ONE TANK TRIP: Fairground buildings a journey back in time

The 1930s transformed the site, which later was home to an airplane propeller plant

Sloane Martin
August 29, 2019 - 3:46 pm

This year's State Fair revealed the revamped north end neighborhood with the brand new events center, a structure that stands in contrast to other buildings around the fairgrounds.

The fair has been on the site in one way or another, minus interruptions for a polio outbreak and the second world war, since 1885. Since then it's gone through many changes, but maybe none as significant as the period after the Great Depression when the Works Progress Administration transformed it.

"(With) these WPA buildings, we were able to remove all of these wood structures and get these buildings that were going to fire-proof, sturdy, and stand the test of time," Keri Huber, the state fair's official historian and archivist, said. "Not only did it work in the fairgrounds' favor to get these buildings, but it also gave people money and a job that they do desperately needed."

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The horse, swine and poultry barns as well as the 4-H building are just some of structures on the grounds defined by their art deco architecture. WPA workers also planted more than 400 trees, paved streets and added sidewalks bringing it up to modern times. You can see the signs when entering those buildings, including one on the 4H building that reads: "a permanent structure created by otherwise idle hands."

"It's hard to see when you're at the fair because you're going through crowds of people and you're looking at 'which food am I going to try next?' and things like that," Huber said. "But I walk around the fairgrounds yearround and when you look at the sidewalks some of them are stamped 'WPA 1940.' To think that there's still sidewalks from nearly 80 years ago, I think is so impressive."

After the WPA projects completed, the livestock areas served another purpose.

"Shortly after in 1943, the government took over these buildings for the war plant and they created airplane propellers," Huber said.

Structures like the Cattle Barn and Fine Arts Building have been around since the early 20th century, and with the mix of old and new, it's a testament to the longstanding tradition of the fair.

"Appealing to the Minnesota State Fair, I think, is that people want to keep coming here and relive those memories and also create new ones."

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