Buffalo County Fairgrounds – Kearney NE


In the early 1930s, the Buffalo County Fair was in dire straits. It went broke and was taken over by the County Farm Bureau, and thence was taken over by the newly formed Buffalo County Fair Board. In 1936, the old grandstand blew down in a storm. It appeared to many that the County Fair was becoming an extinct entity.

Plans for a new and improved Buffalo County Fairgrounds were announced in February 1937. Buildings were planned for construction that would total a financial outlay of approximately $25,000.00 and included two horse barns, a double hog shed, two cattle sheds, a new band pavilion situated in front of the 1936 grandstand with dressing rooms underneath, display booths for merchants, and landscaping and grounds improvements. The buildings would be of “permanent” construction, with concrete foundations or floors and solid shingle roofs. The new livestock buildings would be grouped at the east end of the fairgrounds, and plans had already been drawn up for their construction. In February, they were simply waiting for WPA approval of the project. The old buildings were set to be razed, with some of the lumber being reused in the new buildings.

In April, the project was nearly abandoned due to a lack of funds for materials. The fair directors were informed that unless $2,000.00 could be raised, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) would not provide the labor and a small fund for materials for the project. The directors approached the county supervisors and secured a loan of $2,000.00, to be repaid $500 each month for four months. Due to a lack of adequate funding, the project became smaller and smaller in scope, first limited to five new buildings, including one horse barn, two hog barns and two cattle barns. By early May, the project would only include four new buildings, eliminating one of the hog barns. The new buildings were lined up in a row, along with the poultry building which was moved from another location on the grounds, creating a livestock “row”. The south and east end of the fairgrounds were reserved as a midway for carnival attractions and concessions.

In June, the Daily Hub reported that improvements were progressing rapidly, in hopes of being prepared for the August fair. The grandstand was being protected with a screen of woven wire, mounted on welded steel supports. The screen was intended to provide protection for the public from stray baseballs. The ball diamond itself was going to be rotated around so that home plate would be situated directly in front of the grandstand. The grandstand could also serve as the location of concerts, as a stage could be erected on top of the diamond and the stands used for the audience. Fair organizers promised a big show come August.

By mid June, the new “Livestock Row” of buildings was completed, the ball diamond had new fencing, a tree had been removed for a larger area for carnival rides, and a picket fence around the grounds had been replaced with a woven wire fence that was said to be “unclimbable.” In July, an additional WPA project for the fairgrounds was sought and quickly approved. The fair organizers asked for an additional grant to enlarge the grandstand by an additional thirty-two feet, which would increase the seating capacity from 1800 to 2200 spectators. In addition, the space underneath the seats was repurposed for concessions and sale of souvenirs. Work began immediately on the concessions areas, however the hope was to have the additional seating finished for the 1938 fair a year later. By the publication of the Daily Hub the week before the fair was set to begin, the improvements at the county fairgrounds were complete. In addition to new buildings and barns, the roads were improved, concrete sidewalks were laid, and the entire grounds were cleaned up. Buffalo County fair patrons were thrilled by these improvements, who found them inviting and a laid the groundwork for what they felt certain would be the best county fair in the state.

A plan for improving the grounds for the 1938 County Fair was hatched in February, 1938. Again sponsored by the WPA, the plan involved fifteen separate projects. A modern restroom would be erected with a cement floor and a shingled roof. A cesspool would be dug for the restrooms. Over six hundred feet of sidewalks would be laid. The streets would be raised, graded and graveled. Trees would be transplanted, along with additional shrubbery plantings. A barn and other outbuildings would be dismantled to make space for other buildings. Twenty-four picnic tables would be built. The ground would be leveled in places, improving the grounds and the ball park. A livestock arena would be built, with a roof and pens, primarily for use in judging hogs. Various repairs to existing buildings, the painting of roofs, a new irrigation well, and removing and rebuilding fences wrapped up the entire vast project.

In April 1938, an old horse barn was removed, making way for the proposed irrigation reservoir. A low reservoir, built with earth banks measuring forty feet wide and two hundred feet long, which would be used to store up a surplus of water for use as needed during the growing season. Land on the grounds would be used to grow experimental crops during the growing season, and then provide an interesting demonstration of irrigation methods during the fair. Later in the month, test plantings of potatoes, beets, sorgo and other crops began. The reservoir and pump were ready for use by mid-May.

In March 1939, the Buffalo County Fair Board announced that yet another WPA project had been approved. They received a $22,500.00 grant for the construction of a 4-H Club exhibit building, an auto building, bleacher seats, county concession stands, and landscaping. The materials would be obtained through the demolition f the old Roby mill and an ice house on Union Pacific Railroad property. By mid-August, the 4-H Building was finished. It was the largest 4-H building in the state outside of the state fair. The building was a two story frame structure, large enough to house 125 head on the ground floor. A large judging ring was situated at one end, and there were bleachers to seat two hundred. A dormitory was built on the second floor of the building so that boys who lived further away could stay on the grounds during the fair.

Source notes

Kearney Daily Hub, 28 March 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 22 February 1937
Kearney Daily Hub, 21 April 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 26 April 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 6 May 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 21 May 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 7 June 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 18 June 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 16 July 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 27 August 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 1 September 1937.
Kearney Daily Hub, 26 February 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 1 April 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 16 April 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 16 May 1938.
Kearney Daily Hub, 20 March 1939.
Kearney Daily Hub, 15 August 1939.

Project originally submitted by Jill Dolberg on July 24, 2015.

We welcome contributions of additional information on any New Deal project site.


Location Info

Kearney, Nebraska

Location notes: N Avenue between East 34th Street and East 39th Street.

Coordinates: 40.699330, -99.081678

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