They decided to have a fair to publicize this new agricultural aspect with a four-day event held October 2-5, 1887. The exhibits were housed in a building provided by General Bidwell on what is now known as First Street, between Main and Broadway. Among the exhibits at this fair were twenty-five varieties of apples, seventeen varieties of pears, and twelve varieties of grapes. To avoid catastrophes, citizens were requested to keep their livestock off the streets during the fair. The gala climax to this event was the Grand Ball held on the second floor of the Bidwell Building.
Two years later, in 1869, the newly formed enterprise changed its name to "The Upper Sacramento Agricultural Society," providing a broader base of interest. The 1869 post-fair results were very favorable, with crowds coming from "near and far" and stock shows "better than the State Fair." Adding to the action and excitement were horse races held each afternoon.
By 1872, opposition to the fair began, due to the gambling, drinking, and general rowdiness that accompanied it. While there were no serious incidents, the local saloons did a very brisk business.
Annie Bidwell, General Bidwell's wife, felt that the community leaders had a responsibility to set the moral tone for the citizenry. She convinced her husband to withdraw much of his support. In 1873, General Bidwell announced he could not back the community fair if racing and gambling continued. After much discussion at the Society's meeting that year, he resigned as president and withdrew from the session.
For the next four years, financial problems and internal bickering plagued the Society. Local support for the fair dwindled and the fair was moved to Marysville. It returned to Chico in 1877. After racing activities were separated from the fair the following year, General Bidwell renewed his support, contributing generously to the fair throughout the 1880's.
As the turn of the century approached, history records indicate that Chico's fair ceased, due to lack of interest and support.
In 1933 the people of California voted for horse racing with pari-mutuel betting with the condition that the state revenues generated be used to finance agricultural fairs, encourage breeding of horses, and assist state colleges and universities in their training of youth in agriculture. This same year, Bob Brown discovered, by accident, that in the 1880's, Butte County had been designated the Third Agricultural District.This entitled the County to hold an annual fair if it wished to do so.
In the early thirties, however, this state financial support amounted to little more than enough to pay the premiums. But through much hard work, fair boosters produced celebrations that grew more elaborate and exciting each year. They became so successful that residents of the area complained loudly about the noise and dust, creating a public demand for a new location. After much discussion and evaluation of sites, the new fairground's location was decided upon. It was "south of town and east of Hog Wallow Harber." The land was described as "an assortment of land - one section adobe, some red dirt, and boulders up to the second wire on the fence." The Third District Agricultural Association was officially formed in 1935. In 1938, the present day site was donated to the association by the City of Chico.
The fair became the Butte District Fair in 1939. The townspeople's spirits were very high, and with the help of WPA labor, the fairgrounds witnessed substantial development. A one-section grandstand, two sides of the Education building, and a horse, cow, sheep, and hog barn were all constructed on the site, with everyone in the area becoming involved.
But the community agricultural fair was barely settled in its new quarters when World War II came. In 1941, the land and buildings were put to wartime use. They served as housing for more than 700 field laborers, rice being an essential war industry. They also housed Mexican farm laborers and German prisoners of war captured in the African Campaign. During this era, a fire destroyed much of the exhibit barns. These were eventually replaced with Navy surplus Butler buildings.
The Third District Agricultural Association resumed operations in 1948 with its Spring Fair, held May 20-23. Car racing was included for the first time this year, a feature that remains popular today.
In 1950, it appeared that the fair was in trouble. The local merchants seemed unappreciative of the business generated by the fair and were apparently unwilling to support it as enthusiastically as before. W.H. "Old Hutch" Hutchinson was working as publicist for the fair that year. He hit upon a way to dramatize to the merchants the impact of the fair on their businesses. He ordered 50,000 silver dollars from the U.S. Mint, and all premiums and much of the fair's business were transacted with these new coins. As the large, heavy coins filled their cash registers to overflowing, the merchants got the message. These coins also appeared all over Northern California. Incidentally, that's how the fair got its present name. The first Silver Dollar Fair was held that year. The name stuck, even though business dealings reverted to the more conventional and convenient currency.
The Silver Dollar Fair has never looked back. Through the years, new and better buildings have been constructed (new grandstand in 1960). More and more events have been scheduled. Its length has been extended by going from four to five days in 1966 and to six days in 1973.
Each year the Silver Dollar Fair retains its freshness and sense of ongoing endeavor, as new generations exhibit the fruits of their labors at the fair. The volume of reminiscence grows, as the veterans of earlier fairs gather to renew friendships and compare the work of previous years. The Silver Dollar Fair links the generations and nourishes a strong sense of community.