By Ruth Ann Montgomery
McEwen's Race Track was opened at the southeast corner of the city. Trotters and pacers used the half-mile
In 1890, following a race between a horse named Joe Wonder, owned by David M. Johnson and a horse named
Ben H., owned by Web Johnson, David's son, those present helped raise the frame of a grandstand. The
grandstand was considered one of the best in the state. Those seated in the stand could see all around the
track and its roof sheltered them from the sun and rain.
Baseball games were also played at McEwen's park in the 1890s.
The Evansville Driving Association had their grand opening in May 1890.
The Rock County Agricultural Association, once hosted the Rock County Fair. The Association, headquartered
in Evansville and owned by stockholders from the community, held the annual events from 1899 to 1927. During
most of the late 19th century, the Rock County Fair was held in Janesville. When the Janesville fair committee
declared bankruptcy in 1897, the property in Janesville was sold at Sheriff's auction and for two years there were
In early 1899, a group of Evansville promoters talked of having a Rock County Fair in Evansville. Businessmen
and farmers formed a corporation and purchased stock in the Evansville Rock County Agricultural Association.
The investment provided rent for the grounds and tents for the fair. The money also supplied premiums for the
fair prize winners so that only a small entry fee would be charged to exhibitors.
The first officers elected by the Rock County Agricultural Association were William E. Campbell, President; Henry
L. Austin, Vice President; Fred Springer, Secretary; and George L Pullen, Treasurer. The stockholders voted to
rent the McEwen Driving Park for a five-day Rock County Fair, starting September 5, 1899.
To house exhibits that needed protection from the elements, the fair committee rented two large tents. The night
before the fair was to open a storm with high winds blew down the tents and the organizers worked quickly to
overcome this near disaster. Two new tents were procured and the workers had them in place before the fair
As early as five o'clock in the morning on opening day, people began arriving from the country and the streets
of Evansville were lined with people until late in the evening. Col. George W. Hall, Evansville's circus man,
opened his exhibits, including Mexican and Navajo relics. He also planned a balloon ascension, an event that he
often used as the starting act of his circus. However, because of the high winds the performance was canceled.
Wisconsin's Governor Schofield arrived by train to attend the fair. He was greeted by the local band and city
dignitaries and his carriage led a parade from the train station to the fair grounds.
The Methodist women rented one of the large tents for a restaurant. Another tent was used for the fine art
exhibits. Women brought their best flowers, baked goods, fancy work, and vegetables to be judged. Vie
Campbell, a many talented Evansville woman, acted as superintendent of the women's department of the fair.
Known state-wide for her work in agricultural, and temperance she had held similar posts at several Wisconsin
State Fairs and managed one of Wisconsin's exhibits at the World's Fair Columbian Exposition held in Chicago in
The University of Wisconsin Agricultural College provided judges to award prizes in the livestock competition that
included cattle, sheep, pigs, and other agricultural exhibitions. Farmers brought their best stock and samples of
crops to the fair. Prizes were awarded to John Robinson for his Polled Angus bull and short horn cattle. Elmer
Bullard earned prizes for his Herefords and Jersey milk cows. Robinson also exhibited sheep in competition with
Aaron Brought and Byron Campbell.
John C. Robinson had just purchased his first Hereford cattle from John Lepham of Lake Geneva in 1899 and
fairs and livestock shows became the vehicle for national advertising for his herd. In the years that followed,
Robinson not only supported the Rock County Fair with his exhibits, but also traveled throughout the nation to
show his cattle at livestock shows. Because of his work in improving livestock breeds and promotion of better
livestock in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, Robinson was placed in the hall of fame at the agricultural
college of the University of Wisconsin.
Receipts for the first fair were $3,403.36 and this encouraged the fair organizers to start planning for the next
fair. The same officers were re-elected for the second year. The State of Wisconsin offered financial and
educational support to the local organizers of the county fairs. The state held meetings for local fair officials to
help them plan and manage successful fairs. The Evansville committee attended these meetings and received
financial support from the state to hold the fairs. In most of the early years, the State of Wisconsin contributed
$700 to the Rock County Agricultural Association.
Early in the year, the Fair Association began trying to book entertainment for the fair. In January 1900, the
officers contacted A. J. Kemp's Wild West Show to offer free exhibitions. They offered more than 25 entertainers
and 30 horses at a cost of $500.
