Local New London businessman, James Cannon, was a major supporter for the creation of a fair in New London. He led the charge to establish a Fair Association and donated the use of his land to the city. His efforts were successful and the first New London Fair was held in September, 1891.
More than 1000 people attended the opening day of the fair which far exceeded expectations; “people streamed into the grounds to an extent that completely surprised the management” (New London Tribune, September, 24, 1891). At the height of its popularity, thousands of visitors walked, came by horse and buggy, or rode the train to come to the fair.
The fair was a celebration of agriculture with thousands of community farmers attending to compare notes and share ideas regarding crops, gardening, and advances in farming. Displays of machinery and livestock were prominent. Local businesses displayed their goods while premiums offered in a variety of categories encouraged participation from the community.
New London Fairgrounds
Over the years there were a variety of attractions to keep the crowds entertained. They included a diving dog, trick bicyclist, slack wire performances, bands, and hot air balloons. At the final fair in 1912, the highlight was the twice daily takeoff and landing of a biplane.
Harness racing was a popular draw for the fair. The field east of the farmhouse was a 1/2-mile racetrack with the first fair having 40 entrants. The oval shape and clay surface drew loud praises of its quality from horseman.
In 1897, 3,000 fairgoers stood in the rain to hear Wisconsin politician Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette speak. La Follette toured Wisconsin fairs that year promoting the adoption of a primary election system in state politics. He later became the governor of Wisconsin and then a U.S. Senator and founder of the progressive party.
The final fair was held in 1912. The highlight of the last New London fair was the airplane that was on the grounds that year. The biplane awed its audience as it made two flights daily taking off and landing in front of the grandstand.
Thern Farm is located on the former site of the New London fairgrounds and the farmhouse that stands today was built as a dining hall for fairgoers.