In 19th century, Seward’s King's Fair ruled

Balloon ascension, King?s Fair, September 13, 1881. From the collections of the Hennepin History Museum.

taken from the Seward Profile

Editor?s note: This story first appeared in this newspaper in the early 1990s, with some material added in 1997 by Profile staff.

Very early in the development of Minneapolis, part of the area that was to become Seward was set aside as a fairgrounds. The land was purchased in 1863 by the Hennepin County Agricultural Society to be a permanent home for the Minnesota State Fair.

However, neither the county or the state Agricultural Society had sufficient money for the improvements.

Four leading businessmen, anxious to promote Minneapolis, came to the rescue by offering $13,000 to enclose the fairgrounds with a fence, lay out a racetrack and erect several buildings.

The four were: George A. Brackett (Brackett Field?s namesake), a flour miller; Dorilus Morrison, who later became the city?s first mayor; William S. King, a land developer; and J.M. Eustis, owner of the Nicollet Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

The first fair to be held on the site in 1865 was a huge success. Horace Greeley, the famous journalist and editor of the New York Tribune, was invited from the East to address the crowds of 12,000? 15,000 who attended the fair.

The fairgrounds were not used again, however, until 1877, when it became the site of the first ?Minneapolis Exposition,? or King?s Fair, organized by William S. King.

King, a newspaperman and a dedicated abolitionist, had come to Minnesota from New York in 1858. His first enterprise was a newspaper called the Atlas, which expired nine months after his arrival.

Later ventures were more successful. By 1877, he had helped to found the Republican Party in Minnesota, served a term in Congress and helped to organize the Minneapolis Tribune.

The first King?s Fair in 1877 was jointly sponsored by the State Agricultural Society and the Minnesota Stockbreeders Association. On the fairgrounds were a racetrack, amphitheater, agricultural hall, dining rooms, stock pens, stables and a mechanical hall for industrial exhibits. On display were fine livestock, the latest in housewares, sewing machines and clothes washers.

Thousands of people from the five-state area flocked to the fairgrounds annually for the next four years to view displays of flowers, vegetable and grains, and to compete for prizes.

Beginning in 1878, the sponsorship of the fair was assumed by leading Minneapolis businessmen.

That same year, President Rutherford Hayes and James Blaine, a U.S. Senator and sometime presidential candidate, addressed the crowds.

A hot-air balloon destined for Boston or Philadelphia lifted off in 1881. It became becalmed a few hours later and landed in a field only six miles away.

The King?s Fair outshone the State Fair, causing St. Paul and Minneapolis businessmen to unite in an effort to find a joint site between the two cities. They purchased the present Midway location where the State Fair has been since 1886. The competition proved too much for King?s Fair which subsequently closed its doors.

last revised: March 29, 2006