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A Look Back into the History of the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds


The Fair had no permanent home but was held in various locations within the Springfield city limits. For the last part of the 1920’s and early 1930’s, a location around what is now Pickwick and Grand Streets was used.

The need for a permanent location was evident, and a group of local businessmen, headed by Louis Reps, organized to locate and establish a permanent headquarters. This research started in the early 1930’s.

A suitable location was found adjacent to the Zoo grounds and encompassing the city’s racetrack and grandstand. This was ideal because of the large amount of acreage and beautiful tree-laden hills. The racetrack, although somewhat primitive, was suitable for the grandstand spectaculars that were planned for Fairs to come.

The land was already owned by the Springfield Park Department and, as soon as an approval was given by that organization, the formational committee proposed an 1⁄4-mill tax levy that would go for the improvements needed to the grounds. The first Fair was set for October 10-16, 1937.

The first Fair buildings consisted of the already constructed Grandstand and a house that was used for an administration building. There was an area for display and exhibits located under the grandstand. All other structures were portable tents and booths.

Admission and exhibits were free in the Thirties. The only charge to fairgoers was for carnival rides, food, and Grandstand performances. The Grandstand shows of the Thirties included major production spectaculars; special vaudeville and circus acts; horse, car, and motorcycle races; stunt shows; and big band entertainers. Admission for these shows ranged from 25¢ to $1.00, depending on seat location.

Due to extremely cold weather during the first Fair in October 1937, dates for the remaining Fairs of the Thirties were changed to mid-September. Area educators praised the Ozark Empire District Free Fair as “an outstanding educational exhibit and tribute to Ozark people and their heritage.” Schools in Springfield and surrounding areas dismissed classes at noon at least one day so students could attend the Fair. The Fair reciprocated with special prices to grandstand shows and gave special prizes.

By a special act adopted by the Park Board, camping was allowed on the Zoo grounds adjacent to the Fairgrounds. This enabled people who displayed exhibits to remain near them.


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