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Arts and Entertainment

Every year, one of the most anticipated summer events is the Boone County Fair. It is a festive atmosphere where, for six days a year, adults become kids again; children live on elephant ears and carnival rides; where young and old unite for beauty pageants, sack races, tractor pulls and cars crashing into each other.

“It is a big deal,” says Tom Ratcliffe, a volunteer director of the Boone County Fair Board, who was born into the fair. His parents, John and Francis, were fair volunteers dating back to the 1950s, and his brother, Jack, is current vice president of the board. “There are cows, horses, chickens, rabbits, as well as non-livestock items like cakes, photography and quilts.There are carnival rides and the food. There are so many different aspects to this fair.”

In 1855, the Boone County Fair started at Big Thunder Park in Belvidere, before moving 12 years later to Belvidere’s Spencer Park, along the Kishwaukee River. The Boone County Fair would have qualified as one of the oldest, continuous county fairs in Illinois, but it was discontinued during the Civil War.

The fair, which is owned and operated by the Granges of Boone County, moved to the Boone County Fairgrounds in 1963. A group of volunteers from Boone County went to Indiana to visit other fairs, to come up with a design specifically for the Boone County Fairgrounds. The property, which started with 83 acres and now has more than 152 acres, has dedicated space for carnival, livestock, concession and grandstand/track areas.

Each year, there are 104 county fairs in Illinois. According to local officials, the Boone County Fair is one of the most well attended county fairs in the state. The fair averages between 190,000 and 200,000 visitors annually. The attendance record was set eight years ago, when more than 204,000 patrons passed through the turnstiles. Not even inclement weather, which the fair has seen over the years, is enough to drive some fair lovers away.

Speaking of numbers, each year more than 3,500 animals are shown, including horses, hogs, beef, dairy, rabbits, goats and chickens. In addition to the animals, the fair features 6,000 non-livestock entries, which include fruits, vegetables, flowers, sweets, and artwork, all vying for top-ribbon finishes. There are 400 commercial exhibits as well, with area vendors selling everything from Hawaiian shirts to hot tubs and snow blowers.

If carnival games are your thing, you’re in luck. People of all ages spend hours on the midway, competing for goldfish or stuffed animals, by tossing ping pong balls, shooting baskets or trying to knock down milk bottles. And what would a fair be without the Ferris wheel, funhouse, and other attractions that spin, twirl and bounce guests around all day long?

Then there are rows and rows of the mouth-watering food. There is anything you crave – ice cream, corn dogs, shish kabob, roasted corn, and hand-made donuts. Just don’t look for alcohol at the Boone County Fair, because there is not any, which is another reason for this fair’s popularity.

The Boone County Fair kicks off on Tuesday night, with a queen pageant that always packs the grandstands. Old-timers still reminisce about the 1969 pageant winner, Judi Ford, who was later crowned Miss America that same year.

There are approximately 84 acts that perform throughout the week – musicians, magicians, and animal acts. Much of the entertainment is free. The main entertainer is always a country musical act. Other free offerings include mother/daughter and father/son look-alike contests, karate demonstrations, and lip sync and karaoke contests.

In addition to the Boone County Fair, the Fairgrounds are used for a number of activities from April through October.

Heritage Days is an annual two-day festival in Belvidere that takes place the weekend before 4th of July. The annual event celebrates the community and the rich history of our area. Heritage Days include an art show, go kart race, car show, music, bed races, parade and an impressive fireworks display.

The Autumn Pioneer Festival is held the fourth weekend in September. The festival celebrates the early 1800s time period. The fun includes reenactors, blacksmiths, voyageurs, a wigwam, two authentic 1800’s log cabins, a one-room schoolhouse, horse and wagon rides, music, woodcarving and other life skills of the day. Food choices include buffalo stew, pioneer fries, apple butter and root beer. Suggested donation of

$5 per family.

Hometown Christmas transforms downtown Belvidere the first Friday night and Saturday morning in December into a family event, celebrating the holidays with horse-drawn rides, music, entertainment, arts & crafts, food and more.

The Community Building Complex of Boone County is a state-of-the-art banquet hall/community center. Opened in 1939, the Community Building was once part of the original high school. Six years ago, the building underwent a $1 million renovation and is ADA accessible. The Community Building hosts a variety of events including weddings, banquets, community plays and the circus. •

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