Parke County Fair History - 1921 to 2007

The First Annual Parke County Fair was held on or around the Courthouse square during the week of September 20, 1921. The Fair was the outgrowth of an idea advanced by the livestock association of which Samuel Milligan was president; W.P. Flock, vice president; Fuller Huffman, secretary; with a board of directors composed of Harry McCabe, H.C. Price, Guy Collings, and County Agriculture Agent Meeks in an advisory capacity. The idea was instantly endorsed by Commercial Club and the American Legion. The fair was organized by the specific purpose of improving Parke County Agriculture with particular attention paid to rural youth.

The first Fair Book was thought to be a premium list with enough advertising to pay for its printing. It was to be a book of forty pages. The canvassers for advertising took so many orders for space the book grew to 132 pages. Many familiar and several unfamiliar Parke County farm families had ads featuring purebred livestock of various species and breeds. No entry or gate fees were charged, and with a few exceptions the entertainment was free. The Fair was unique among county fairs in that the exhibitors were limited to residents of Parke County or individuals owning Parke County farms. The American Legion was in charge of entertainment with the promise of a beautiful and captivating merry-go-round. The merry-go-round was located on the southwest corner of the square. There were exhibits in the Courthouse of the Women's and Girl's Departments plus the educational exhibits were located in the upstairs corridors. Thursday at the Fair was a big day. It included the judging of the hogs, the dairy cattle, the sheep, the poultry and the horse show. The swine exhibit was an exceptional one, with more than 100 head in one exhibit. Demonstrations were sent to Parke County from Purdue University which emphasized the application of science and economy in general farm methods. The Parke County Schools Superintendent, John H. Jollief, presented an exhibit regarding school problems of Parke County. The State Sanatorium also had a display on the second floor of the Courthouse. The Second Annual Parke County Fair was held September 12-16, 1922. It was one of the most successful ever held in Parke County. The Fair attendance was believed to be 10,000 to 15,000.

The 1931 Parke County Fair featured a variety of entertainment which included the Original Bull Smith's athletic show with boxers and wrestlers, Martin Fox's freak animal show featuring the smallest living cow, and Dr. A.C. Long's Hawaiian Village with steel guitars. Among the 54 entries in the annual Baby Show were winners 16 month old Bert Wimmer and 11 month old Norma Spaw. The Rockville Tribune commended Fair officials for successfully fighting the effects of the depression that had caused the failure of many small fairs all over the country.

History was made during the 1940 Parke County Fair. The recent years had seen a rapid growth in both boys and girls 4-H Club Departments. For the first time, the Fair Board asked that entries in all departments be made in advance. All entries were made at the County Agents Office.

The 1942 Parke County Fair was canceled due to the World War. A one day club exhibit was held at Beechwood Park. Approximately 400 boys and girls participated.

In 1943, the 22nd Parke County Fair was held as usual. The number of exhibits and participants were far below previous years. This was largely due to wartime conditions, gasoline rationing and the labor shortage on the farm. There were no new cars or farm implements at the Fair. It was observed that Parke County may look forward to a bigger Fair when victory again brings more normal conditions. The grand parade of livestock and township floats was always a big Thursday night feature of the Fair. The 1943 1st place float went to Greene Township which carried the slogan “Food for Victory.”

The longest parade in Fair history occurred in 1949. Management was perfect, except for a few cattle that balked causing a slight delay. State Trooper Max Webb cleared the way for the procession which started at the Parke Hotel Corner and moved around the square. He was followed by Dr. Harold Koenig, riding his famous Palomino horse.

The 32nd Annual Parke County Fair was the last County Fair to be held on the Courthouse square. Highlights that year included the parade of township floats, Farm Machinery Day and the Pet Parade under the sponsorship of the Fellenzer Post, American Legion. An electrical storm ushered in the 33rd Parke County Fair beginning on August 12, 1954. This year's Fair was moved to its current location 2 miles north of Rockville, where there was ample space to display the livestock, commercial exhibits, 4-H departments, rides, concessions and other attractions.

The new Fair program called for the erection of several buildings, but time permitted only one that year. The new building housed 4-H projects, displays by the Home Economics Clubs, Domestic Arts Displays and the Fair Office which was located in the southeast corner. Today, that first building is known as the swine barn. A week before the Fair, several local residents made short work of painting the new building. Those workers were Aarol Jacks, Lawrence Bradburn, Clyde Shockley, Lloyd Grimes, Burton Lee, Russell Garrigus, and Robert Hill. Morris Shaffer helped roof the swine barn with wooden shingles. Cattle were housed in a large tent located northeast of the new building. The Fair Board provided free bus service to and from the Fairgrounds for those without transportation. Miss Pat Ames of Florida Township was named Parke County Fair Queen. Apparently, this 1954 contest was the first Fair Queen Contest to be held. It was conducted by the Parke County Rural Youth Club as a money raising project to help finance the new Fair program.

A new large building was added to the Fairgrounds in 1955. The Pavilion or Cow Palace provided ample room for a judging arena, as well as seating capacity for the audience. A new road from the west leading to the Fairgrounds proved to be invaluable in relieving traffic congestion. Miss Parke County went to Mary Jo Hinshaw of Washington Township.

