Ed Eilert
Chairman, Johnson County Board of Commissioners
It’s fair time in Johnson County, but first a little fair trivia is in order.
The very first county fair in the state of Kansas was in Johnson County, but not in Gardner. The first fair took place in 1858 at McCamish, a small bygone community once located north of Edgerton. That event occurred just three years after Johnson County was created in 1855 and three years before the Kansas Territory became the 34th state in the union in 1861. It wasn’t until the Civil War ended that a fair would return to Johnson County.
Gardner held a fair in 1865, which included agriculture, industrial, and domestic exhibits. Olathe had similar fairs from 1867 through the 1870s, thus beginning a competition between the two cities that ran through the 1930s.
Throughout much of its early history, local fairs have popped up all across Johnson County, including Edgerton, Spring Hill, Merriam, and Overland Park.
In 1939, the county fair, as we now know it, began to coalesce. The Spring Hill 4-H and Gardner Community fairs were combined and called the Johnson County Fair. In 1940, Gardner became the home for the Johnson County Free Fair. Gardner continues to this day to be the official host city for the Johnson County Fair, which is still free for most activities and events.
On a personal note, I have long enjoyed going to the local county fair since my childhood days growing up on my parents’ small farm in northeastern Sedgwick County. That meant not only going to the Sedgwick County Fair,but the granddaddy of all our fairs – the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, which dates back to 1873.
Over the course of its long history, the Johnson County Fair has changed with the times, adding an urban flair as thecounty’s population boomed after World War II, following societal trends from generation to generation, but maintaining its agricultural identity.
Even though we live, work, and raise our families in the state’s most populous county, with a 2010 Census headcount of 544,179 and growing, it does not mean an end to old-fashioned traditions that the annual county fair brings.
The tradition continues with the 2011 Johnson County Fair from Tuesday, Aug. 9, to Saturday, Aug. 13, in Gardner. In celebration of the state’s sesquicentennial, the theme is: “Kick Up our Heels: Celebrate Kansas’ 150th Birthday.”
Our annual county fair offers a break from the daily grind. The fair always promises something for everyone, including lots to eat, carnival rides for kids (little and big), a demolition derby, youth rodeo, and farm animals and exhibits that can help us understand the importance of agriculture a little better. Its grand finale is the annual parade that starts at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 13, in downtown Gardner.
Having a fair in Johnson County is far more than marking it on the calendar. It’s a lot of hard work involving a lot of volunteers. The fair has no paid staff. That means countless volunteers, including the Johnson County Fair Board of 15 executive members and approximately 100 general members, give a lot of their time and energy throughout the year to make our annual fair a success.  Their efforts allow others to enjoy anexcellent fair that offers so much for so many different people with their different tastes and interests.
The many good folks, who offer their services, skills, commitment, and heart to the annual fair, deserve our thanks and our gratitude for a job that’s always well done.
With its roots steeped in the county’s rural past, the Johnson County Fair has evolved into an urban affair. Yet, it remains a popular family excursion that’s fun. While the exhibits and entertainment continue to change as society changes, our county fair is still a wonderful celebration with a strong sense of community.
It’s about all ages coming together to have a good time. It’s about community pride, tradition, and a sense of place. It’s about our agricultural heritage and our urban legacy that mixes new visions with old traditions.There’s simply nothing like it.
It’s fair time again in Johnson County.
Let’s all go and have a great time.