DU QUOIN, Ill. — The centennial of the Du Quoin State Fair is being honored in many ways when the fair kicks off on Aug. 26, and one of the ways is a slate of significant improvements to the historic Perry County venue that has hosted the fair and many other events, the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.
“We are trying to bring back a lot of what we found going through historical images and finding — this is what it used to look like, let’s get it back to that again,” said Josh Gross, manager of the Du Quoin State Fair.
Some of those historic images will be displayed in the Exhibition Hall, one of the larger buildings on the fairgrounds. But many of them have also guide the repair and restoration projects happening at the fairgrounds.
One particular project that is a favorite of the fair’s manager is a refurbishment of the front of the fair’s grandstand.
“What I personally feel is the neatest project and will be the most noticed — the grandstand building used to have these neon lights that ran through the spine of it, behind the glass blocks. Those same neon lights were under the front entrance to the grandstand and it just really added to the vibrant excitement of the midway. Those lights haven’t worked for a couple of decades. They have been repaired and they turned those on the other day for a trial run and it looks really special so those will be on during the fair,” Gross said.
Another renovation that fairgoers and travelers along U.S. Route 51 will notice is a refreshed main gate entrance to the fairgrounds.
“Director Costello has been here pretty much every week. That was one of the first things that he said when he came to the grounds, he said we have to make this look better. This is what people see when they drive by the fairgrounds. So, we did the same type of work that we are doing to some of the other buildings, painting, tuck-pointing,” Gross said.
Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II, like Gross, is a native of southern Illinois. Costello was born in Belleville and attended Southern Illinois University.
He served in the Illinois General Assembly as state representative for the 116th Illinois House district from 2011 through May 2019.
In 2020, Costello was appointed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker to serve as director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
Gross said work on the entrance signs is a salute to the fairgrounds’ history.
“There are a couple of old signs, one was damaged decades ago and was gone. We were able to work with historic preservation to fabricate an identical duplicate to that sign. That is going to be installed and those are neon-lit signs,” he said.
One major commemorative project that was done this spring is the planting of 100 trees throughout the fairgrounds.
“The fairgrounds is so large and the trees had started to die off in different places, whether from disease or just old age. Since I started in 2019, we’ve had to clear out some of the trees because they were becoming a hazard. So, we worked with the Soil and Water Conservation District, we worked with 4-H and local schools and we worked with Illinois’ First Lady MK Pritzker. We decided we wanted to get 100 trees planted throughout the grounds. These are all trees that are native to Illinois to replace those we had to take down. We started planting and that was kind of our official kickoff to the anniversary year,” Gross said.
As part of the capital improvement projects directed at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, Gross said the grandstand renovation is one of the major projects underway. The work includes tuck-pointing the building, replacing the glass blocks and lintels, and repainting.
“The ceiling inside the grandstand, we believe, had some of the original paint on it. Paint had flaked off and darkened and it was an eyesore after 70 years of wear and tear. We are repainting all of that and repainting all of the steelwork so that is protected,” Gross said.
Other work includes resurfacing the main stage of the grandstand.
“We are putting a permanent surface on it that should last a minimum of 50 years. This is one of those projects that we hopefully won’t have to do again for a very long time,” Gross said.
Other work on the grandstand includes replacing some steel under the lower level seats. That work won’t take place until after the fair is over, due to concrete work that has to be done.
“We have about $7.5 million of capital projects that are happening on the grounds this year and a number of projects that are not capitally funded and all of them are focused on getting the fairgrounds back up to par,” Gross said.
Here are 10 facts about the Du Quoin State Fair. This year’s Du Quoin State Fair runs Aug. 26-Sept. 5.
1. In 1991, a rising star in the country music world named Garth Brooks opened for country superstar Reba McEntire at the Du Quoin State Fair. Brooks, who had just started touring in 1991, released his third studio album, Ropin’ the Wind, on Sept. 2, the same day he appeared at the Du Quoin State Fair.
2. The first Du Quoin State Fair was held in the spring of 1923.
3. The headline entertainment at the Du Quoin State Fair RollnUp Beer Stage is free. This year’s lineup includes 38 Special. The Beer Stage is open from 4 p.m. to midnight and is located on Main Street on the fairgrounds.
4. The Hambletonian Stakes, a major harness race for 3-year-old trotting horses, was held at the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds from 1957 to 1980. Hickory Smoke, driven by John F. Simpson Sr., won the race in 1957. Burgomeister, driven by Billy Haughton, won the race in 1980.
5. The Du Quoin State Fair has been owned and operated by the state of Illinois since 1986.
6. W.R. Hayes, a local businessman and Coca-Cola bottler, is regarded as the founder of the Du Quoin State Fair. Hayes was a horse racing enthusiast and it was his dream to build a horse racing track on reclaimed mining ground he purchased. Hayes died in 1952, just five years before his sons, Don and Gene, hosted the Hambletonian Stakes for the first time at Du Quoin in 1957. Gene Hayes died in 1964. Don Hayes and his wife, Ruby, died in a plane crash in 1967.
7. The Hambletonian Stakes was replaced in 1981 by the World Trotting Derby. The World Trotting Derby continued at Du Quoin through 2009.
8. Du Quoin is named after Jean Baptiste Ducoigne, also spelled Du Quoin. Ducoigne was born in 1750 and was the son of a Frenchman and a woman of the Tamaroa Native American tribe. Ducoigne was made a chief of the Tamaroa in 1767. He died in 1811.
9. Du Quoin’s one-mile track was built in 1942 after a fire destroyed the existing grandstand and half-mile oval track. The current track is known as the Miracle Mile.
10. Hayes House, on the grounds of the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds, was built by W.R. Hayes for his son, Gene, and daughter-in-law Leah and their children. Along with the fair and the fairgrounds, Hayes House was purchased by the state of Illinois in 1986. Hayes House serves as the official residence for the governor and the governor’s family when they are in southern Illinois.