial exhibitors and a wide range of food vendors, agricultural and RV exhibits, and featured on the midway is Evans United Shows, who has provided the carnival for the Mighty Howard County Fair every year since 1974.
The heart and soul of the Fair is dedicated to the 4-H and FFA members of the area. Numerous livestock shows and static exhibits and competitions featuring the area youth will again highlight the Fair. Fairgoers are encouraged to attend all of the these events and competitions held during the Fair, and to especially take in the 4-H Presentations, Share-The-Fun acts and Working Exhibits, which are held in the 4-H Building during the Fair.
The Mighty Howard County Fair is the longest running family and community orientated event in Howard County. The Fair has grown over the years, to become one of the most progressive and entertaining Fairs in the area, while emphasizing its mission of promoting agriculture and the youth of Howard County. The Fair runs the last full week of June, at the Howard County Fairgrounds in Cresco.
The Howard County Historical Preservation Center opened in time for the 2006 Fair. The Center is the focal point of the historical, industrial and home life history of the Howard County area. The Center also houses the Administration Office of the Fair, and the Featherlite Center, a 3,500 sq. ft. climate controlled and fully ADA compliant area that is available for business meetings, various gatherings and training sessions.
The latest addition to the fairgrounds is the Ag Education Center, a 22,900 square foot livestock facility, which opened in time for the 2016 Fair. The Center features a state of the art swine production facility where area youth can raise their fair pigs and at the same time learn about current swine production methods. Also included in the Ag Education Center is an enclosed show arena, housing for the dairy and sheep projects of the youth and public restrooms and showers.
The Expo Center, located on the Howard County Fairgrounds, is a fully licensed reception and banquet facility, easily accommodating all functions, such as wedding receptions, trade shows, business meetings, community and private events, auctions and fund raising events. The Expo is fully ADA accessible, climate controlled, with seating for up to 500 persons. The Expo Pavilion, located just outside of the Expo Center, is a sheltered gathering area, available for use of guests of the Expo Center.
Cresco Speedway, a high banked 4/10 mile clay oval, is located on the fairgrounds complex and is host to regular stock car racing, from May to October every summer. The Speedway is also host to several special events which include, or have included in the past, USMTS Series events, IRA Outlaw Sprint Car Series, Indee Open Late Model Series Tour, UMP Late Model Summernationals tour, NASCAR Busch All-Star Tour, demo derbies, and 4th of July celebrations and fireworks.
Howard County Fairgrounds Campground features year-round camping with water and 30 amp and 50 amp electrical hookups, plus sewer dumping station on grounds. 26 sites are 30' deep and 16 sites at 70' deep.
The Howard County Agricultural Society is the parent organization that is listed as owner of the fairgrounds and most all amenities located there on, and is charged with overseeing all activities on the fairgrounds. The Society is a quasi-governmental organization under the Howard County Board of Supervisors. The Society is a non-profit organization in the State of Iowa, and is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501 c3 charitable organization. Therefore, contributions to the Society are considered as charitable donations and therefore could be tax deductible.
For details regarding the Fair, the Expo Center, Featherlite Center, Howard County Historical Preservation and Education Center, Ag Education Center and Cresco Speedway go to www.mhcfair.com. Contact the Executive Secretary of the Society at 563-547-4996 or 563-547-3400.