In 1885, an association was formed which held a Fall Festival on the Ed Perry farm at the Southeast edge of Wayne. The street still bears the name “Fairground Avenue”.
During the late 1890s, the country was experiencing a financial panic and interest in a fair lagged and no festival was held for several years. Finally, the desire for a fair was renewed and the Wayne Speed Association was formed to sponsor a Fair. Shortly afterward, the Purebred Breeders Association joined forces with the Wayne Commercial Club and sponsored a free fair. This was financed by donations from breeders and others. This event was successful until about 1920. It became evident that the previous location was too flat and muddy and more room was needed. When public pressure caused the formation of a group known as the Wayne County Fair and Agricultural Association, the decision was made to move to the present location West of Wayne. The purpose of this group, formed in 1922, was to promote agriculture and to work for the betterment of the community. One of the ways used to promote the basic industry of the area would be to hold a county wide fair each year so the community could “show off” the richness of the soil, the many talents of its citizens, and most importantly Wayne county’s greatest asset, it’s youth.
The first fair held at its present location was took place in the open and in some tents. In 1923 two hog barns, with thirty two pens each, were built, as well as a hall for women’s exhibits and a poultry building. The Agriculture Hall was built in 1925 as well as an amphitheater. With the exception of the years known as “The Dirty Thirties”, improvements have been made each year since then.
4-H Club work in Wayne County dates back to 1921, with a veterinarian, Dr. William Hawkins who was located in Wayne. Hawkins had been acquainted with the 4-H program in Iowa and undertook the task of organizing 4-H livestock clubs in Wayne County in 1922. During the first year there were eight members who showed eight calves at the fair. When the time came to market them, Don Cunningham, a local auctioneer, suggested they take the calves to the Sioux City Stockyards. He offered to ask the packer buyers to meet with the 4-Her’s and their parents in the afternoon and bid on the calves. The calves were assembled in a corner of the stockyards and were auctioned for a good price. After this 4-H grew with leaps and bounds. The largest number of calves fed during the time Bill Hawkins was leader was 110 head. At that time, Wayne County had the second largest number of calves and members of any county in the state of Nebraska. At one time Wayne County took 96 head to the Sioux City Interstate Show and comprised approximately one-third of the show.
The fair was held in the middle of September and would end on Saturday night, and the calves would be led up on Sunday afternoon and hauled to the stockyards in downtown Wayne where they would be loaded on railroad boxcars and shipped to Sioux City. As this was in September, and most of the members were in school, two or three of the leaders and a couple older boys would accompany the calves on the train to unload and take care of them until show day when the members would go to the “city” to show their calves. After the show, street-cars would assemble at the horse and mule barns where the show was held and transport the 4-Her’s to downtown Sioux City for a banquet; courtesy of the Sioux City Livestock Exchange.
Due to the increasing numbers, Hawkins asked if the fair board could erect a beef barn. The fair board proposed that the 4-H raise what money they could and the board would furnish the balance. Busy club members gathered items for auction. These items included chickens, hogs, feed items, feed bunks, and so forth. The most unusual, perhaps, was a ring of bologna. The ring of bologna was sold and resold so many times during the auction that it became a very valuable piece of meat before someone took it home for supper. About $750 was raised and construction began shortly thereafter. The new barn would hold 76 calves with a dormitory overhead so that members could stay overnight. This is the present sheep barn Credit for starting 4-H girls clubs goes to Mrs. Merle Roe, who lived near Carroll. She started a sewing club and later a poultry club. She served as leader from 1925-1929. As there was no extension office, leaders ordered their supplies directly from Lincoln. In 1932, an extension office was established under sponsorship of the Farm Bureau. The Wayne County Fair has an illustrious history, having furnished more Ak-Sar-Ben Champion steers than any county in the Midwest.