In 1956 the Cattle Barn was added, and in 1957, the Women's Building or 4-H Community Building. The construction of the 4-H Building allowed for more room for livestock exhibits in the shed located on either side of the arena. An addition to the 4-H Building housing the kitchen, office and storage was added in 1958.

The 39th Parke County Fair was held August 1-13, 1960. This was the first year for the 4-H Horse and Pony project, new stalls were built at the south end of the cattle barn. The west half of the horse barn was added a year or so later. Joining the Fair Board as assistant Secretary was Ivan Overpeck of rural Rockville. Previously, Ivan had been the Assistant Swine Superintendent in 1958-59. The 1962 Fair saw a change in the Queen Pageant. Previously, the winner was chosen by fair goers for a penny per vote. Miss Emma Mendenhall was chosen by a group of judges and was eligible for State Fair competition.

In 1963, Ivan Overpeck was promoted to the office of the Secretary of the Parke County Fair Board, a position which he held until 2005. The Commercial building was added in 1974 which replaced the Industrial Tent. The County Commissioners donated the building through a Federal revenue sharing program. It also served as a meeting place for the Parke County Band until it's disbandment in 1994. Greg Bryant began working at the Fairgrounds in 1974 as a temporary summer employee while in college. The 2007 Parke County Fair will be his 34th as head caretaker for the Fairgrounds.

The 1976 Parke County Fair had a special visit from the Balloon for the Indiana State Fair balloon race. Made in England, the balloon was 50 feet in diameter and held 2,000 pounds of hot air.

Dee Smith of rural Rockville became the first woman to serve as Fair Board President in 1983-1984.

During 1986 a new Extension Office Building was constructed by the Parke-Vermillion Vocational Building Trades students and the office moved from the lower level of the Post Office in Rockville to the Fairgrounds in March. The 4-H Junior Leaders also built a two story building between the horse arena and pull strip to serve as a refreshment stand and press/announcer box.

The Sheep and Goat Barn was added in 1987 and a concrete floor put in the Swine Barn in 1988. Louanna Bartlett became the first Parke County Fair Queen to be named Indiana State Fair Queen in 1989.

County Extension Director, George Waltz, retired at the end of 1990 following over 27 years of service to Parke County.

The 75th Anniversary Fair in 1995 saw a special celebration with fireworks, a 1920's type style show and a concert by Indiana native and country music star Janie Fricke.

Over 1000 youths participated in 4-H during 1997 with over 3000 exhibits at the Parke County Fair.

A complete renovation of the outside arena was completed in 1999. It included construction of a new demolition derby arena, announcer stand for it along with a new chain link fence around the perimeter and vinyl fencing for the 4-H Horse Show Arena.

Several new 4-H projects were added in the 1980's and 1990's. These have included computers, aerospace/rocketry, consumer clothing, cats, little critters/pocket pets, goats, microwave cooking, collections, Mini 4-H, clogging, cake decorating and gift wrapping.

The Fairgrounds saw two major construction projects finished in 2000-2001. The old shower house was removed and a new larger comfort station/shower house with fully accessible facilities was built in its place. It has both public facilities and a private 4-H livestock exhibitor section in the building. The major funding for the comfort station comes from Lilly Endowment, the Parke County Community Foundation and the Build Indiana Fund. In addition, a new force main sanitary sewer line into the Town of Rockville was installed to handle the Fairgrounds waste water. Build Indiana Funds were provided for this project.

In 2001 the Fair Board added seating for over 700 with new aluminum bleachers for the outside arena. Extension Educator, Alice Sink, retired after over 30 years of service to Parke County.

The 2002 Fair featured the 4-H Centennial celebration and completed construction of two additions to the Sheep/Goat Barn to provide more pen space and a show arena. Alice Alderson worked her first Parke County Fair as a new Extension Educator. Three of Parke County’s most senior 4-H Alumni were honored as part of the 4-H Centennial Celebration. They included: Mary Catharine Graves, Virginia McCampbell and Gretchen Norton who were all 4-H’ers in the early 1920’s.

The 2003 Fair included a new carnival for the first time in over 20 years, and the retirement recognition of Alan Ader following over 23 years as a 4-H Educator in Parke County.

The 2004 Parke County 4-H Fair began their year by celebrating the 100th year of 4-H in Indiana. In addition, the new 4-H Poultry and Rabbit Barn was built and was enjoyed by its new occupants in 2004. Jeff Pell joined the Extension staff as 4-H and Youth Educator, and Mark Spelbring changed roles to County Extension Director before the 2004 Fair.

The 2005 Fair brought a popular new ATV Drags event to the last Saturday night. The illness and passing of Ivan Overpeck during the fair brought sadness, and appreciation for his dedicated service as Fair Board Secretary for over 40 years.

In 2006, a Fish Fry was held the first Saturday and Channel 2 TV broadcast the news from the fair.

The 2007 Fair held the first ever Parke County Fair ATV and Mud Bog.
The Parke County 4-H Fair continues with no charge for admission or parking, and is considered to be one of the best fairs in Western Indiana.