By TIM ALEXANDER
HENRY, Ill. — It came a year late due to an international pandemic, but the Marshall-Putnam (MP) County Fair Association was finally able to recognize the 100th anniversary of the MP Fair; but not without facing a set of new challenges. Due to the condition of the horse arena, the western pleasure horse show scheduled for July 17 was canceled. In addition, the heavy rains that washed through the central Illinois River valley threatened to spoil the Tracy Byrd concert and Family Fun Night.
But in the end most of the fair’s big events, such as the Lucas Oil Pro Pulling League “America’s Pull” and the popular Demolition Derby, came off unscathed by the weather, providing a much-needed escape for the 20,000-plus fair attendees, most of whom hailed from surrounding rural communities. Other top fair attractions included the livestock shows, harness racing and a special appearance by the Budweiser Clydesdales.
Michelle Monier is a fair director, co-treasurer and third generation fair board member whose family’s service to the MP Fair stretches back nearly to 1921, the fair’s original year. Monier noted that a lot has changed in agriculture since her grandparents helped organize the early expositions.
“If there were any farm accessories on the grounds they were probably looking at F-20 Farmall tractors with the iron wheels, and there was a team of Persian horses that would come, and likely some steam threshing equipment,” she said. The 2021 MP Fair, in contrast, allowed space for area implement dealers offering John Deere, CASE and other companies to display the latest, biggest and most technologically advanced tractors, combines, mowers and sprayers money can buy.
Monier also recalled another handed-down memory of the fair’s history: “The grandstand and the horse barn that we finally tore down (and replaced) this spring, along with another building, were actually moved from the El Paso (Illinois) Fair years ago, in 1931. They had six trucks that they moved the buildings after disassembling the buildings in El Paso.
“The drivers were strapped into the trucks and the poles were tied to the outside of their trucks, and they caravaned over. People were here to help unload the trucks and put the buildings and the grandstand together. I remember my dad telling me the drivers had to go through the windows to get out of the trucks.”
Monier devoted a lot of time at this year’s fair towards interacting with locals, along with more than a few families who made special trips from out of state to help celebrate the fair’s 100th anniversary. “I spoke with a family from Mineral Point, Wis., and others from Oklahoma and Indiana who made the fair part of their family reunion,” she said. “It’s a safe, family friendly atmosphere here.”
The atmosphere at the MP Fair has been a part of Monier’s life since the age of 6 months, when her parents brought their infant daughter to the fair for the first time. Her earliest memories of the fair are of attending the harness races. “It’s in my family’s blood,” she said of trotters.
“But overall, my favorite part of the fair is the fair family. The volunteers and the directors make the fair special. We have a family who comes back from Florida every year with their children because she grew up here as an exhibitor at the fair, and her father was on the fair board. She wants her young children to know what the fair is like and what it is like to be a part of a community agricultural fair.”
For more information on the Marshall Putnam Fair, visit www.marshallputnamfair.org.