To advertise the fair to outlying communities the organizers placed ads in newspapers and about three weeks
before the fair began, promoters traveled the countryside plastering posters on fence posts and in store
windows to advertise the event. There were also lengthy articles and advertisements in Evansville's four weekly
papers. If the Evansville citizens had missed these promotions, the arrival of racing horses and show stock by
road and by rail was a sure clue that the fair was about to begin.
The advertising was successful. Thousands of people came to Evansville to take part in the fair activities. In
one day during the 1900 fair, 3,500 single admission tickets were sold. Fair officials even dreamed of making
the fair a better event than the state fair held in Milwaukee.
John C. Robinson headed the Cattle Department of the second fair. He also brought in 14 head of Hereford
cattle, Short Horns and twenty-two head of Shropshire sheep to compete with George Emery, his brother-in-law;
E. Crall & Son; J. C. Ellis and others. B. W. Hubbard was superintendent of the Sheep Department.
Local manufacturers also exhibited their goods at the fair. Baker Manufacturing demonstrated their windmills,
pumps, and feed grinders. Joel W. Morgan, the wagon maker, displayed his wagons and buggies.
Although no one in Evansville owned one of the new machines, the automobile was the newest contraption to
arrive at the fair in 1900. Two of the machines were brought to the fair grounds and raced to demonstrate their
speed. While the new machines fascinated people, it was the harness races that were still the most popular
event at the fair.
The success of the Evansville fair made Janesville businessmen jealous. After the second successful fair,
Janesville wanted the event back in their city and offered the Evansville stockholders $1,000 to give up the
charter for the fair.
Each year the fair got stronger and more popular and the stockholders refused to sell. The stockholders
purchased the land that had been McEwen's Driving Park and an additional four acres of land from V. C. Holmes
to add to the grounds. The owners built a grandstand, two sheep sheds and a floral building on the fair
grounds. The capital stock of the fair was increased to $10,000 to meet the costs of the new additions and many
volunteered their time to help with the construction.
A near-tragedy occurred in 190? when a melodrama performance that included a gun shot got out of hand. Mrs.
Anna Reckord was seated in the audience watching the performance when one of the actors fired a shot into the
audience. The actor had put live ammunition into the gun, instead of a blank. The bullet lodged in Mrs.
Reckord's arm, causing her pain and she and her husband sued the Fair Association for damages. The suit
was decided in favor of the Fair Association in March 1904.
Wheeler, Richmond and Richmond, an Evansville law firm took the case for the Fair Association. Nolan, Fisher
and Oestreich, a Janesville law firm represented the Reckords'.
In 1910, Evansville's WCTU, state-wide temperance organizations and Wisconsin's Secretary of State wanted to
eliminate vaudeville acts at county fairs. They felt that state tax dollars channeled to county fairs through the
local fair associations should not be used to pay for "immoral" entertainment. They urged the fair committees to
offer more educational and agricultural activities and less questionable entertainment.
However, it was often the vaudeville acts that attracted large audiences to the fairs and increased the admission
receipts that were so necessary to keep the fairs operating. Local fair officials also realized the power of those
seeking idealistic and moral programs and advertised that the fair provided "clean" entertainment. They offered
the local circus, run by the Hall's as an example.
The Rock County Fair Association agreed to buy four acres of land south of the fair grounds for a right of way to
Longfield Street. The land was purchased from V. C. Holmes. This opened Fair Street.
A strong wind storm had damaged some fair buildings beyond repair and men of the association volunteered two
days of work to help rebuild some of the fair ground buildings. One businessman, Mitchell, gave a benefit at the
Crystal Theater with proceeds going to the fair association. The wood from the damaged buildings was givens to
poor families to use the winter of 1911-12.
The capital stock of the association was increased to $10,000 to allow new buildings to be constructed. A
grandstand with a cement foundation was built at the fair grounds in August 1911. On the land purchased from
Holmes, the men built new sheep pens and put up a floral building. The following year they built more sheep
pens, a poultry building and a ticket booth and buildings were moved to make room for a larger midway.
Other community events were also held on the fair grounds. In 1912, St. Paul's Catholic Church held their
annual Irish Picnic. The featured event was a motorcycle races on the race track. The women of the parish
served a dinner and the children and adults entertained themselves with ball games, speeches, sack races and
potato races. The event ended with a grand ball at the Magee Theater. The Irish Picnics were later held in
Finnane's Wood, north of the city.
