Many longtime residents of Fergus Falls and other areas of Otter Tail County remember the old fairgrounds which stood until 1967 at the site now occupied by Kennedy Secondary School.
Back then the West Otter Tail County Fair was held in August. A main attraction was the wildlife building.
The Fergus Falls Fish and Game Club maintained the wildlife building at the old location and has also maintained the wildlife building at the current fairgrounds, south of town, for the past half century.
The move to the new fairgrounds took place after the junior high fire, north of downtown Fergus Falls, in 1967. The site of the old fairgrounds was needed for construction of a new middle school which in 2010 became Kennedy Secondary School.
“The purpose of the wildlife building was to house a variety of wild animals and birds, a live fish display and whatever exhibits we would decide to set up,” says Roger Rustad, longtime member of the Fish and Game Club.
The wildlife building attracted many visitors each August during the county fair at the old site and the same holds true each July at the current fair site.
“Club members, at the old location until 1967, and at the current site just south of Fergus Falls, secured the animals and birds, took them to the appropriate cages, fed them and took care of their needs,” Rustad said.
In 1974 Rustad and other members of the Fish and Game Club determined that a new wildlife building at the new fairgrounds was needed to benefit young and old alike.
The new building was constructed in 1976. Funding for the $16,000 structure came from the county board of commissioners who represented county taxpayers, local sportsmen’s clubs and the fair association.
“Many Fish and Game Club members have worked at the fair building to make it a success,” Rustad said.
Club leaders in the early 1970s, in addition to Rustad, were Lavern Simdorn, Leonard Christopherson, Bud Anderson, Dick Anderson, Howard Goese, Chuck Vukonich, Charles Piekarski, Darol Anderson and others.
“Of all the animals we had at the wildlife building, the badger had to be the most challenging,” Rustad said. “One evening Bud and I had to control a badger that was almost out of the cage.”
Rustad says the greatest joy comes from people of all ages coming to the county fair and seeing people appreciate the animals and birds at the wildlife building and also at the 4-H buildings.
More memories of
the old fairgrounds
Longtime residents remember the huge wooden exhibit building at the old fairgrounds, on top of the hill just off Friberg Avenue and across the street from the Armory.
In the exhibit building, until the fair moved to the south side of town in 1968, were canned foods, cakes, pies, samples of crops and displays from downtown merchants.
The showing of farm animals was done in conjunction with 4-H projects on the south side of the fairgrounds, near Roosevelt Park. This was a busy time of year in late August for county agent Nick Weyrens. 4-H winners went on to state competition at the State Fair in St. Paul.
There were many concession stands and food buildings operated by Skogmo Café, area churches and others. At the midway was a giant truck-mounted generator that provided power for rides such as the Tilt-a-Whirl and the always popular Ferris wheel.
Rides were also available for smaller kids.
Knute Hanson served as fair secretary for many years. Many people recall Hanson, in Army khakis, riding around in his jeep, fixing this or fixing that.
Evening grandstand shows were held each day during the four-day county fair. Cars were raffled off and more than 1,000 people would fill the bleachers.
Traveling shows entertained the audiences with acts that included dog shows, tumbling, low-wire acts, ventriloquists, comedians, musicians and others.
Tom Hintgen is a longtime Daily Journal columnist. His column appears Saturdays.