The arrival of hundreds of glimmering horse trailers and clanking trucks precariously carrying carnival rides, combined with the sweet-sticky-hot-oil smell of cotton candy and deep-fried food, and the cacophony of livestock being herded into pens at the fairgrounds can only signal one thing: the Wasatch County Fair.
By Lindsay Clyde-Flanagan
Heber Valley’s first fair-like event took place in July 1860 as a celebration held to honor the arrival of the early Mormon Pioneers in 1847 to the Salt Lake Valley. Festivals commemorating Pioneer Day and Independence Day took place all over our valley, even before Utah became a state. These celebrations included activities such as infantry processionals, martial bands, and gunfire salutes.
Over the years, Wasatch County has added various markets, festivals, and fairs, to their seasonal celebrations. One of the community’s favorites is the Wasatch County Fair, where residents have the opportunity to showcase their vegetables, livestock, and crafts. Musicians, artists, and other performers can demonstrate their talents on stage and display them in exhibit halls. While there are no tractor pulls today, as in fairs past, there are other events that have been added to the celebration — helping the festival to adapt to, and include modern culture and encourage community attendance. Heath Coleman, Assistant Director of Wasatch County Parks & Recreation shared that through the years, Wasatch County Fair has sponsored a variety of activities like a skating contest, pool party, barbecue dinner, parties in the park, and a battle of the bands.
THE EARLY YEARS
Although the first official Wasatch County fair would not take place until 1913, various events were held throughout the county. In the 1870s, a group organized themselves as “The Agricultural Association” and brought together an exhibit of local products. A special fair was held in 1896 in honor of Utah becoming a state. The first Miss Wasatch was crowned that year and went on to represent Wasatch County at the statewide celebration.
In August of 1912, the Wasatch Wave reported that it began receiving inquires regarding rumors of an official county fair to be held on September 6th. Residents wanted to know whether or not it was actually going to take place. The Wasatch Wave called out organizers to prepare the fair; however, it was postponed until September 26 and 27, and an official “Wasatch County State Fair and Irrigation Congress Committee” was chosen.
Sadly the fair of 1912 didn’t happen. The Wave reported, “Did you see the county fair held yesterday and today in Heber? Neither did we…something is wrong somewhere, and the people have a right to be disappointed.”
In the spring of 1913, the community held a livestock show and sent another nudge to the fair commission asking them to plan a county fair that fall. In May, the association was reorganized and began planning a county fair that would showcase not only livestock but other exhibits such as farm, orchard, and homemade goods, as well. To the delight of all, the long-awaited Wasatch County Fair took place November 6-7. In 1914, the fair association reorganized, and another successful fair was held October 15-16.
In 1915, the county voted to have a permanent association established to change the fair from an association to a “co-operation” to encourage entries from boys and girls’ clubs in the county, creating a more community-engaged event where schools would help to promote exhibits through club activities. In April of that year, it was voted by regular election to have the fair incorporated under state laws, and the first incorporated fair was held September 22-24 of that same year.
Starting in 1925, the Wasatch County Fair became an annual event and, with the exception of the years 1942, and 1944-1947 due to World War II, has been held every year since. One of the largest and most attended fairs took place in 1959 when the entire valley seemed to turn up in honor of Wasatch County’s Centennial Celebration.
THE FAIR TODAY
Today the fair continues to be a significant event in the valley. Several changes have taken place over the years, including the location of the fair. The old fairgrounds, where the livestock show and carnival were held, were once located at 400 South and 300 West. The former rodeo grounds are now the Wasatch County Veteran’s Memorial Park, and the rodeo and derby are currently held at the Wasatch County Events Complex.
Although the building of the Events Complex met with some opposition in the valley, it has proven to be an ideal location for the Wasatch County Fair. The Events Complex has also hosted events that promote tourism in the county, such as the Utah State High School Rodeo Finals, the Wilderness Circuit Pro Rodeo Finals, the Children’s Justice Center Gingerbread Festival, motocross races, concerts, and high school graduations.
The Wasatch County Fair Days Parade has also seen a few changes over the years. According to Mr. Coleman, the parade used to travel down Main Street for two nights, now it is held on a Saturday afternoon and runs from the Heber Valley Railroad on 600 West to School House Way and ends on 910 South. With input from the fair board, the Utah Department of Transportation, and local law enforcement, this change was made to help with high traffic that needed to be re-routed on the back streets and to help keep both parade-goers and participants safe.
In 2025 the Wasatch County Fair will celebrate 100 years! Perhaps the residents of the county will have an opportunity to participate in a celebration that is as grand as the one held for Wasatch County’s centennial. The Wasatch County Fair has been and continues to be a wonderful testament to the spirit of celebrating one’s home and, while events and locations have changed, that spirit remains unchanged today. The Wasatch County Fair preserves the legacy of our agricultural and farming past established by the early settlers of the valley. At the same time, it offers appreciation and education for our present and welcomes the inevitable changes in the future
If you’d like a fun peek into the past visit our online article to watch a video filmed and edited by Lee Kay, of the 1935 Fair Days. It shows excerpts of the parade, rodeo, tractor pull, horse races, and carnival.