Four troops of U. S. Cavalry used the fair grounds as an overnight camp as they traveled from Fort Sheridan in
Illinois to Camp McCoy at Sparat, Wisconsin. Many people, especially the boys, visited the camp. One of the
officers organized the young men into double rank and drilled them, much to their delight. There were 250 men,
10 officers, 250 horses and 58 mules in the troop.
The automobile replaced the horse and carriages as the vehicle for promoting the Rock County Fair. In August
1912 more than 25 automobiles traveled to surrounding communities to advertise the event. With flags and
banners flying, the parade of automobiles, including the Evansville Military Band, majestically moved through the
communities of Brooklyn, Oregon, Stoughton, Edgerton, Milton Junction and as far away as South Beloit, Illinois
to attract visitors to Evansville's fair.
Fairs were combines entertainment and serious social problems. During the 1912 fair, one day was declared
Women's Suffrage day. Health concerns were also promoted at the fairs. In 1913, Evansville held the first
"Better Baby Contest" in the state of Wisconsin. The contests was sponsored by the Mothers and Others Club
to promoted programs on education, child care and health.
Children under the age of three were entered in the contest at the local fair and were judged by nurses and city
health officials. Dr. George Spencer, the city health officer, and the nurses judged the babies on a standard set
by the Woman's Home Companion called the Better Babies Standard. Parents were instructed in hygiene and
simple medical care. It was hoped that the contest would promote improved "physical conditions of the children
already born and to protect those not yet born." Prize winners at the local fair competed at the state fair in
The Evansville fair was attracting national attention from harness racers. More than 160 horses were entered in
the 1913 races. They were brought in by train from Mobile, Alabama, Miles City, Montana and Minneapolis,
Minnesota. Many of the same horses were raced at the largest state fairs in the nation. A new horse barn was
built at the fair grounds, but so many came that the Fair Association had to put up several large tents for the
In 1913 two new cattle barns were built, as well as swine and sheep buildings. Cement floors were placed in the
buildings for easier maintenance.
The Fair Association directors decided in January 1914 that they would have to charge its stockholders an
assessment. The new buildings over the last few years had cost nearly $2,000 and premiums nearly $4,000. In
order to have a fair, the stockholders would have to put in more money.
By the 1916, the fair organization was in trouble. That year, the fair failed to make a profit and organizers
decided to close the fair in 1917. They reasoned that because the First World War was in progress much of the
volunteer time and financial backing need for the fair were being given to the war effort. Farmers and
employees of local farm related businesses such as the canning factory and D. E. Wood Butter Company were
very busy producing more farm products to support the war. Most fair stockholders did not think they could
make the fair profitable.
The association opened the fair in 1918, but there were no harness races. Past fairs had brought more than
200 harness race entries from throughout the United States. The horses and the equipment were transported
by railroad. During 1918, the railroads were used to transport troops and equipment for the war and were not
available for transporting race horses for entertainment purposes.
In the spring of 1919, the Fair Association issued more stock to cover its debts. They also promised there would
be no assessments to stock holders, if all the stock was sold. When the fair was held that year, the fair
committee had to offer large purses to attract horse owners from great distances. The Evansville fair had
become part of an unofficial racing circuit that attracted harness racers from throughout the United States.
Separate events were held for local racers who could not compete with the faster professional drivers and
Ironically, it was one of the fair's original organizers who started the boys and girls livestock clubs that would
eventually help create another fair in Janesville. Hoping to encourage young people to participate in exhibitions
of livestock, John C. Robinson helped organize the calf, pig and sheep clubs in Wisconsin. In the 1920's,
Janesville held a local fair just a week after the Evansville Rock County Fair and had obtained a contract with the
boys and girls pig club that required that they show their animals at the Janesville Fair.
In 1923, Charles Ware, a local veterinarian was the secretary for the fair association. He organized the harness
racing events and the prizes for the event ranged from $300 to $500. The fair stockholders were assessed in
early April to help pay for the pre-fair expenses. The state allotted funding for the fair based on 80% of the
The president of the organization was Walter S. Gollmar, a local circus owner. The committee planned for the
fair to stay open for three nights. 1923, the Rock County Fair led off the round of fairs held throughout the state
of Wisconsin. The events included horse racing, vaudeville acts, fireworks, music and the usual exhibits.
