HISTORY OF THE
BRANCH COUNTY FAIR
The present 4-H Fair is the result of many years of growth and development of the 4-H Club work in Branch County. Over 90 years ago, the old fair was dissolved and the buildings and grounds at the North Coldwater City limits were sold. Since that time there have been agricultural exhibits of various kinds throughout Branch County. Years ago there were Corn Schools at various Grange Halls. The 4-H Clubs and other interested farm organizations for several years held a fair at the Unity Grange Hall in Bethel Township. For several years exhibits were held on the streets of Coldwater and in the Coldwater Armory. In 1929 there was no fair or exhibits of any kind. In 1930, a small 4-H Club Fair was held at the Coldwater Grange Hall, which consisted of, 32 head of livestock and 30 canning club members. In 1931, there was more livestock to be exhibited and the fair was held at the Coldwater State Home and Training School in various barns and garages. In 1932, the 4-H Clubs cooperated with the Coldwater Chamber of Commerce and held their exhibits in a garage on Hudson Street. In 1933 and 1934, the exhibits of livestock were made in tents on the parking lot of West Pearl Street. Canning handicraft and clothing were shown in churches and store windows. In 1935, the tents were located on the new parking lot on North Hanchett Street and the same arrangement prevailed with other exhibits. The Junior Chamber of Commerce in Coldwater took a very active interest in the fair during these years. In 1936, the 4-H Fair was held in connection with the Centennial Celebration. Four large tents were necessary to house the livestock and this was done at the Waterworks Park. Other exhibits were again scattered through the business sections of Coldwater. The Centennial Celebration featured a mammoth pageant and numerous parades.
At the fair in 1936, the idea was brought forth that perhaps it would be possible to purchase a small acreage of land and build a few buildings in which to show the livestock in the future. The board of directors of the Branch County Agricultural and Industrial Society, which was organized in 1936, and the 1937 board followed this suggestion and began negotiations for the establishment of a more permanent home for these exhibits in the future. Land was purchased of Mrs. Ethel Wolf and Mrs. Amanda Zimmerman. There was an area of about nine acres in tract. An additional acre of land was also purchased from Stanley Wedge. This land is located south of the Waterworks Park along the banks of the Coldwater River, and area lying east of Bennett Street extended. Five new buildings were built in 1937, three being 26 x 100, a fourth 30 x 100, and a fifth was 36 x 100 ft. Two new buildings, one 32 x 120 ft. and the other 30 x 100 ft. were constructed and five additional acres of ground were purchased in 1938. Another five acres was added in 1945. Six acres were added and a new horse barn was built in 1946. In 1948, another 10 acres of land was purchased from Stanley Wedge and a 30 x 100 ft. building erected to replace one lost by fire in 1947. In 1951, the 4-H Cabin was built on the east end of the Fairgrounds near the Sprague Street entrance. In 1955, a 30 x 100 ft. exhibit building was erected.
In 1960, a 60 x 120 ft. pole livestock building and in 1962, a 40 x 120 ft. pole-type home economics building were erected. Also in 1962, the parking facilities were increased and the amphitheater was cleared and enlarged.
In 1964, restrooms were added near the west end of the Merchants Building with showers and hot and cold running water. In 1968, a Horse Barn, 45 x 112 ft. was built to accommodate 112 head of horses. In 1969, a 60 x 60 ft. Show Shelter to be used for judging and showing of all livestock was constructed.
In 1970, a 30 x 100 ft. building was built with 30 x 60 ft. to be used for Barnyard Children exhibits and currently houses the small animals and the remainder for Fair storage. Also, a pole-constructed covered Horse Wash Rack and a Concession Stand for the Amphitheater was constructed.
In 1971, four acres were purchased on the adjoining southwest corner of the Fairgrounds, known as the Jailor property.
In 1972, six acres of land was purchased on the northeast corner of the Fairgrounds, from Carroll Shoop, formerly the Stanley Wedge property, making a total of 59 acres.
