‘It’s like pirate’s gold’
Cleaning out the attic can sometimes produce some big dividends. Or, at least in the case of the Steele County Free Fair, pirate’s gold.
As members of the fair’s maintenance crew began renovating the bathrooms in the Beer Garden, they made a discovery that has the fair’s historians gleaming. They came across a dozen boxes of documents that are almost a century old. Perhaps it brings new meaning to the fair’s theme, “A Century Scene in 2018.”
“It’s like pirate’s gold,” said Nancy Vallancourt, superintendent of the fair’s museum. “It’s cool to think it was from 100 years ago.”
Vallancourt’s task in the coming weeks will be to sift through the dirty and dusty boxes to see just exactly what’s all contained inside. She is planning to pull a cross section of items to put on display in the fair’s museum just in time for next month’s fair.
“I have a display case,” Vallancourt said. “I would like to pick out things that would interest people. We’ll have some new old things,” she added.
One of the cases found in the discovery was a tin Library Election Ballot Box believed to be from an election at the turn of the century. According to Vallencourt, Owatonna residents voted on establishing a library in 1898, which passed by a 90 percent margin. “The library passed even though it raised taxes a little bit,” she said.
Fair manager Scott Kozelka was having his own fun peeling through the boxes last week. “If some of these could talk,” he said. “You open up the first box and think of all the history on the grounds for 100 years.”
Kozelka immediately thought of Sharon Stark, a staff member who recently died after working at the fair for more than 50 years. “It’s too bad Sharon is gone,” he said, adding she would have known about many of the items found in the boxes.
As he looked through the items, Kozelka found the receipt for the Royal American carnival show from 1929. The fair paid Royal American $1,399 for the carnival rides in that year.
“Look at the great penmanship on these,” Kozelka said holding up some of the receipts.
Another interesting voucher Kozelka found was the fair’s insurance coverage from 1923 when the fair paid $54 to Deerfield Farmers Mutual Fire Insurance Co. for all the buildings on the grounds. Today, the fair pays out $40,000 in insurance.
Kozelka came across payroll records from 1920 showing fair employees worked 1,076 hours at 20 cents per hour for a total of $215.40.
Yet another fun find was a package of receipts from area newspapers for advertising. Some of them included Waterville Advance, West Concord Enterprise, Blooming Prairie Times, Waseca Journal Radical, Waseca Herald, Dodge Center Star. Ellendale Eagle, Faribault Pilot, Hayfield Herald, Northfield News and New Richland Star. Many of those publications no longer exist or have changed names.
In 1920, the fair spent $15.84 for advertising with the Blooming Prairie Times.
The fair secretaries (now referred to as fair managers) during the time period of the documents were M.J. Parcher from 1918-1927 and C.A. Tincher from 1928-1944.
According to Vicky Deml, one of the fair’s current office secretaries, the fair’s office used to be in the Beer Garden from April to October for many years before moving to the present location. “That was their storage,” she said.
“It’s history of our community, our county and our fair,” Kozelka said. “If things could only talk.”