Mrs. Hill Goes to the Fair

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

Throughout August, I am tracing Mary Hill’s summer of 1886 by highlighting her daily diary entries – follow me on Twitter to see what Mary, her family and all the visitors are up to at the Hill family’s summer estate and farm, North Oaks.

Since the Minnesota State Fair begins today, I thought it would be fun to see what Mary had to say about the Fair in her diaries. Mary was proud to be an early Saint Paul settler, moving with her family to the Minnesota Territory in 1850 – eight years before Minnesota became a state.

On September 10, 1885, Mary writes: “Went in to City to Fair with Mrs. Swan, Emma, Mamie and boys…saw Annie and family at Fair.” Mary came to the Fair from the family’s summer place at North Oaks, bringing her children (Mamie, Jimmie and Louis). The Hills made the trip with neighbor Mrs. Swan and her daughter Emma. Mary even saw her sister Annie. The Fair was bringing family and friends together long before the Fair was formerly called the “Great Minnesota Get-together”!

As a Saint Paul resident living not far from the fairgrounds, I can understand  what Mary is saying in the first sentence of her September 10, 1903, entry: “St. Paul seems filled with strangers. Fair is a great success first two days.  Philippine veterans have a reunion here and a parade today.” The tradition of honoring the military continues with special events for veterans and their families (Military Appreciation Day).

Like many grandparents today, taking the grandchildren to the Fair was a tradition. Mary writes on September 7, 1910: “This forenoon Maud, little Louis, Maudie and I went to the Fair.  In the afternoon we went to hear Papa’s address, a crowd greeted him.” Unlike most children, I suppose, little Louis and Maudie got to see their grandpa give a speech to a crowd at the Fair!

(James J. Hill gave several addresses at the Minnesota State Fair – I will cover that in my next post.)

Mary thought highly of the produce she saw in 1913, writing on September 3rd:  “About eleven a.m. Clara and I went to the Fair.  I thought the display of Minnesota apples remarkable, really fine, and vegetables equaled any I have seen anywhere.”

Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
Photo: Minnesota Historical Society

The Hill farm at North Oaks sent animals to the Fair.  Mary’s pride for these animals comes through in her entry of September 2, 1916: “We have sent the Suffolk Punch horses and several Ayrshire beasts to the Fair, the latter are beauties.” Later in the week, Mary reports that the “Ayeshires won many prizes”.

On September 2, 1918, Mary writes: “I have not felt well this week.  This is State Fair week.” She follows it up with this entry the next day: “Today was airships day at the Fair.  As I am indisposed slightly…I shall have to forego the Fair.”

The promise of airships must have been too much. On September 6th she writes: “Went to State Fair saw War Exhibit, Womans Bldg., Serbian Exhibit, and Dunwoody Workings in airships, etc.  Home and tired by 4 0’clock.”

1910 Postcard of Women's Building: Minnesota Historical Society
1910 Postcard of Women’s Building: Minnesota Historical Society

There is no mention of Mary attending the Fair in 1919, but she made certain those who worked for her had the opportunity: “This is State Fair week, so each [farm worker/servant] one must have a chance to go.  Campbell and Lena today.”

The tradition endures today with some employers giving their staff a free afternoon or day off of work to attend the Fair. When I worked at the James J. Hill Reference Library, we were given a half-day to go to the Fair. I always thought of Mary’s diary entry. It is great for staff morale!

I will share more of Mary’s Fair observations throughout its twelve-day run on Twitter. Click here to see my tweets!

Want to read more on the history of the Fair? Click here to visit the Minnesota State Fair history page, with links to their digital archive.

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