The Madison County Fair was started in 1873 at the First Presbyterian Church on the corner of Third and Main. On March 2, 1874 those interested in the Madison County Agricultural Society met to make plans for the second Madison County Fair and to better organize. Section 8 of the regulations governing the society was amended to require parties competing to pay $1.00 and thus become members in the society and secure funds to conduct the fair. They secured twenty-three members. A committee was then formed to prepare a track for the exhibition of trotting and running stock. It was then decided to hold the fair at Madison, Nebraska. The Fair was conducted mostly by volunteers.
The Madison County Ag Society membership elected to carry out the fair was called “The Fair Board” for many years. It is now called the Board of Directors and all registered voters are considered a member of the Madison County Ag Society. Any of the registered voters may run for a seat on the Board of Directors and vote. There are five voted on each year to serve a term of three years, they may re-run if they so wish. The Board of Directors of the Madison County Ag Society now number fifteen members. They donate their time, energy and talents to produce one of the best fairs and rodeos in the State of Nebraska.
The fair was held in the downtown area until 1882. After tornadoes and a big fire hampered the events in the downtown area, they moved to the Pete Barnes farm, (now the Gary White farm) and held the events in a meadow. The 4-H groups and schools were beginning to become active participants and volunteers in participating and helping with the fair.
In 1885 a group of Madison citizens known as the Madison Driving Park Association, incorporated for the purpose of purchasing 25 acres in the northwest part of Madison (part of the present day fairgrounds) for use as the County Fairgrounds and leased it to the Madison County Ag Society (MCAS). It also built a trotting horse race track, which until the late 1930’s was a part of the fair attraction. Madison Downs then began with horse racing. The racing program was separated from the fair until attendance fell off. Horse racing came to an end in 1971. The MCAS then became the main supporter of events. They incorporated and started meeting once each month and still do to this day.
The Fairgrounds were used for other events throughout the year, the school rented it for an athletic field; buildings were rented to organizations and family groups for meetings, reunions etc. In the 1930’s, the Army leased some of the grounds to build a CCC Camp, which, in 1943 were returned to the MCAS by the Army. They were then utilized for use as 4-H horse barns for the fair and rented out for stables in the winters. (These were later torn down and a multipurpose livestock barn with inside arena was built. (One of the original barns is still used).
In the last years of the races the Madison Downs group authorized the Madison Jaycees to use the fairgrounds for a Rodeo. In 1998 upon expiration of the original contract with the Jaycees, MCAS took over the rodeo. To this day the rodeo is a main attraction for the Madison County Fair. National entertainment artists have been featured at the fair as well. The 4-H Clubs all have exhibits and livestock shows they participate in during the fair. The schools also display student artwork during the fair. A large fireworks finale was begun in 1996 and has become a tradition. The carnival during the fair was first introduced in early 1900 and is still a main attraction. During the day there are all kinds of action: contests and shows, turtle races, ice cream eating contest, etc. to draw everyone’s interest. The Fair and Rodeo is usually held in the month of July.
The Madison County Fairgrounds have grown from 25 acres and a few old houses to 75 acres and many modern updated buildings – 3 arenas (two outside and one large inside one), beef, horse, sheep, swine, and small animal housing with electricity, lights, plugs for grooming animals, and wash racks. It has plenty of parking with shuttle service to and from the parking areas to the main entrance. A camping area is available for those that wish to stay all week during the fair and for camper tours etc. Restrooms are modern with showers with hot water. In 1995 a large fair office and boardroom were constructed. Additional facilities include: an open air building, concession stand, nearly new grandstands, and the Octagon Building (older historic building that was called the center building. It was built sometime in the mid 1800’s). The grounds, buildings, and arenas are rented out and used year-round.
The Madison County Fair and Rodeo will again be the host to well over 60,000 fairgoers this year. Attendance at the Fair has grown from a crowd of 50 to 60 people in 1873 to over 60,000 in the 2000s.
Madison County Fair and Rodeo
401 W 6th St North, Madison, Nebraska