Since 1854 the Coles County Fair has been held—making it the oldest continuing county fair in the state. However, Coles County has been interested in agricultural fairs since 1841. An association entitled the Coles County Agricultural Society was formed in Charleston on May 24, 1841. The Society held three successive fairs given on October 1, 1841, October 1, 1842 and September 27, 1843. Each fair lasted one day and, as there were no grounds belonging to the association, they were held on the town commons located in the northwest part of Charleston in what was then called “The Woods.” In 1856 the directors of the Coles County Agricultural Society were able to secure about seven acres of elevated land about a mile west from the city of Charleston. They paid a hundred dollars down on it, built a fence around it, dug and curbed a well, and made a list of premiums for the next fair to be held September 24 and 25, 1856.
The Coles County Fair suffered a great disaster Saturday afternoon, May 26, 1917 when a terrific tornado demolished the grounds, with the exception of a portion of one stable. Another disaster, a fire on December 1, 1973, killed 57 race horses. The grounds have continued to change and expand through the years and more buildings have been added and updated. People continue to come to the fair to have a good time—to be entertained by grandstand shows, horse races, 4-H exhibits, tractor pulls, carnivals rides, fabulous fair food and just to see their friends and neighbors. Community support is important; there is something for everyone at the Coles County Fair.