Janesville's Mayor Welsh called the fair nothing more than a pumpkin show, raising the ire of many Evansville
residents who were proud of their fair.
In 1924, the local Catholic priest, Father William McDermott, headed the Rock County Fair association. That
year the fair netted the largest receipts in its history. The fair attracted state-wide attention and featured many
novel activities. However, there were assessments made against the stockholders to support the fair and
several of the owners did not provide the money.
Again in 1925, the fair committee reported a successful fair. The fair success was limited to the enjoyment it
gave the fair goers but the financial picture was not so successful. The fair association was in debt and they
hoped that a successful fair would provide the funds needed to keep the fair in Evansville. They decided to hold
one more fair during the second week of August.
It was advertised as one of the best fairs to be held in many years. Charles Ware organized the harness races
and there were entries from Missouri, Illinois, Michigan and many parts of Wisconsin in the pacer and trotter
classes. Prizes of $500 were offered to winners.
Fourteen teams of kitten-ball players competed for a silver cup offered by the Lions Club as well as other prizes
donated by local merchants. Music was provided by the Parker Pen band, the Evansville band and a quartet of
Swiss Yodelers from New Glarus. Vaudeville acts, a tug of war contest and pony rides offered more
City and country schools exhibited their finest work. But the highlight of the fair was the exhibit of stock and
some of the same exhibitors that had entered the first fair in 1899 were at the final Evansville fair in 1927. At the
final livestock show, John C. Robinson & Son took prices in nearly every class of registered Herefords. Peter
Templeton was the top prize winner in the horse division. William G. Miles kept the winning Shropshire sheep.
There was much activity among the young people who were members of 4-H clubs and calf, pigs and sheep
clubs in the livestock exhibitions. Many of those entered would become prominent names in livestock circles
when as adults, they had their own farms. Winners in the Holstein classes included Dean, Evelyn and Lee
George, Donald Rowald and Agnes Lynch. Phil Robinson won first in Jr. baby beef and Clifford Fellows,
Elizabeth Spooner, and A. Templeton all placed in the pure-bred lamb classes.
The best efforts of the fair committee and stockholders were not enough. The fair still was in debt for
approximately two thousand dollars. Many of the stockholders were ready to let the Janesville Fair Association
have the fair.
After much arguing, the sixty stockholders who attended the annual meeting in February 1928 voted to sell the
fair to the Janesville Fair Association for $4,200. The men hoped to be able to sell the grounds to the city to be
used for the popular township play days, ball games, harness races, and 4-H Club activities. The stockholders
also anticipated that Evansville would have a landing field for airplanes. R. M. Antes predicted that any city
without an airport would be merely a dot on the map, as the wave of the future was in air transportation for mail,
packages and passengers.
The Evansville Review had urged the City to purchase the grounds, but the City Council in its usual, turtle-like
decision-making process, the property went into the hands of a newly formed corporate body. The sale of the
grounds was offered after the City Council had already arranged their 1928 budget, and they had no money
appropriated to purchased the property.
On a warm Saturday in June 1928, the grounds were sold at Sheriff's auction. The grounds were purchased by
R. M. Antes, acting on behalf of a corporation of 33 businessmen from Evansville. He paid $3,300 for the
fairgrounds. The stockholders of the new corporation hoped to be able to sell the grounds to the city. The sale
of the grounds included the grandstand, the fine arts building, the judges stand, the secretary's office, one horse
barn and one cattle barn, as well as a stand at the gate. Other buildings were sold to individuals. Fred
Luchsinger bought one horse barn. Clifford Ellis and Lon Smith each purchased a cattle barn and Ernest Miller
purchased a sheep barn. Three old pig pens were also sold.
The Evansville version of the Rock County Fair had come to an end. However, a civic-minded group of
Evansville businessmen saved the fair grounds for public use. They purchased the land for $3,300 in 1928 and
held the property for more than a year so that the Evansville City Council could decided if they would buy the
land for public use.
At the December 1929 meeting the council members voted to purchase the grounds. The city now had a field
for sports and community activities, as well as the potential landing field. For more than six decades, the Antes
family, including R. M., William and R. J. Antes, promoted the use of the fair grounds for many different programs.
