Escanaba received the honor of being named the location for he Upper Peninsula State Fair in April, 1927. Michigan Gov. Fed Green signed Act 89, which stated, "An annual state fair at the City of Escanaba, which shall have for its main purpose the exploiting, and encouragement of improved methods in agriculture and industrial pursuits I hereby authorize."
Funds were allocated for construction of exhibit buildings, livestock shelters, a grandstand and racetrack. The site for the fairgrounds was the same location as the Delta County Agricultural Society fairs. Construction of the grandstand, said to seat 4,500, began in March 1928.
Opening day of the first U.P. State Fair was September 17, 1928. This late fall date was chosen so blue-ribbon winners from all surrounding county fairs could enter at the state level.
The week's activities included: horse racing, a cow-calling contest, horseshoe pitching, carnival rides, circus and vaudeville acts. Fireworks closed the fair each night.
Of special interest was the first auto racing in Escanaba. Drivers from around the Midwest gathered to participate in a variety of contests throughout the week on the new racetrack. The track was banked in the corners in hopes for state speed records, but wet weather kept the ground too muddy for high speeds. A 50-mile endurance race concluded the week.
A long tradition began when Gov. Fred Green made a special trip to visit the U.P. State Fair that first week. He combined a tour of the new fairgrounds, with the dedication ceremonies of the peninsula's first airport, which was also in Escanaba. The Upper Peninsula Airways, Inc. was originally built north of the city, between Escanaba and Gladstone.
Green flew in to town on a Thursday. In honor of that special visit, the mayor of Escanaba ordered all business closed on Thursday afternoon. Citizens were encouraged to attend the dedication of the airport and take time to see the fair.
The international News covered Green's visit with a cameraman who captured Escanaba on film. In October 1928, the Delft Theater provided the people of Escanaba with those news clips as part of the featured program. The short movie showed Green arriving in the Escanaba airport, views of the guest speakers, scans of the fairgoers, livestock judging, and an aerial view of he new airport.
The fairgrounds have seen many improvements since 1928. The present site encompasses 120 acres of land and has been expanded to 24 buildings. The office complex and grandstand, which seats 3,500 was completed in 1987, at the same time as a half-mile racetrack. A horse barn and indoor riding arena were completed in 1988. Facilities include the Ruth G. Butler Exhibition Building, a hone/art building, and maintenance shop. Temporary administration office, cattle, horse, poultry, sheep, and swine barns, youth exhibit building, dining hall, dormitories and horse and cattle show rings.
The original concept of the fair to use the facility only during fair week had changed dramatically. Non-fair events utilize the grounds and buildings during the entire year.
Events have included, national camping rallies, horse shows, sport shows, auto shows, livestock sales and clinics, Great Lakes Logging Congress, antique machinery displays, flea markets, concerts, square dancing, evangelistic crusades, pet shows, banquets, indoor ice arenas, and indoor tennis.
Agriculture and the natural resources of the Upper Peninsula are still an important focus of the U.P. State Fair. Evidence of this is the "pocket park" which first opened in 1999. The Department of Natural Resources created the park with a wildlife display, a stream with a waterfall, picnic area, teaching station and a replica of the Sand Point Lighthouse. The centerpiece of this project features a pond shaped like the U.P., stocked with fish for young anglers.
At the conclusion of the first U.P. State Fair in 1928, a news article summed up the success and excitements of the week. The only complaint was about the cold, wet weather toward the end of the week. Perhaps proving that some things in the Upper Peninsula never change.
According to the Delta County Historical Society, the Upper Peninsula's State Fair began back in April of 1927 when then governor of Michigan Fred Green signed into life Act 89, which read, "An annual state fair at the City of Escanaba, which shall have for its main purpose the exploiting, and encouragement of improved methods in agriculture and industrial pursuits I hereby authorize." Since then the fun hasn't stopped! Of course, the fair itself doesn't run year round, but the fair grounds, originally built with funds provided by Act 89, are used for more than just the fair.