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Memories of Washington County Fair 90 years ago | By Dave Bohn

Washington Co., WI – For over 15 years, Dave Bohn wrote down memories of his childhood, growing up on the family farm, just south of West Bend on Hwy P. He hopes his writings will preserve the often-overlooked stories of ordinary farmers and everyday farm life in rural Washington County during the Great Depression through the eyes of a local farm boy.
MaryAnn (Falter), Dave, Irene (Mom), Jerry, John (Dad), & Tom; photo credit Dave Bohn

Summer is a time for celebrations. At least that’s how I remember it when I was a boy in the 1930s.

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MaryAnn (Falter), Dave, Jerry, Tom; photo credit Dave Bohn

County Fair

The Washington County Fair ran for one weekend each summer and it was held in August at that time. It was a BIG, BIG thing to Dad. I think it was a big thing for everyone at that time. Dad never missed going to the County Fair as it was a good social event for him and for everyone. It seemed like almost everyone in the county went to the Fair.

County Fair, Washington

I think they charged a small admission for going to the fair, but I’m not sure how much as I was just a kid. The fairgrounds at the time were on the northeast side of West Bend where Fair Park School is today. It was held where the current school is located and then on the west side of the school grounds.

When I was about four years old I went to the County Fair with Dad. Mom wasn’t along and I don’t remember if Tom or Mary Ann were there either. Mom probably was not feeling good as she was diabetic, and she was sick quite often.

Click HERE to learn more about this year’s Washington County Fair

On this Fair trip with Dad, I somehow got separated from him. There were a lot of people at the Fair and because I was just a little boy, I could only see their legs. I’ll never forget that feeling. It was earth-shaking; never being away from home except for church and with all these people around me.

Someone must have found me crying and they announced a lost kid on the loudspeaker. The people who found me must have stayed with me until Dad came. As any little kid who was ever lost will know, I was so happy to see my dad. I remember being really shaken up about the whole thing as I thought, “Here I am, all alone,” and, “This is it for me.”

Being that I grew up during the Great Depression, we didn’t have a lot of extra money, so we didn’t do a lot at the Fair. But I do remember that at the Washington County Fair, they would have sulky horse races.

Washington County Fair

A sulky race is a single horse that pulls a small cart with a driver who holds the reigns of the harness to guide the horse around the circle track. The cart is tight up against the rear legs of the horse and it was just a two-wheeled cart.

I remember it did look dangerous, although I don’t ever remember seeing a crash. There was a wooden grandstand for people to sit and watch the race. That grandstand was later moved to City Park in 1937. I can remember going to the races with Dad, but I don’t recall much else of the day except getting lost. We probably did look at some of the exhibits, but I don’t really remember too much else as I was pretty little then.

The County Fair was held at the Fair Park School location until 1937 and then it moved to Slinger.

1953 Washington County Fair

My brother Tom recalled that when it was in Slinger, there were more tents with side shows in them. One time, our cousin decided he wanted to see one of the side shows. We didn’t have a lot of extra money to spend, but he had enough to go in to see a “human attraction.” When he came out, he didn’t feel too good for the rest of the day. I don’t know what to think about those types of attractions, but that’s the way it was in those days.

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The Washington County Fair stayed in Slinger until 1999 when it moved again to its current location, south of West Bend on my Great Uncle Albert and Aunt Ida Spaeth’s former farm (located on Hwy P and Pleasant Valley Road).

Albert was my Grandma Bohn’s brother. The farm was passed on to their son, Ray and Leona Spaeth, who were Dad’s cousins and good lifelong friends.

Because of the family connection to the new fairgrounds and because the County Fair was such a big thing during my childhood, my wife Audrey and I donated a bridge going over the pond on the fairgrounds when the grounds were being developed. They named the path by the bridge “Bohn Way.”

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