After the city purchased the grounds they allowed many different organizations use the area for recreational
activities. Union township play day was an annual country school activity that involved children from Tupper,
Brown, Franklin, Pleasant Prairie, Butt's Corners, Union, Holt, and a school listed simply as No. 10. Games and
contests challenged the students in kittenball, volleyball, horseshoe pitching, bean bag throws, relay races and
other feats of skill. Adults entered separate contests in some of the same activities. In 1931, nearly 500 people
attended the event at the fair grounds.
That same year, the afternoon and evening 4th of July activities were held at the fair grounds. The Lions Club
planned the celebration, including a parade, water fights and a water carnival at Lake Leota. The afternoon
events shifted to the fair grounds, where there were dog races, baseball games, horse races, and pony races.
The highlight of the paid attractions was a trapeze performance staged in front of the grand stand by the Four
Metschers of Sheboygan.
The Lion's Club estimated that a crowd of several thousand people, from all parts of southern Wisconsin,
attended the event. There were pie eating contests, a concert by the newly organized city band and for the
more adventurous, a greased pig catching contest, turtle race, tug of war, and a greased pole climb. The day's
festivities ended with a dance and spectacular fireworks displayed in front of the grand stand.
In the early 1930's the Depression was taking its toll on Evansville workers. Large numbers of men were
unemployed and the City Council applied for Federal work programs. The funds were used to paint public
schools, the library and city hall and to create recreational facilities at the park and fairgrounds.
The programs changed names frequently, as congress proposed programs lasting only a few months, hoping
the Depression would end. When no relief was in site, another federal program came to life. Civilian
Conservation Corps, Civil Works Administration, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, and Works Progress
Administration, were the various names of the federal programs that aided Evansville in the 1930s.
During the summer of 1933, the federal government rented the land for a Civilian Conservation Corps camp,
known as the CCC's. Company 1680 was made up of veterans of World War I from Wisconsin. Most had served
with the famous 32nd division. The oldest was fifty-five. The 200-man crew did soil conservation work for local
Company 1680 arrived by train from Fort Sheridan, Illinois on July 26, 1933 and marched four abreast from the
railroad station to the fair grounds. Headed by Major Joseph L Phillips, an army cavalry officer, the men set up
tents that would sleep 24 campers.
They immediately began to clean and improve the grounds. The company headquarters, storerooms and
dispensary were located under the grandstand. Repairs were made to the Fine Arts building so that it could be
used as a mess hall. The men built cupboards, poured a concrete floor, and screened the windows of the new
kitchen and mess hall.
Captain Max Edelstein, who was married to a local woman, Ethel Sperry, reported that the men were well fed.
The ration allowance for each man was 33 cents per day.
Electricity and city water were extended to the fair grounds and the ladies restroom was turned into showers for
the men. A large tank with a heater provided hot water for the bathhouse. The tents had electricity, as did the
officer's quarters, kitchen and dining hall.
While some of the men were working on the camp facilities, the others were sent to work on soil erosion
projects. Others went to the Evansville Lumber yard and made tool boxes and cement forms for the projects. A
few men were put to work making a new gravel road into the grounds, and a guard house at the entrance to the
camp to keep towns people from wandering into the camp.
When pay day arrived, the men headed to Evansville businesses to spend their money. In most cases they had
very little, because the government paid them $30 a month, but sent $25 home to their families. Nearly 80 per
cent of the men were married with families.
The CCC's built small dams on farms in Porter, Fulton and Magnolia township to keep cultivated field soil from
eroding into gullies. On Lloyd Porter's farm in Porter township, several diversion dams were built that created a
water shed of 88 acres. Heavy spring rains and run off was depleting the topsoil from the fields and the soil
erosion projects prevented the loss of good farmland.
At the end of August, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced that he was authorizing the Civil Conservation
Corps to continue for another six months. Local authorities hoped that meant, the 1680 would make winter camp
However, to make the Evansville camp into a winter quarters would have cost nearly $9,000. Men needed to be
housed in barracks, rather than tents. Government officials looked at other facilities in Illinois that were already
winter-ready and decided to move the camp.
Before they left, the men from the CCC camp joined with the local community for a CCC Sports Day and Band
tournament at the fair grounds. The event resembled a combination Fourth of July celebration and band
competition. A Ferris wheel and other carnival attractions were erected at the fair grounds and the community
planned a parade to open the festivities. Evansville area people were invited to inspect "Camp Evansville".
