Finding a home for the fair

This is a special year for the Olmsted County Fair — celebrating 150 years since it was first held in Rochester in October 1860.

Today’s Olmsted County Fair is associated with Graham Park Fairgrounds in Rochester, but this was not always the location of our fair. The first fair was held at the Courthouse located on North Broadway. That site later was the home of the Avalon Hotel and more recently, Hamilton Music Store.

When the first State Fair came to Rochester in 1867, the fairgrounds was described as being "40 acres at the south edge of the city, north of the river." Reports found at the History Center of Olmsted County seem to put this location where Soldiers Field is now.

In 1880, a "new" fairgrounds was built — this again, in anticipation of the State Fair returning to Rochester. Eighty acres east of Dubuque Street (now Third Avenue Southeast) and south of the County Road (now 12th Street Southeast) was the site chosen by the Agricultural Association. There were many buildings, including large barns and a grand exhibit hall. There was a one-mile race track and a grandstand that held 2,000 people.

State Fairs were held here in 1880-82. The property was sold to W. W. Ireland in 1900 but rented back to the Ag Association each year for the fair. Later, the first Rochester airport, Lobb Field, was built on part of the property and it is now a residential area known as the Ireland Addition.


Dr. Christopher Graham developed the current fairgrounds on property he owned after trying unsuccessfully to purchase the 1880 fairgrounds. His property was to the west, just across the street from the Ireland site.

Graham had a great interest in the fair as a way for those engaged in agricultural production to showcase the best of their animals and crops. He was especially interested in the exhibits by young people and was often observed in the crowd watching their livestock shows.

He was an exhibitor, too, entering his prize Holstein cattle and the flowers from his personal garden in the Open Class divisions.

Graham leased the fairgrounds property to the county in 1919 with specific instruction that the yearly fair be held there.

Since that time, many changes have been made to the fairgrounds over the years. Nonetheless, the site continues to hold fond memories for many of people from around the area.

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