The first fair in Steele County was held on October 17, 1860 and premiums during that year were quite interesting. Best 6 yoke of working oxen – $6, best wagon made in county – $3, best buggy made in county – $5, best team and plow – $2, best butter churn – $1, best corn and best 100 lbs of flour – 50¢.
There is no record of fairs between then and 1871. Historians suspect the advent of the Civil War terminated fairs until 1871.
From 1871 through 1917 the fair was held at various sites throughout Owatonna until 1871 when the fair was held on 40 acres of pasture land at the head of Main Street in eastern Owatonna and eventually moved to the current site of 70 acres in 1918.
Steele County made real history when the Minnesota State Fair was held here in 1883 & 1884. Large crowds came by chartered trains to the city to enjoy the fair.
By 1927 the fair made the decision to make the fair a “free fair”. The fair grew and thrived.
The 1930’s brought lavish stage shows with beautiful chorus lines that played before the grandstand nightly. By 1932 big car racing came to the fair. Auto racing and motor events became huge attractions, and to this day remain the most popular type of entertainment at the fair.
Free stages developed by 1979 and have hosted hundreds of talent and musical acts. The fair has also had a strong agricultural history. It still hosts about 2000 animals at the fair every year and the fastest growing show is horses.
The fair has always attracted merchandise and food vendors and now hosts over 500 booths with over 100 different food stands each year. In 2009 the fair had vendors from over 26 states. In addition to the merchandise and food stands today’s fair features 24 bands, everything from old time to hard rock and dixieland to gospel music.
With attendance in the 1920’s reaching 30,000 to over a quarter of a million visitors today, plus the hundreds of volunteers working together annually to assure a successful fair you can see why the Steele County Free Fair has been billed as Minnesota’s largest county fair for over 80 years.
The Muckle Fair Museum was donated by Stan Muckle (1909-1995) who put his money where his heart was as an ardent Steele County Free Fair supporter and leader in the vision which has resulted in “Minnesota’s Biggest County Fair!” The Museum is full of interesting memorabilia from past fairs. The Museum and all buildings are open from 11 am to 10 pm during the fair.
Village of Yesteryear
Be sure to walk through the Village of Yesteryear. A collection of 25 buildings from Steele County’s early years located east of the fairgrounds. Admission is FREE during fair week.