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Routt County Fair History

Racing at the Routt County Fair

I didn't know Si Dawson,
But I knew Coke Roberds well.
They built our famous race track
So I've heard people tell.

They always had good saddle broncs
Top riders rode them for the count.
The ropers tied big Hereford calves.
They each had a real good mount.

Sometimes there was a fight or two.
We always got our money's worth.
Barnum had the circus, but
We had the greatest show on earth.
-George Watts

Routt County Fair Est. 1914

The Routt County Fair was born of a time when “children did chores, arrowheads could be found on the back 40, and ice was cut from the river.” Since then we’ve seen “the outhouse hauled away, the plow horse replaced by a John Deere and farm kids majoring in Agribusiness.” The fair honors the pioneers who gathered at the Routt County fairgrounds over a hundred years ago to share laughter and lies.

In 1914 many felt that Hayden was the perfect place for a county fair. Although located in the Western end of Routt County, it was the center of Northwest Colorado which included vast areas of Routt County and the newly formed Moffat County. The success of Railroad Days (an event in 1913 celebrating train cars full of the best steers and hogs) coupled with the town’s enthusiasm for hosting an annual celebration led to the birth of the Routt County Fair in September 1914.

State Senator John Cary of Hayden encouraged using a fair to promote the agricultural products of the region and proposed that land south of town, site of some ball fields and a crude race track, become a permanent fair and racing track. The group which hosted Railroad Days, meeting informally in the back of a local store, organized the Routt County Fair and Racing Association in November 1913, which was incorporated in August 1914. The location became “permanent” when the Association purchased 40 acres at $50 per acre from Wilson Cary who took half the payment in Association stock.

In time for the 1915 Fair the grounds boasted a 1,000-seat grandstand, an improved race track, a livestock shed, a large corral, and an Exhibit Hall housing Fair offices and surrounded by balcony for agricultural displays. Immediately prior to opening, it was decided to build another small building for restrooms.

During the Depression the Association had to cancel the event in 1932, 1933, and 1934. On March 13, 1934, in an attempt to save the event, the Association deeded the Fairgrounds to Routt County for $2 on condition that the land would revert to the original owners if the Fair or rodeo was not held for two years. The Routt County Fair continues to celebrate annually on the same tract of land. Fair celebrates the community’s heritage with 10 days of horse, livestock and small-animal shows, home art exhibits, educational heritage demonstrations, horse races, horse shoes, demolition derby, youth rodeo events, adult rodeo events, barn dance, and family-friendly fun. Residents from all of Routt County’s towns attend the fair along with folks from neighboring Moffat County to the west and Eagle County to the south. Some like to participate in one or many of the activities and some just like to observe the festivities.

The annual fair event has ongoing participation and support from elders in the community, their involvement carries on the local heritage and practices by passing them on to the next generations. It is an opportunity for multigenerational education where youth and young adults learn about agriculture, food preservation, heritage arts, livestock, and rodeo from previous generations who have experience and knowledge to pass on. “The Routt County Fair is where the agricultural and nonagricultural communities meet, equal parts carnival, encampment, family reunion, homecoming day, fish fry and block party. Historians have described the fair as a place of order, ritual and tradition. Like Thanksgiving or Christmas, you remember the total experience, not the year.” (Excerpt from Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey A Pictorial Archive of the Routt County Fair 1914-1995).

To Hayden For The Fair

By: Frances M. Wheeler
(From the 1914, 80th Anniversary Book published by the Hayden Heritage Center)

Pigs a squealin’, lambs a bleatin’
Steers a gruntin’ with their cud.
Folks all busy cleanin’ stalls
If it rained, a sloppin’ mud.
The farmers and the gardeners
Bring the best of all their crops.
Cooks with canned and bakery goods,
Crews building display props.

Buckin’ stock a millin’
Race horses chomp their bits,
A band is playing loudly
With all their latest hits.
People decorating floats,
Some sideshows cry their wares,
Judges walk around importantly
Ignoring anxious stares.

It has not changed a whole lot
In all these eighty years;
4-H has brought the youngsters,
Sale of pets sometimes brings tears.

They don’t have as many races,
Most of the music’s canned,
There are no country schools
To put up booths so grand.

The announcer has a sound truck,
Excitement fills the air
As friends and neighbors gather
At Hayden for the Fair.

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