Leavenworth County Fair going strong after 90 years
It’s been 90 years since the first installment of the Leavenworth County Fair.
The first year, 1926, was a celebration of a bumper crop of corn in downtown Tonganoxie, and the next year it was corn and apples. The event officially was known as the Leavenworth County Fair in 1928 and in 1938 moved from downtown to its current site along Kansas Highway 16 at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds.
For fair board president Mike Johnson, the event has been a part of his life for more than 50 years.
“I started 4-H in 1964, so a day or two,” Johnson said with a laugh. His family has been a part of Glenwood 4-H Club for generations.
Johnson recalled how the fair has changed through the years, noting it’s become a more urbanized event. There still are a number of livestock entries every year, but with them have come rocketry, photography and others.
“Farm implement dealers brought tractors up with plows behind them,” Johnson said about fairs in the 1960s and 1970s. “Now, you don’t really have any of that at the fair.”
Since then, open class exhibits such as cooking and sewing have become bigger.
This year’s fair runs July 26-30 at the fairgrounds in Tonganoxie.
Festivities begin with an opening ceremony at noon July 26, with Tonganoxie VFW Post 9271 presenting colors and the Tonganoxie High School Band performing.
The first major event of fair week actually is in downtown Tonganoxie with the annual fair parade. This year’s theme is Decades of Horsepower.
Other highlights of the fair in the evenings are the Draft Horse Pull at 8 p.m. July 26 at the grandstand, singer David Patton performing at 7 and 9 p.m July 27 under the Big Top, the horse show at 6 p.m. Thursday in the horse arena and the garden tractor pull at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the grandstand.
On Friday, Senior Day at the Fair runs from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. under the Big Top and throughout the fairgrounds, while pie baking contest judging starts at 1 p.m. in the administration building. The 50th annual livestock auction starts at 6:30 p.m. in the show arena, and the Tuff Truck competition begins at 7:30 p.m. in the grandstand.
On the final day of the fair, July 30, the mud run opens at noon near the Tonganoxie Recreation Commission ball fields, turtle races start at 1 p.m. under the Big Top, the Kids’ Pedal Tractor Pull is at 3 p.m. in the show arena and a youth dance kicks off at 6:30 p.m. in the show arena. The Bull Bash starts at 7:30 p.m. in the grandstand area.
A petting zoo, pony rides, games, concessions and carnival rides — including unlimited rides available for $22 each night — are nightly attractions.
During every day of the five-day event, 4-H/FFA and open class exhibits and commercial exhibits will be available to the public.
Johnson said the Tuff Stuff competition was a new attraction for this year’s fair.
Trucks will make their way through the grandstand arena course, but all-terrain vehicles and other four-wheel variations will race through the course. A monster truck will make an appearance at the competition also.
Parking is $4 and a free shuttle service will run from 6 to 8:30 p.m. each day.
The fair has had its share of changes since 1926, but it has grown to be a big annual attraction in Tonganoxie.
Like other aspects of the event, food offerings have changed through the years.
Johnson recalled that years ago a group took milk from the dairy cows shown at the fair and eggs from the chickens to help make ice cream that was sold as a fundraiser during the fair.
The ice cream at this year’s fair won’t be quite the farm-to-table version of years past, but several food options are available at the fairgrounds’ food court and nearby food buildings.