Women's and men's kitten ball games, Model T Ford novelty races, band concerts and a grand fireworks display
created a full day of events that attracted more nearly 3,000 people to the campground.
In mid-October, the camp commanders received word that the CCC's were to move to Glenn, Ill. by November
15. The men would be working on a park along the Mississippi River.
To celebrated Armistice Day on November 11, 1933, the CCC men planted trees on both sides of the entrance
to the camp. The officers made arrangements with the local American Legion to care for and preserve the
trees. The seedling trees were grown from the nuts of black walnut trees found on the Gettysburg Battlefield.
The CCC's left Evansville in December. The local residents watched as they paraded to the depot led by the
Evansville city band. Though Evansville people hoped that they would return the following year, the City of
Edgerton had made preparations for a camp and the next CCC unit to come to this area was sent to that city.
The purchase of perishable provisions at local stores and the work they performed on local farms were valuable
to the Evansville economy.
L. B. Cummings, an Evansville man who was a junior engineer with the Civilian Conservation Corps, was
promoted to district superintendent of the Evansville area and it was hoped that local men could continue the soil
conservation work that the CCC's had started. However, they would live at home and provide their own
transportation and clothing.
Many men were out of work in Evansville during the Depression of the 1930's and federally funded projects
provided the only income for their families. Work at the fair grounds was nearly always included in the federal
programs. The 1934 project was sponsored through a federal program titled Civil Works Administration.
In Evansville, R. J. Antes was the local administrator. Only those who were already receiving relief from the
County were eligible to apply for work in the program. The projects included building an athletic field in front of
the grand stand at the fair grounds with a baseball diamond and a gridiron for football. There was hope that it
would also include a soccer field and an airport.
The program allowed only a few hours per week of work. In the spring men, worked only a 15-hour week so that
the limited funds available could be spread out over several families. The workers were paid 30 cents per hour
in 1934 and there was always the threat that the work would be cut. Funds for this program were undependable
and frequently stopped, temporarily halting the work.
Despite the Depression, Evansville people found time to enjoy sports. Model T races became a popular sport
during the 1930's and early 40's. Model T Ford novelty race drivers from Evansville included Robert Turner,
with a fast Model T pickup truck. The novelty races were five-lap races. After each lap, the driver was required
to stop and turn off the motor of his vehicle. Then the driver took of his shoes, ate an ice cream cone or
performed some other stunt. For the next lap, he cranked the Ford's engine and completed another lap. Turner
recalled that some trickster pushed the spark up on the engine so that the car would not start and though he
was leading the race, he lost.
Using federally funded work programs, the baseball diamond at the fair grounds was completed in 1935 and
used for the first time on Memorial Day by the high school team. Throughout the summer the local ball teams,
including the Southern Wisconsin Baseball League team sponsored by the Evansville Review, played on the fair
grounds diamond. A federal program continued the work of seeding the grounds for the gridiron so that it would
be ready for the high school football team when school opened in the fall.
The Union play day was held in June 1935 was under the direction of Laverne Ringhand. Horseshoes, relays
and jumping contests, volleyball, bean bag throws, and the ever popular kittenball games attracted 500 people
to the event held.
Evansville's first Centennial was held in 1939 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the settlement of the city.
The fairground was the site of the city's three day event. United American Shows brought in vaudeville
performers and carnival rides, including a 75-foot Ferris wheel. An amphitheater was built for the pageant that
was written by Congregational minister, Rev. Grant V. Clark. Local residents performed the parts of the early
settlers and other important people in the City's history.
A massive clean-up was performed in late June, in anticipation of the event. The old grandstand was taken
down and bleachers that would accommodate several thousand people were built. The baseball diamond was
restored and the grounds were cleaned.
The Black and White show was held in 1940 at the fair grounds. The Rock County Holstein-Friesian Association
sponsored the event. More than 100 head of cattle were exhibited. Local organizers included Charles Moss,
Peter Templeton, Frank Milbrandt, Charles Crocker, Arthur Ellis, Wade Woodworth, Lester Thompson, H. F.
Brunsell, and George Shoemaker. Milking contests, post driving competition, and cattle judging provided the
The Centennial had been an inspiration to sponsor other programs and many events were held on the fair
grounds in 1940. The Evansville Booster Club sponsored Model T Ford races on Memorial Day. They engaged
the services of the Midwest Model T. Corporation to organize the races. Walter Spratler, Jr. was the general
chairman of the event. Admission to the races was 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children.