A new entrance was established in 1973 at the northeast corner of the grounds next to the river. Also, a 26 x 40 ft. addition to the sheep barn which was converted to house swine. A cover was also built over the square dance platform.
In 1974 considerable improvements were made to the pulling track in the Amphitheater. A scale house was erected and scales installed, as well as a new fence around the amphitheater and new planks on the bleachers.
In 1975 an unloading dock for tractors, horse pullers, etc. was constructed at the west end of the Amphitheater. Also a new horse arena fence and more horse stalls were added. Considerable money was put into updating the electrical system. Restrooms and wash racks were built on the east side in 1976.
In 1977 six quartz lights were installed in the Amphitheater as well as a chain link fence between the pulling track and the audience. Hard surface floors were put in the rabbit and poultry building and the square dance shelter. The old tool shed next to the Fair Office was remodeled for a Press Office and is now used as the Manager’s Office.
In 1978, 3.5 acres was purchased from Raymond C. Yeager. This is located at the southwest corner of the Fairgrounds, making a total of 62.5 acres. Also constructed were a 40 x 80 ft. sheep barn and a 55 x 100 ft. commercial exhibit building called Schlubatis Hall. The high-tension power line was relocated.
In 1979, a 40 x 60 ft addition to the east end of the Home Ec. Building was completed.
In 1980, shower additions were made to the restrooms on the east side. Also, a cement slab measuring 26 x 70 ft. was put down for a new hog barn to be erected on in the future.
In 1982, 1.9 acres of land on the southeast corner of the fairgrounds, better known as the Quimby property, was purchased, making a total of 64.4 acres.
1984 was a busy year for the fair with two buildings being constructed. The Chapin Swine Barn was built on the concrete slab put down in 1980, which was enlarged to make the building 30 x 112 ft. This building was built from contributions from the Chapin family, in memory of Ward Chapin, who was swine superintendent for many years and from contributions from the generous people of Branch County and the surrounding area.
The new 14 x 38 ft. milking parlor was also built in 1984. A large sum of money came from the milk products sold at auction at the Fair the past four years and from contributions from various people, organizations, and businesses.
The H.E. Pierce Hall measuring 120 x 55 ft. was built in 1986, and was finished just in time to house commercial exhibits at the 1986 Fair. Harold Pierce, a member of the first Fair Board and a long-time supporter of the Fair, was a major contributor to this building along with numerous other individuals and businesses.
In 1987, an addition to the sheep barn and a new entry booth at the horse arena were built.
In 1988, an addition to the show shelter was built on the west side and bleachers were added so people watching the shows in the show shelter could be out of the rain and hot sun. Also added in 1988 was a picture taking area which is located at the north end of the show shelter. The picture taking area was built from grant money from the Michigan Rehabilitation Association, applied for by the Fair Association, and the FFA Chapters from Bronson, Branch Area Careers Center and Quincy. There was also considerable work done on the water lines in 1988.
In 1989 a shelter for spectators was built at the horse area with donated labor and materials. Also, in 1989 the Ball Diamond was moved to the South side of the grounds.
In 1990 the Barnyard Children's Barn was built for the use of Mother animals and their babies, also for the 4-H Branch Buds. The funding for the barn came from the Michigan Rural Rehabilitation Corporation, Phase 1 from the State and the memorial fund of Linda Preston. The building was donated in memory of Linda Preston along with Mike Jepson, of Jepson Electric, Gearld Marsh who was the contractor and the Michigan Rural Rehabilitation Corporation.
In 1990 Horseshoe pitching courts were added. There are 6 courts and lights available for use at night.
In 1991, .8 tenths of an acre was made available to the Fair by the Branch County Commissioners. Fence was put on the Southeast side from Sprague Street to Garfield.
The 4-H Cabin was improved with new paneling and floor tile so that it is much nicer for clubs and others to use year round.
