Should the state fair return to Fallon

Did you know that Fallon was once the site of the Nevada State Fair?

Why not consider bringing it back here?

The fair had two long runs in Reno, but financial problems subsequently caused Reno to close down the annual event each time.

Carson City now wants to bring it back to life. Maybe Fallon also should throw its hat in the ring.

The State Fair was founded in Reno in 1874 when Ulysses S. Grant was in his second term as the nation’s 18th president, but it was forced to leave Reno in 1915 because of mounting debt.

When Reno announced it was giving up the fair, the Legislature began to consider where to relocate it.

Because of political pressure brought upon then-Churchill County State Senator William A. Keddie, the son-in-law of Warren W. Williams, a founder of Fallon and himself a former state senator (Fallon streets are named after both men), legislators said they would approve Fallon as the fair’s new site if Sen. Keddie would vote yes on a hotly-debated bill which would legalize Nevada “quickie” six-week divorces. Keddie approved the measure, it became law, and the fair was moved to Fallon in 1915.

But, alas, it lasted here only four years after Fallon, like Reno, began a downward spiral into red ink.

In 1919, the fair returned to Reno where it remained until 2011 when financial difficulties caused it to close down for a second time.

During its short stay in Fallon, the fair was held at the old Churchill County Fairgrounds on the north side of Williams Avenue where the Safeway market and the city’s first Walmart now stand.

While here, the fair’s theme and exhibits emphasized the importance of the just-completed Lahontan Dam in storing water for Northern Nevada and the county’s rapidly-expanding agricultural presence. The city also built an enormous “Hay Palace” at the southeast corner of Maine and Center streets which measured 60 feet by 60 feet and was constructed of alfalfa bales held together with wooden boards. Used for dances, parties and other social events, the Hay Palace also hosted the coronations of the state fair’s king and queen and their courts, according to David W. Toll, author of the “Compleat Nevada Traveler.”

The Hay Palace, like the old fairgrounds, is also long-gone, and the county’s spacious and attractive new fairgrounds south of town now hosts rodeos, local fairs, the annual Cantaloupe Festival and other major events.

When the fair was held here in the early 1900s, the city’s downtown business section was concentrated on one block of south Maine St., early-day Fallon founder and local historian G.F. “Kelly” Engle wrote in “Nevada Towns and Tales.”

“Maine Street was wide and dusty, unpaved and bordered on its west side with an almost unbroken row of saloons, broken only by a meat market and one or two small stores.

“All the principal stores were on the opposite side of the street, the usual assortment found in a small western town.

“There was only one saloon of the east side, the Hub, which was poorly patronized and stood out like a maverick, separated from saloon row across the street.

“The early morning water wagon sprinkled back and forth to settle the deep dust on Maine Street, the freight wagons would lumber through town with freight for the mines, and the early morning arrivals from farms would hitch their horses to their wagons in the large lot behind Kent’s store,” Engle wrote.

Today, 94 years after the Nevada State Fair left Fallon and two years following its second demise in Reno, plans are being discussed in Carson to bring it back to life at Fuji Park south of town.

Nevada in 2013 is one of only two states (the other is Michigan) that does currently has no state fair. That is a pity. Every state should have a state fair! Should Fallon also make a pitch for the fair?

David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.


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