News Column

County fair to exhibit Olmsted history

July 19, 2014

By Brianna Jett, Post-Bulletin, Rochester, Minn.

July 19--This year's Olmsted County Fair will be offering not only fried dough and parades of livestock, but also a look into the past.

The fair, which starts Monday and runs through Sunday, will highlight historical exhibits that showcase the role the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration played during the 1930s and 1940s in developing Olmsted County during the Great Depression and the history of the fairgrounds.

There will be two historical exhibits set up on the balcony level of Floral Hall, featuring many artifacts and more than 100 photos.

"A number of people do come because they're very interested in what their grandfathers and great-uncles did," said Terry Leary, Olmsted County Fair board president.

Also, people are interested in what the Depression era was like, said Jane Bisel, co-owner of Blue Planet Museum Consulting, a Rochester firm that has worked on projects with the History Center of Olmsted County.

During the 1930s and 1940s, both the WPA and CCC brought much-needed work to locals. They improved parks and streets, built public works facilities and planted many of the trees still growing in the area.

The local fairgrounds served as a headquarters for the WPA, and was the focus of some of the CCC's work.

New this year, the fair will also hang banners from four buildings that were constructed by WPA workers. The banners will read "Graham Park Heritage Sites." The buildings include the fair board office, the beer garden, the blacksmith shop and Floral Hall. All four buildings were constructed by the WPA with stone retrieved from a quarry in southeast Rochester.

"Floral Hall actually started our interest in learning about the WPA," Bisel said.

Also new this year is the restored WPA blacksmith shop, which was used during the Great Depression. John Adams, with Tunnel Mill Blacksmith Shop, will be showcasing his talents and giving demonstrations at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday, and 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

Bisel said it has taken many years of work to reach this point with the historical exhibits and restorations and, with continued support, she hopes to expand the effort.

"It really is a labor of love," she said.

Leary agreed, and said there are plans to keep going.

"My next thing to do is work on a grant to restore the fair office," she said.


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Source: Post-Bulletin (Rochester, MN)

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