70 years of achievement in Eagle
EAGLE, Colorado – Ski resorts and condos didn’t exist in the Eagle Valley 70 years ago. The only “gated” communities were ranches. What is now the ritzy ski town of Vail was a pasture where sheep roamed; and cattle thrived in the lush fields on Brush Creek where golfers now stroll. Agriculture was the reigning economic force. And that is the reason that the movers and shakers of the county, including the county commissioners, Eagle Chamber of Commerce, 4-H leaders and the local school board decided the time was right to stage the valley’s first-ever county fair.”The entire program will be built around exhibits of agriculture and farm home products, 4-H Club achievements, and other resources of the county,” reported the Eagle Valley Enterprise, on Aug. 25, 1939. Because the workload of farmers and ranchers eased a bit in the fall, Sept. 16 was the chosen date for the big celebration, heralded as the “Eagle County Fair and Fall Festival.”The fair was to be held on the grounds of the Eagle School, where the county administration building is now located at Sixth Street and Broadway in Eagle. In addition to a 4-H exhibit competition, and exhibits by local ranchers, the organizers were planning an exhibit competition for local farm and ranch wives. The women were encouraged to exhibit canned vegetables, fruits, preserves and pastries, and needlework. But that was just a part of the celebration. The organizers planed a full day of entertainment, including a football game between the Minturn and Eagle high school teams (Eagle won, 27-0), band concerts, a free picture show at the local movie theater, a “bountiful free lunch” for all, and a big dance that evening. There was some talk that Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr was seriously considering an invitation to attend and make a speech.
Lena (Sansosti) Yost, of Brush Creek, was just a little girl growing up with her sisters in Wolcott. Her now-husband, George, was a kid growing up at Dotsero.Although the fair in those early years was quite small compared to what it is today, they remember it as much-anticipated event.”We didn’t have the best of cars, and we didn’t go a lot of places. Heading up to Eagle from Dotsero for the fair was quite a trip,” recalls George, “The whole county turned out.”Lena earned a first-place ribbon for her 4-H sewing project at the first Fair. She remembers the Rhode Island red chickens that earned her a grand champion ribbon at a subsequent fair.”My dad oiled their beaks and their feet. My hen laid her first egg at the fair,” recalls Lena.
The community must have been ready for the celebration. “Hundreds of people came from every corner of the county,” reported the Enterprise, in a follow-up story on Sept. 22, 1939. An estimated 1,200 people ate the free lunch, served up by Moulton Chambers, who was assisted by a “bevy of beautiful and efficient young women.”Red Allen, the livestock judge sent to the fair from the Extension Service of Colorado A & M College (now Colorado State University), praised the quality of the livestock exhibits, and suggested that some of the cattle were stock show quality. The local potatoes were a standout in the crops and vegetables competition.Martin Eichler, of Edwards, and Mrs. H.C. Helms, of Eagle, took top honors in the poultry division for their pens of breeding stock. Wayne Randall’s chicken won the 4-H division honors.Rancher Fred Rule of Eagle took first prize for his alfalfa exhibit; and John Clark’s Red McClure potatoes earned a blue ribbon. Melissa Trezise of Eagle grew the best carrots; Gene Slaughter’s barley proved a winning entry; and Alex Macdonell’s 4-H steer placed first in its class.Throughout the day, the Eagle County High School band, in beautiful uniforms featuring white trousers with purple and gold caps and capes, performed for the crowd. Fair organizers were proud of the success of that first county fair. “We hope to see this fair an annual event, it being an incentive for old and young to do our work well and compete with our sister counties,” declared the Enterprise.However, that first county fair was the last such comprehensive event for a long, long time. Kathy Heicher is a freelance journalist, and can be reached at email@example.com.