While most of the racers were professional drivers, local interest was generated when Eddie Trebs and "Bud"
Hyne agreed to race their own Model A Ford racer against the professional Model T winner. Trebs and Hyne
had built their machine over a period of several months and drove it on the booster trip advertising the race to
The races were advertised as the first professional automobile races ever held in Evansville. In preparation for
the event, the city employees graded the track and banked the curves. Evansville gas stations donated the
motor oil for oiling the track.
The hope that an airport would be built at the fair grounds was reborn when Mayor A. M. Winn received an
announcement in July 1940 that the State Planning Board had issued an Airport System Plan for Wisconsin and
recommended Evansville as one of the sites. State officials were hopeful that a proposed federal grant program
for local airports would cover the costs. The League of Municipalities and other national municipal associations
were lobbying for these grants. The state hoped that the cities that wanted airports would also lobby for the
passage of the grant funding, sponsored by Senator McCarran of Nevada. The project did not go through.
By 1940, Europe was already at war and the United States was beginning to form National Guard units. Many of
those units from Wisconsin and other nearby states were training at Camp McCoy. Evansville was on one of the
routes used to transport troops.
In the summer of 1940, the Evansville Review described long lines of military troops and vehicles moving on the
highway through Evansville. During August, the old fair grounds became a temporary military post. The
Michigan National guard with more than 1500 men set up camp and an additional troop of signal corp men were
camped at Legion Point in the city park.
When the war finally broke out, the old fair grounds found another practical use. People were asked to perform
Victory projects to help with the war effort, including planting vegetable gardens for their families. Beginning in
the spring of 1943, the city offered to plow the gardens for anyone who did not have space in their own yard, or
who wanted more garden space. Those wanting information were invited to call the city clerk, B. R. Ellis, or R. J.
Antes. The city continued the program through the end of the war in 1945.
Pheasants had been raised in Evansville for many years in pens the Isaac Walton League had built along
Garfield Street. When residential development began in that area, the pheasant pens were built at the old fair
grounds. In 1948, eleven brooder houses and 150-foot long pens were built for the chicks. Robert J. Antes was
instrumental in organizing many of the events that supported the cost of raising the birds.
Each May more than 3,000 day-old chicks would be brought to Evansville from the Poynette game farm. After
twelve weeks, the birds were released on farms and hunting grounds by Rock County sportsmen in preparation
for the fall hunting season. The county game warden supervised the raising and releasing of the birds. Arthur
H. Devine was the caretaker of the birds during the summer months.
The cost of raising the birds was about $1200 and it was funded by donations from sportsmen and clubs
throughout the county. For the first few weeks the birds were kept in the brooder houses. When they were old
enough they were moved to the 150-foot pens. The annual project by the sportsmen of Rock County continued
into the 1950's
During the late 1940s Leota School for Girls rented the land to pasture horses. Horse riding was a popular
activity at the school and in 1946, William Bone, organized Evansville's first horse show. It was held at the fair
grounds and the summer campers from the school demonstrated their riding skills. This show was later moved
to Lake Leota Park and in some years combined with the Black and White show which had moved to the park.
In 1951, the local VFW came up with a plan to use the old race track at the fair grounds. The organization
wanted to sponsor stock car races. Francis Cook, the VFW commander, appeared before the City Council to
offer the plan for the grounds. Cook noted that the members agreed to put up guard rails and install bleachers
in the area that had once held the grandstand. The former Fine Arts building would be converted into a
After lengthy discussions with the City Council, the VFW was given permission to use the track. City Attorney
Gallagher drew up an agreement between the City and the Veterans of Foreign Wars that spelled out the
conditions of use.
The members of the organization installed a retaining wall in front of the grandstand and fenced the east turn to
insure that those who were watching were not injured. They worked on the race track to cut down on the amount
of dust that would be created by the cars. Cook took charge of the event and Robert Graham, owner of the
Dog Wagon, a favorite local eating place, was in charge of the refreshment stand. The races were handled by
the Valley Racers, Inc. of Darlington.
Drivers and cars came from Darlington, Mineral Point and other Wisconsin cities, including Evansville. Some of
the drivers had competed in the State Fair stock car races and several local drivers were also promising to enter
the competition. The first race was held in September 1951 and more than 1600 people were in attendance,
according to an Evansville Review article.
