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Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana State Fair photograph collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SP076

Scope and Contents

This collection includes photographs from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture in Indianapolis, Indiana ranging from circa 1900 to 1927 regarding the Indiana State Fair and its various exhibits, venues, shows, buildings, and grounds.


  • circa 1900-1927


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Legal title, copyright, and literary rights reside with Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN. All requests to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted to Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Historical Note

"Conceived as a venue for the exchange of ideas and to stimulate improved agricultural productivity, the first Indiana State Fair ran October 20-22, 1852, at Military Park in Indianapolis. An estimated 30,000 people paid 20 cents each to see 1,365 exhibit entries featuring an array of agricultural products and machinery.

"From the beginning, the fair focused on improved agriculture and stock production, highlighted the mechanical arts as well as farm technology, and offered plowing contests, horse pulls, and harness racing. A women’s department sponsored exhibitions and competitions in sewing, needlework, cooking and baking, and other domestic arts.


"During its early years, the fair was held in different communities—Lafayette (1853), Madison (1854), Indianapolis (1855-1858), and New Albany (1859). In 1860, the State Board of Agriculture, with the financial assistance of Indianapolis-area railroads, bought approximately 30 acres on the old Northside called Otis Grove as a suitable permanent location for the fair. Bounded by Delaware, 19th, 22nd, and New Jersey streets, the area encompassed the present-day Herron-Morton Place neighborhood.

"However, in 1861, the board sought a new site for the fair upon the outbreak of the CIVIL WAR and the fairgrounds being requisitioned for military use. The Otis Grove grounds, renamed CAMP MORTON, were used by Indiana troops, housed Confederate prisoners of war, and served as the site for a Union hospital.

"The State Fair returned to Military Park for the years 1862-1864. Fort Wayne and Terre Haute hosted the exhibition in 1865 and 1867, respectively. In 1868, the State Fair returned to its rebuilt Camp Morton location, which by 1872, included the imposing Grand Hall Building composed of one million bricks, designed by EDWIN MAY, for the 30-day fair and exposition.

"During these years, however, the state board expressed increasing concern over the quality and reputability of sideshows, vendors, and auctioneer stands, which resulted in the licensing of exhibitors. In 1870, the board attempted to bar “all side shows, auction stands, fat women, white negroes, snake shows, and all classes of similar exhibitions,” demonstrating the rampant discrimination at play in sideshow and exhibitor culture that the state fair would grapple with for years to come.

"With Indianapolis’ continued northward growth, the Board of Agriculture eventually found that it needed even more space for the annual fair. In November 1891, the board sold its Camp Morton grounds for $275,100 to three Indianapolis businessmen and purchased the Jay G. Voss farm, located two miles northeast of the Camp Morton grounds at East 38th Street and Fall Creek Parkway. In February 1892, the board hired the J. F. Alexander and Son architectural firm to supervise the construction of the fair’s facilities on the site’s 214 acres. The new fairgrounds, containing 72 buildings, a 6,000-seat grandstand, and a mile race track, officially opened on September 19, 1892.


"The agriculture board guided fair operations until 1925 when the Indiana General Assembly created the Indiana State Fair Board. A new fair board, established in 1947, included representatives elected from 11 agricultural districts and 5 members appointed by the governor.

"The State Fairgrounds was again requisitioned for wartime use when the Army Air Forces used the grounds during World War II. From 1942-1944, the State Fair used a scaled-back version of the exposition with 4-H competitions only.


"By the 1980s, financial problems and deteriorating conditions plagued the fairgrounds. Acting on a December 1989 recommendation from the Indiana State Advisory Commission, the Indiana General Assembly abolished the old fair board (1990) and created in its stead the Indiana State Fair Commission to operate the fairgrounds and an Indiana State Fair Committee (later renamed the Indiana State Fair Board) to run the annual State Fair.

"In 1990, with the advent of the new Commission, the Indiana State Fairgrounds began hosting year-round events. Many venues have undergone renovations and upgrades to accommodate the ability to use the site for conventions, consumer shows, sports, concerts, fairs, exhibitions, meetings, weddings, banquets, and retreats."

Excerpts from: Boomhower, Ray and Linda B. Weintraut. "Indiana State Fair and Fairgrounds." Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, 1994, 2021. Revised July 2021. Accessed October 4, 2021.


0.05 Cubic Feet (2 folders)

Language of Materials



This collection is arranged by size and subject.

Custodial History

This collection was received by Rare Books and Manuscripts as a donation from the Indiana Department of Agricultre on 1927/11/07.


No further additions are expected.

Related Materials

Materials relating to this collection may be found in the following collections in Rare Books and Manuscripts, Indiana State Library, Indianapolis, IN:

OBC228: Indiana State Fairgrounds oversize collection

Processing Information

Collection processing completed 2021/10/14 by Brittany Kropf. EAD finding aid created 2021/10/14 by Brittany Kropf.
Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana State Fair photograph collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Rare Books and Manuscripts Repository

140 North Senate Avenue
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204 U.S.A.