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County fairs more than just country

Dispatch/Argus Photo By John Greenwood

Tracy McKeown, a Mercer County 4-Her, uses a vaccuum/blower to clean and dry her steer in preparation for a livestock show last summer.

A fair by any other name still would be fun, and there's lots of fair fun around the Quad-Cities.

Four county fairs grace the Illinois side of the river each summer, beginning in June with the Henry County Fair in Cambridge. Mercer County Fair is next, usually the second week of July in Aledo. Rock Island County Fair follows on its heels in East Moline the third week of July.

Whiteside County Fair is held in Morrison the third week of August, but its 4-H show is held in July.

Queen and Little Miss pageants open the fairs, with the exception of Whiteside County, which doesn't have a queen pageant. The county winners represent their county at the state contest in Springfield each January.

Although the pageantry and lights lead off the week-long events, some would say the fair doesn't begin until the first steer is led into the show ring. Others say it's the hog shows that make the fairs, while some it's the grandstand shows.

The number of personal favorites may prove there's a little something for everyone at the county fair. The county fair gives city folk a chance to see what their country neighbor is about.

Only the best livestock is brought to the fair to compete in the ring for the grand champion title and only the best grain is brought in to compete for the best of show.

Yet, the fair isn't just country. Plenty of urbanites show their flowers and compete in departments like baked goods, arts and crafts and the fruit and vegetables.

Activities don't stop there. There's plenty to do outside the show ring or exhibit hall. Each fair has a carnival and grandstand shows featuring everything from singing sensations to harness racing, drag races and tractor pulls.

Another major event in the area is the New Windsor Fair, Rodeo and Horse Show. The three-day event in August draws top cowboys and more than 20,000 people to the Mercer County community of 600 each year.

Unlike other fairs, the New Windsor Fair, Rodeo and Horse Show is not subsidized by the state. All premiums for the fair, initiated by a handful of residents over 50 years ago, are paid from entry fees.

-- By Pam Berenger (February 9, 1998)

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