Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Shareholders vote to sell historic Blue Earth County Fairgrounds January 10, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:52 PM
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The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

This beef barn is representative of the many old buildings which grace the 154-year-old Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. The oak-covered fairgrounds sits along the Watonwan River in Garden City, Minnesota.

THE VOTE IS IN.

And if all goes as planned, the Blue Earth County Fair will move from an historic 154-year-old site in Garden City to within a two-mile radius of Mankato, 10 miles away.

Shareholders, during a special meeting Thursday evening, voted 175 in favor and 76 against to sell the long-time fairgrounds, according to an article in the Mankato Free Press. (Click here to read that story.) That sale authorization paves the way for possible construction of a new fairgrounds near Mankato, the county seat and county’s center of population.

For background on this story, click here and read my post, “Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.” Also click here to read an earlier post about my visit to the fairgrounds in July.

I am disappointed. Once an historic gem like this is lost, you can never replace it. Let’s hope, at least, that those old buildings can be saved.

And I wonder, too, whether simply moving the fair will increase attendance and push the fair out of debt.

This will be an interesting process, no matter what side of the issue you favor.

 

Deciding the future of the historic Blue Earth County fairgrounds January 8, 2014

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef and other barns are circled by aged oaks.

IN THE SHADE OF AGED OAKS sprawling along the banks of the Watonwan River in Garden City, agricultural buildings stretched long and lean as my husband and I drove through the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds on a July morning.

I was enamored with this charming and historic place, where buildings are labeled BEEF, SHEEP, POULTRY, FFA, 4-H EXHIBITS…

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

For 154 years, folks have come here each summer to celebrate the area’s agricultural roots.

But now this bucolic spot, which so charmed me during that brief drive-through this past July, may no longer serve as the site for Blue Earth County’s fair. The fair board is looking to move the fair within a two-mile radius of nearby Mankato, according to information on the fair website.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Thursday evening, Blue Earth County Fair Association shareholders meet at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato to discuss the future of the fair, supported in the past by rural sponsors like Crystal Valley Coop, Watonwan Farm Service and the Blue Earth County Farm Bureau.

Shareholders will vote, beginning at 6:20 p.m., on whether to sell the Garden City fairgrounds. I’m not privy to financial details but, according to a story in the Mankato Free Press, the fair has consistently lost money in recent years. The thought is that moving the fair nearer the county’s center of population (Mankato) and adding amenities will increase attendance and better tell the story of agriculture. Click here to read the document, BLUE EARTH COUNTY FAIR: GROUNDS FOR GROWTH.

I expect this membership meeting may be a heated one pitting historians and preservationists against those favoring change, and country folks against city residents. I might be wrong.

If you buy a $5 share, you can vote. Once. There’s no buying multiple shares for multiple votes. Shares are available for purchase yet today (from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. and from 5-7 p.m.) at Busters on Madison Avenue in Mankato. And shares will be sold before the meeting, from 4:45-5:45 p.m. Thursday.

The open class exhibit buildings.

Open class exhibit buildings.

I’m not fully-informed on all sides of the issue. Yet I do know this: When my husband and I wove our way through the fairgrounds in Garden City, I was impressed by the historic character, the nostalgic charm, the quaint old buildings in the beautiful natural setting and the fact that a place like this still exists. There is something to be said for that, for the time-honored tradition of this fair and the pastoral appeal of this land. It is, undeniably, a picturesque place along the Watonwan River, a lovely gathering spot for the generations who have come here each summer to celebrate rural life.

LET’S HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS on the future of the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds. How would you vote? Move the fair to a site closer to Mankato or keep it here, in Garden City?

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Stepping into yesteryear at the Blue Earth County fairgrounds August 1, 2013

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

Just inside the entry to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds.

PRIOR TO LAST FRIDAY, I’d never been to the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds, nor even to Garden City, the unincorporated community in which the fairgrounds is located. That would be south of Mankato, along the banks of the Watonwan River.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

Log cabins on the fairgrounds include this one from 1860 and a replica of an 1839 cabin.

What a delightful place—like a step back in time.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

The beef barn, shaded by an oak tree.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Space for chickens and ducks and geese and such poultry.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Always a fair favorite, the sheep.

Just look at these old-fashioned buildings and imagine the cattle, pigs, poultry and sheep trucked into this scenic spot for the annual showing of the best of the best.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand will be repaired before the fair.

I expect (hope) the 4-H food stand was repaired before the fair.

Imagine 4-Hers clutching coveted ribbons.

The open class exhibit buildings.

The open class exhibit buildings. Look at the splendid old doors on these structures.

Imagine the families and old folks, the neighbors and strangers mingling here to celebrate life in rural Minnesota.

Imagine the young lovers strolling the grounds.

My Aunt Marilyn remembers, more than 50 years ago, attending this fair on a weekday afternoon along with other Blue Earth County employees. “I suppose they don’t do that anymore,” she said.

I expect not, Marilyn.

 A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

A posting of fair sponsors just inside the front gate.

Today, August 1, through Saturday, August 3, you can experience this grassroots fair when gates open at the Blue Earth County Fairgrounds/Shady Oaks Campground in Garden City just off U.S. Highway 169.

CLICK HERE for detailed fair information and click here for info about the campground.

BONUS PHOTOS:

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

It seems every fairgrounds has an old school or church like this one.

An on-site beverage stand.

An on-site beverage stand.

The Future Farmers of America building.

The Future Farmers of America building.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling