Directors - Jerry Barrass, Kevin Tondoni, Randy Stephens, Tommy Simmons, Tyra Zoeller Hill, Michael Oliver, Ronald Tanner
It was 1856 when a group of county residents got together to form the county fair, a place to feature the products of the farm, field, garden, and home. With the donation of 10 acres of land on Marion’s Eastside, the first fair was held in 1857.
There were no buildings of any kind for that first fair and tickets were sold through a small hole cut in a wooden fence. A dry goods box served as a complete ticket office. The Ladies Department consisted of a few yards of cotton stretched from tree to tree on the southeast part of the grounds.
Unlike today, the early fair goers came in wagons and on horseback and brought their own fixin’s for a full day from sunup to sundown.
In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt visited the fair during his campaign and entertained 10,000 people in the fair’s infield. Roosevelt, ever the polished politician, told those in attendance that the Williamson County Fairgrounds surpassed any such fairgrounds in his home state of New York.
Others visiting the fair were General John A. Logan, Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, LeRoy A. Goddard, William Jennings Bryan, Senator Alben Barkley, and Secretary of War Harry Woodring.
In 1915, the St. Louis Republic Newspaper was on hand to cover the fair for a special feature edition. More than 40,000 people were in attendance that year.
The newspaper wrote, “Take 60-acres of oak-shaded land, put in a half-mile running track, 400 yards of grandstands, a midway nearby as big and three times as noisy as that of a world’s fair, about 10 acres of flat-backed cattle, pitching and plunging horses, and big fat hogs, then fill every nook and cranny not otherwise filled with people and you begin to get a faint idea of what Williamson County’s annual fair is like.”Today the Williamson County Fair continues to draw residents from Southern Illinois despite the competition of the DuQuoin State Fair and the mega-theme parks. The grandstand events still thrill young and old alike and the Saturday Championship Demo Derby is always sold out long before the first car takes to the track. Local residents bring their arts and crafts for cash prizes and of course bragging rights with the ribbons. Horsemen have enjoyed harness races on the same track for over a hundred years and on the east end of the grounds Western, Gaited, and Speed horse shows are well attended.
While most county fairs have long since closed and their fairgrounds are housing developments or shopping centers, Marion continues to host this annual event.