1992 was a very important year for the Fairboard as of 1992 the Fair would no longer be considered a free Fair. It was unanimously decided by the board to go to a paid gate. Board members and volunteers came in many times to help clear out the old fence so a new six foot fence could be put up.
In 1993, the Association purchased 3 acres on the southwest corner. This was the last available ground connected with the existing land owned by the association. With the help from Jr. Livestock an addition was added on the east side to help cover the spectators. A volleyball court was put in at the west end of the grounds.
Sanford Hall became one of the major projects for the Fair Association to do in 1994. The old East Hall was torn down and a new 40’ by 120’ building was built with the help of many donations from the community. It was named Sanford Hall in honor of Leland Sanford.
In 1995, no new buildings were constructed, but in the old hog barn the pens were torn out and replaced with new steel pens. Gates for the show shelter were also purchased. This was done with donations; again the community came through with help.
Before the 1996 fair started all the buildings had new signs placed on them. This was part of the Signage Program done by the Department of Ag. The Barnyard Children Barn received a new cement floor before the fair. After the fair, a cement floor was put in the sheep barn. The Horse Symposium helped in making it possible for more seating at the horse arena and painted the horse barns.
In 1997, construction of weighing and handling facility was put in for the swine barn, this also is used to display the Supreme Champion market swine. Ridge vents were added to the beef and sheep barn. The poultry barn was given additional room when a new building was constructed for storing the fair equipment.
In 1998 The Dearth Community Center was completed. This building which will seat 500 people at round tables and over 800 with an auditorium seating. With 14,635 square feet, the Dearth Center will be used for many events. The Branch County Community made this available by donations and in kind services. The original donation came from the Dearth family. Along with this improvement on the grounds the Dairy people added to their wash rack and the building behind the 4-H Cabin was converted to an electrical building.
In the year of 1999 the Horse barns were converted over to all box stalls. The sheep barn added fans for better ventilation and the major project was working the Branch County Conservation District on saving the river bank from washing away any more soil from the fair property. This project meant taking out fence and replacing it with new fencing and filling in the water way so that it would not wash away. The youth projects continue to grow and we had to add more tie rail for beef.
The year 2000 was a year of repairs around the grounds. New planks were put on the bleachers in the amphitheater, gates were rebuilt for the east end of the amphitheater, manure bunks were reinforced, beef wash rack was added on and a new 4-H Cabin roof was put on.
Painting roofs on the show arena, scale house, square dance building and one of the dairy barns was one of the major repairs in 2001. Burton Hall and dairy barn sidewalls also got painted. The Merchant building received a new floor for support on the south side and the north side was sided on the outside. The campgrounds added 44 more camp sites with hook up to water, sewer and electric south of the 4-H Cabin. The old sheriff’s building was moved to the north and the fair board directors used it for meetings at noon during fair week. Fence along southeast side of the amphitheater was replaced. Between Home Ec. and Sanford Hall an area is being improved for a stage act during fair week. In December there was 14 trees planted along the main drive and up around other parts of the grounds, this was done with the youth from the Branch Area Careers Center Ag Department.
Connecting to the city water lines was the major accomplishment for the Fair in the year of 2002. Along with painting the Home Ec. Building and other buildings in need of upkeep. The amphitheater fence was reconstructed so people could exit after the events safer.
In the fall of 2003 a new year around fair office was started and finished for the 2004 season. In 2004, the Fair had its first permanent office located on the fairgrounds. This was a big move for the board but a donation from Lucille Dearth made the decision for them to go ahead and build the new office with a full basement for storage. Also, in 2004 more buildings were made handicap accessible .
In 2005, a gift for building an Antique Barn for antique farm displays was received. The barn will be built in 2006.
Honeywell Hall was opened in 2006 for the first year showing many farm antiques from local donors. Mable Honeywell made this possible with her monetary donation and along with the fair association working together. The other improvement for building was that Charlie and Ellen Bates made it possible for the fair to put up a barn for the Sheriff Posse to use. This barn has 16 stalls and will be used for housing the posse horses as well as during horse shows it will be a great improvement. Asphalt was poured on the west side of the commercial building to make for a better walk way.
