Iowa’s Oldest County Fair is Actually Older Than the State of Iowa
The people of one county in eastern Iowa have been gathering for longer than Iowa has been a state. This part of the nation was known as the Iowa Territory when the fair got its start.
It all started on July 17, 1841. That's the day that West Point, Iowa created an Agricultural Society, and cattle owners brought in their best Durham (or Shorthorn) cattle to show them off.
Not only was the exhibition in West Point the first of its type in Iowa but also the first time that type of event was held anywhere west of the Mississippi River. A long tradition was born.
In 1842, the event was expanded to three days and moved to Iowa Medical College in Keokuk. By the middle of the 1850s, it was back in West Point and had gotten a new name that would stick... Lee County Fair.
In 1856, West Point's citizens vowed to come up with $500 for new fairgrounds. They also voted for West Point to become the fair's permanent site and to host the annual event at the end of September. All that happened, for nearly 15 years, before Fort Madison got the fair for several years ahead of a 5-year hiatus.
In 1878, the Lee County Fair moved to Donnellson. It's never left.
In 1930, the Lee County Fair in Donnellson was held at night for the first time, and in the 145 years it's been in that town, it's only been canceled twice: In 1943 due to World War II and in 1955, because of the polio epidemic. Livestock events were held in 2020 but were not open to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2023 Lee County Fair will be held in Donnellson from July 5 to 9. More information on this year's fair can be found here.
In case you're wondering, the oldest county fair in the nation is The Topsfield Fair in Topsfield, Massachusetts. It began in 1818. The oldest fair in the U.S. is the York State Fair held in York, Pennsylvania. Billed as 'America's First Fair,' it started in 1765.