Local drivers included Bill Faust in a car owned by Julius Schauer. This car won a novelty race. Buzz Fellows
drove a car owned by Clarence Elmer. Delmar Robbin's car was driven by Bob Gallman and Fred Elmer, Jr.
drove his own hot rod.
Bob Turner, the Model-T Ford driver of the 1930's, and Frederick "Buzz" Schwartzlow owned a Plymouth
6-cylinder Coupe with a modified motor. The car was Number 23 and was driven by both Bob Gallman and
LeRoy "Lead Foot" Gehrke. Turner said the little car was fast and the fastest cars were put in the back row.
The car was raced at Edgerton, Cambridge and Milton, as well as Evansville.
The Evansville track was a half-mile track and most stock car races were held on one-quarter mile tracks.
Evansville's longer track allowed great speeds and since the sides were not banked adequately, there were
more accidents and the drivers did not like the track as well as others in the area. In the feature race of the first
program, 13 of the 17 cars that started the race were unable to finish because of crackups and spills. None of
the drivers were injured but they were concerned about the danger.
During the early 1950s the nation was fearfully concerned with invasion by Russian military. The Ground
Observer Corps, a group of volunteers who watched the skies for aircraft, were part of a national air defense
organization that helped the military track aircraft that were outside their detection systems.
Evansville's Ground Observe Corps was organized in 1953 and by 1956 there were more than 100 members of
group. Robert Olson was named the chief observer. The first training session was held in July 1953. Sgt.
Kenneth Stelzer of the U. S. Air Force, trained the volunteers. The new recruits were required to be 15 years of
age or older and to volunteer two hours a month.
The booth had been one of the cabins at the park and a tower, with a 360 degree view of the surrounding
landscape, had been built on the roof of the cabin. The tower had windows and was equipped with pictures of
air planes, a telephone and a log to record any planes flying over Evansville.
The volunteer observers were trained to identify planes and while they were on duty, they were to call the
Chicago Filter Center to report each plane that flew overhead. The Filter Center was located in the Museum of
Science and Industry in Chicago.
The workers at the Filter Center plotted the course of airplane on a plexiglass board and then reported to the
national air surveillance network. Evansville's code was Alpha Nectar 44 Black, according to John Willoughby,
who was one of the Ground Observer Corp during his high school days. He recalled that Mrs. Belle Perry was
Volunteers were asked to watch the skies for two hours, every other week. The Evansville Corps was cited as
one of the outstanding defense groups in southern Wisconsin. Their equipment included a sound detector and
a Geiger counter for measuring radiation in case of atomic fall-out from a bomb. While it was hoped that enough
volunteers could be found to man the tower 24 hours each day, the post was actually manned an average of 10
hours per day.
Mrs. Alfred Hensel was honored for more than 3,000 hours of service. She coordinated the volunteers who sat
in a tower at the fair grounds and identified all planes flying over Evansville.
In 1953, the Evansville School Board was considering the purchase of land for new schools. Twenty-two acres
at the fair ground was listed as being under consideration at a cost of $11,000. However, the land was
considered remote from where the pupils lived and the tract was larger than what the seemed to be the
By 1954, the schools were becoming very crowded and special meetings were called to let citizens help find
solutions. Some suggested that the existing school building on South First Street should have two or more
stories added to it. The architects hired by the school district claimed they had examined the beams and they
would not support another floor. New footings and columns would have to be added, increasing the cost of
Again in 1956, the school district considered their options for expansion and asked citizens to consider the
purchase of property. While the fair grounds property, was not mentioned as one of the properties under
consideration, by 1959 the Evansville School District and the City of Evansville had come to an agreement. The
school would purchase the 21 acres owned by the City at the fair grounds for $25,000. Of this, the city agreed
to spend up to $13,000 to put in street, sewer, water and electricity to the grounds.
The school board and administration held meetings with the Lions Club, the PTA and other local groups. They
published articles in the paper supporting the purchase of the property for several weeks before the annual
meeting. The voters were primed to accept the land purchase. At the annual school district meeting held in July
1959, the vote was 72 to 3 in favor of purchasing the old fair grounds. Part of the sale, $10,000 was to come
from the tax levy and the additional $15,000 was to be financed. The voters authorized the school board to hire
an architect to design a new school building. The old fair grounds became the site of the Evansville High