200. Mason County Fairgrounds - Mariners' Compass

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The Mason County Fairgrounds Narrative

The Mason County Fairgrounds has been at the 5302 US-10 location since 1936. The property was purchased from Charles Wing, owner of two local newspapers and a major community development leader for $5000.00. The farm was to be divided and used for a county fairgrounds and an airport.

The large west barn sitting close to the road was rebuilt with materials dismantled from the original dairy barn that stood on the Wing farm. This 100’ barn has a unique characteristic. The roof line now covered by steel, hides what was certainly built for light and ventilation. But it was also thought by some that the style chosen by the builders resembled Noah’s Ark. It has 20 large airy stalls with dutch doors and dirt floors.

This is the oldest barn on the fairgrounds and was specifically built to stable harness horses (Standardbred trotters and pacers) that came each year to the annual Western Michigan Fair to race around the ½ mile track. Today the track is barely visible and can only be remembered by an older generation. Many early fair patrons experienced the thrill of drivers sitting on a flimsy cart holding onto a pair reins attached to an animal trained to get to the finish line first! It was not unusual for the grandstand crowd to witness in horror, drivers and horses getting tangled up, resulting in serious injuries.

For many years, harness racing was the major visitor attraction at fair time and this photograph gives us a glimpse of that glorious past.

The quilt pattern titled Mariner’s Compass has the distinction of being Mason County’s first painted 8x8 barn quit square. Hanging on the west end of the harness horse barn, an estimated daily 24,000 east bound cars are treated to the colorful painting in hues of red, blue, yellow, white and green. An accomplished artist, Janice Shelley volunteered to paint the first barn quilt square. Her tools consisted of an old overhead projector, pencil, straightedge, a quality brush and “mint green frog tape.” A stepstool was used to reach the highest edges. Janice claims the secret to this form of art is simply straight lines!