In 2007 another addition to the fair was made possible thru the memorial presented to the fair in memory of Lloyd and Vera Luce. Their daughter and son-in-law (Joyce and Larry Fraser) made a generous donation to improve the 4-H Cabin and added a Pavilion connecting with the cabin. They also made it possible with a poured section to measure tractors at the tractor pulls, also an additional amount was presented to add more water and electric to the campgrounds.
The Fair association also purchased the property at 244 Sprague St. This will make more available room for parking and additional space if needed for building in the livestock area.
In 2008 the building at 244 Sprague Street was torn down to make more room for the Livestock area. Electric and Water was made available for 16 more campsites on the south side of the Fairground Drive. One of the major announcements from the Fair Board was that they are going forward with plans for a new Grandstand. This project will be a big challenge for the Association.
In 2009, painting was done on the inside of the Home Ec Building and the outside of the West Rest Room. The Dearth Community Center’s parking lot was resurfaced along with some of the roads on the grounds. A 16’ x 25’ addition was built on the South End of the Jr. Livestock Office in the Show Shelter to make it easier for all that are involved with the animal sale. We also added a 15’ x 20’ cement slab on the South Side of the Home Ec Building for free entertainment to use during Fair. The State of Michigan cut all premium money from Fairs and the Lucille Dearth Trust Fund made it possible for Branch County 4-H Fair to pay full premiums to all Exhibitors.
4-H Club work is part of the Extension Service Program of Michigan State University. The funds for the program are provided by Federal, State, and County units of government. County funds for operation of the local office are provided by the Branch County Board of Commissioners. At present there are over 1400 young people enrolled in 4-H Club projects in Branch County.
Extension work was established through several acts of Congress, among them being the Smith-Lever Act, the Capper-Ketchem Act and the Bankhead-Jones Act. The first extension work in Branch County was under the direction of Julius W. Chapin, who started his work in Branch County on March 1, 1914, and continued until August 1, 1916. Work was then carried on by C.L. Nash, who was in Branch County until August 1, 1923. Mrs. C.W. Andrews was here from the time Mr. Nash left until February 1, 1929. Gordon R. Schlubatis started his work in Branch County on February 1, 1929. He was in India for two years on Point 4 in 1952 and 1953. The work was then done by Duncan Leitch. In December, 1956, Mr. Schlubatis accepted a two-year appointment to Kenya, East Africa. At this time, Boyd Wiggins was named County Agricultural Agent and later County Extension Director. In 1956, he accepted an appointment in Nigeria. At this time, Paul Thompson was appointed to fill the position. In 1980, Paul Thompson was appointed Regional Extension Supervisor and Ray Fast was appointed to fill the position. In 1994 Ray Fast was appointed to a technology position for MSU and Marie Ruemenapp was appointed County Extension Director. In 1968, Dale Brown started to work in the Branch County Extension Office as Area Swine Agent. Brian Hines then became the area Swine Agent in 1994. Roberta Osborne is the County Extension Director from the year 2000 until the present. Extension work has been carried on in Branch County continuously since 1914.
Home Economics Extension work was first started by Viva Osborne MacFarlane, followed by Alta Cottingham, Estelle Nelson, Norma Streeter, Grace German, Luella Hamilton, Jeanne Converse, Kathy Foerster, Sally Middleton and Rita Klavinski.
4-H Club agents who have served in Branch County include Ray McIntyre, John Foster, Don Eppelheimer, Ralph Kirch, Jim Crosby, Marvin Eppelheimer, Gene Whaples, Harold Rouget, Gerald Nybert, Dale Brouse, Douglas Jardine, Mark Williams, Andrea Ay, Marie Ruemenapp and presently Connie Lange. Michigan State University Extension CYF Agents included Erica Stevens and Marcella Gray.