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Finding Minnesota: The History Of The Minn. State Fair

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FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (WCCO) — This is it — the week that the Minnesota State Fair gets started. The gates open Thursday morning.

But how did it all start?

In the beginning, there were no massive crowds. Or foods on a stick. In fact, the earliest Great Minnesota Get-Togethers weren’t even at the state fairgrounds. They took place in different cities.

“Before it became the true state fair, it was the territorial fair at the time. They would go to Red Wing, Rochester, Fort Snelling even had it. They couldn’t decide where the state fair should go,” said Keri Huber, an archivist.

And then a huge plot of land was donated to the organizers of the fair. In 1859, the first Minnesota State Fair was held at its current location along Como Avenue.

It was a place that farmers and vendors could proudly display their best goods.

It wasn’t until 2008 that the fair decided it was time to get serious about preserving its long and colorful history.

They hired archive specialists to catalog tens of thousands of photographs, posters, contest records and memorabilia.

“For photographs, they start in the 1880s. Print media it goes back to the 1860s. We can tell who won prizes from 1867,” said Steve Granger.

Huber shared the story of Dorothy Lindberg of Lindstrom, a talented baker who won lots of competitions in the 1960s and 1970s. Dorothy’s grandson emailed Keri asking if she could find any records that documented his now-deceased Grandma’s prizes.

She did.

“He emailed me requesting the history of everything she’d won at the fair,” Huber said. “She’d just passed away and he wanted these records for ancestry, the family history.”

Ever wonder about the street names at the fairgrounds? They honor the people who helped get the fair started.

And a famous horse named of Dan Patch. He played a key role in the harness racing that used to draw huge crowds at the state fair Grandstand.

The Minnesota State Fair archives are not open to the public. But what you can do if you are looking for info about a friend or relative who did something great at the fair, is go to the state fair’s website. Just click on the general information link.

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