The Illinois State Fair wasn’t always in Springfield. In its first 40 years, the fair was held in a dozen places: Alton, Centralia, Chicago, Decatur, DuQuoin, Freeport, Jacksonville, Olney, Ottawa, Peoria, Quincy and Springfield.
Springfield became the permanent home in 1894, outbidding Peoria, says state fair historian Pam Gray. “Peoria would say we can donate this amount of land, and Springfield would come back and say we can give this much land, and the ultimate decision came shortly after Springfield said we will allow the state fair to have free water for the next 40 years,” she said.
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Springfield beat out not only Peoria, but also Aurora, Bloomington, Chicago and Decatur, which were vying to be the permanent home.
The State Fair began in Springfield in 1853. It did not occur in 1862 because of the Civil War, nor in 1893 because of the World’s Fair in Chicago.
Gray runs the State Fair Museum, which is at the north end of the Grandstand on the fairgrounds. It’s open each day of the State Fair.