In the spring of 2015, students in GH520: Oral History embarked upon a project to collect oral histories about the SEMO District Fair. This site represents the work they did in building this project. To hear the audio interviews, please click “menu” on the right side of the home screen and then “Sound recordings.” Below that you will find “transcripts” in PDF format. Also available is an annotated bibliography of suggested readings for more information about the cultural significance of county fairs throughout history and a collection of historic photos from the fair.
If you have questions, comments, or concerns, please email Professor Courtney Kisat at email@example.com.
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Brief History of the Fair
The SEMO District fair has been a long-standing community tradition since before the Civil War. According to the Southeast Missouri District Fair Association (www.semofair.com), the fair was first formed in 1855 by the Southeast Missouri Agricultural Society to serve twenty-three counties in Southeast Missouri. The first fairs were held on a private farm on what is now S. Frederick St. in Cape Girardeau. But during the Civil War, Union soldiers used the fairgrounds as a campground for soldiers stationed nearby. After the war, the grounds were no longer usable, and from 1863-1870, no fair was held. In 1870, an act of the state legislature revived the Agricultural Society and authorized the purchase of a new site for the fair. That site was near Highway 61 South and Old Gordonville Rd. The society was dissolved in 1897 and the grounds were sold; from 1897-1900, no fair was held.
In 1900, the Cape Girardeau Fair and Park Association formed and planned to resume the fair at what is now Capaha Park. From 1900 to 1929, the fair was held for one week each fall. Traditionally, the fair was held in the first week of October, but in 1911 the fair was moved to the first week of September, and this remains the time of the fair today. But economic depression made it difficult from families to attend the fair, and from 1929 to 1939, no fair was held.
The Southeast Missouri District Fair Association was organized in 1939. In 1940, the first fair was held at the new fairgrounds at Arena Park, built by the WPA that year. Together with the city of Cape Girardeau, the SMFA has held a fair every year since. This fall will mark the 65th consecutive SEMO District Fair at Arena Park.