The present Macoupin County Fair and Agricultural Association is the direct descendant of the Agricultural, Horticultural and Mechanical Association of Macoupin County, which held its first “meet” on the Carlinville public square in 1852, consisting of a few horses, oxen, cows and some butter. Major Lofton was the first president of the association and Kim Carney Rhodes, a third generation board member, serves as the current president. After the first fair the next two succeeding fairs were held in Captian Welton’s pasture west of the city, with more articles exhibited. The next fair was held on the grounds now known as the late residence of Major B.T. Burke.
By 1860, the old association had acquired a permanent site of 22 acres at the northwest corner of Carlinville, through the efforts of Captian Welton canvassing the county asking for subscriptions of $25.00 and they purchased land from Jarrett Dugger. John Tunnell was the first Secretary for eight or nine years, and executive officers for the association for 1879 were : Geroge Castle, President; John Carr, Vice President; B.P. McDaniel, Secretary; J.B. Liston, Teasurer. Directors included C.T Prouty, B.H. Dorsey, Thomas A. Jones, G.M. Chedister, Robert Horton, R.O. Wood, D.C Macknett, John Hounsley, R.P. Miller, and William M. Chiles.
With occasional interruptions the fair was an annual event through 1929. It failed to survive the crash of ’29 and for eight years of the depression, there was no fair in Macoupin County.
In 1938, a dedicated group of rural and urban residents organized a new fair board and the fair was revived in downtown Carlinville. The old grounds had been lost, so the revived fair staked its tents on the vacant lots on West Main Street on Bates Parking Lot. In following years, the fair occupied a vacant field near the Carlinville High School, the Wilson property, then moved to the American Legion Home grounds after three years. There were no art halls or grandstand shows in those days; only a carnival and 4-H and open class livestock.
For a few years, the fair was held in Palmyra’s Terry Park, but the need for a permanent home was urgently felt. The current fairgrounds was leased from Macoupin County beginning in 1951. With a permanent home the 4-day fair began to grow. After so many activities were added two additional days were put into the schedule to accommodate and the fair became a 6-day event.
From 1951 to 1953 the race track was constructed at the Grandstand. Macoupin County is one of the few fairs in the area that still hosts harness racing during the annual fair. 1954 saw the fair host it’s first Tractor Pull and they have now become a staple for fairgoers both young and old.
In 1959 the fair hosted the first Miss Macoupin County Fair Queen competition. Donna Sarginson was named as the first Miss and she went on to represent Macoupin at the Miss Illinois County Fair Queen Pageant where she won the title.
In 1968, Porter Wagoner was the first big name act to play the Grandstand. Since that time some of the bigger names playing the stage at the fairgrounds have included Charley Pride, Marty Robbins, Connie Smith, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Charlie Daniels, Garth Brooks, Sammy Kershaw, The Oakridge Boys, Alan Jackson, Tanya Tucker and Aaron Tippin.
The Macoupin County Food Festival was begun in 1977 and still serves some of the best foods on the fairgrounds. Catering to both the exhibitors for breakfast in the barns and guests for lunch and dinner.
Many locals will remember the summer of 1987 when the Carlinville Fire Department responded to the fairgrounds shortly after the close of the fair for a fire in one of the north horse barns. The fire subsequently destroyed the structure. In the spring of 2002 the original 1954 Grandstand was decommissioned. It was a sad day for many of the Directors and members of the board but also for the community as a whole. The resilience of the Macoupin County Fair shown through though. The 1954 Grandstand was razed and within a few weeks time the current Grandstand was built on the same site and made it’s inaugural run in the 2003 fair.
The Director’s, Officers, Superintendents and Staff of the Macoupin County Fair and Agricultural Association work year round to provide a fun and exciting week of events. There are always maintenance items to do and projects to plan. The Fair is a 12-month planning process that takes much time and effort. The Board of Director’s believes that its Mission is sound and that from the Fair’s history its future will be shaped.