Late last year, Bismarck resident Terry Light decided to indulge his childhood curiosity. He started researching the Illinois and Indiana Fair Association (I and I Fair). And he didn’t realize where he would end up.
“I was just curious, and when you’re curious about something you delve into it,” Light, 64, said.
He began his personal research project in December. In March he completed the compilation of historical facts, highlighting the transformation, historical figures and dates associated with the area’s fairs over time.
His findings are set to be housed at the Vermilion County Museum.
Light said as a 16-year-old he used to deliver livestock feed to patrons in Danville. During his deliveries he would see physical remnants of the I and I Fairgrounds. Later he started collecting Danville memorabilia and seeing old photos, program books and tokens from the fair, which peeked his interest.
As a result, Light’s interest in the I and I Fair turned out to be the probable history of the current Vermilion County Fair and Expo.
“This fair that we have … we can stretch it back to the I and I Fair Association,” Light said. “I think that’s a safe assumption.”
Light’s research comes from court records as well as documents and memorabilia from the Vermilion County Museum, the Illiana Genealogical and Historical Society and the Danville Public Library.
Here are some key dates compiled by Light that show the progression of the I and I Fair and the beginning of the Vermilion County Fair and Expo which continues to this day:
- 1916 — May 9, Eastern Illinois Fair was incorporated.
- 1917 — May 17, Eastern Illinois Fair name changed to Illinois and Indiana Fair Association. Capitol stock increased from $2,500 to $75,000. Many improvements were made to the grounds. First fair was held in September.
- 1919 — May 31, Illinois and Indiana Fair Association capital stock increased from $75,000 to $200,000. Grandstand was built to seat 12,000.
- 1928 — June 16, Illinois and Indiana Fair Association sells property to Stanley J. and Ada Mires. Mires secures a mortgage the same day from Palmer National Bank for $35,000; June 25, Vermilion County Fair Association was incorporated and authorized capitol stock of $115,000; July 7, Stanley J. Mires and Ada Mires sell property to the Vermilion County Fair Association.
- 1936 — Vermilion County Fair Association transfers property to the estate of J. G. Hartshorn to satisfy an indebtedness secured by a mortgage on the property.
- 1940 — June 24, Hartshorn estate sells the south half of lot four, except the pool area, lot five and part of lot six to the Danville Public Housing Authority. This is the start of Fair Oaks Housing Complex. (Fairgrounds were previously bordered by Voorhees Street to the north, Stewart/Fowler Street on the west and Fairchild Street to the south.)
- 1945 — Oct. 16, the estate of J. G. Hartshorn sells the rest of the property (northern half) to William F. and Ida Brown of Louisville, Ky.
- 1946 — American Business Club of Danville organizes to revive the Illinois and Indiana Fair.
- 1947 — March 18, the Eastern Illinois Fair Association was incorporated.
- 1948 — June 29, the Vermilion County Fair Association was dissolved.
- 1950 Nov. 15, Illinois and Indiana Fair Association was dissolved.
- 1951 — Attendance for the Eastern Illinois Fair Association was more than 35,000. (The fair existed at the north half of the old property until 1956.)
- 1956 — Eastern Illinois Fair Association announced the purchase of property in the southeast corner of Kickapoo State Park, where fair is located today west of Danville. The first fair to be held at the new location will be the 1956 fair.
- 1967 — Dec. 15, Eastern Illinois Fair Association changed its name to Eastern Illinois Agricultural and Industrial Expo.
- 1979 — Dec. 4, Eastern Illinois Agricultural and Industrial Exposition changed its name to Vermilion County Fair and Expo.