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 Summer Fair 2019

summer-fairThe registration deadline is June 1, 2019.

Please note: If you are a vendor and your main purpose is retail sales, please register as a sutler. There is no charge to participate in the Fair, however it is a juried event and sales are limited. The main purpose of the Fair is educational and the following rules apply to all participants.

  • Fair vendors are allowed to sell only civilian items.
  • Fair vendors are not allowed to use electricity or any modern conveniences.
  • Fair vendors must present an educational demonstration or presentation related to articles in their booth.

The 1863 Summer Fair has continued to attract national attention as an invigorating concept in living history. Interest in similar civilian venues has been kindled across the country and many people will be watching our growth.

The Summer Fair portrays July 1863 in Lake County, Illinois. As always, the Summer Fair will take the local facts from the period and present them in a unique civilian living history venue. Imagine—a war-time summer agricultural and social event in a prosperous, hard-working county of the President’s own great state of Illinois!

Learn more about the history of the American County Fair »

The Agricultural Society: An American Institution

In the first two decades of the 19th century, American capitalist thinkers began to envision a self-sufficient and prosperous United States free of dependence on imported goods. They encouraged farming innovations and crop reliability, shadowed by larger industrial investments such as textile factories, stockyards and meat packing houses. The improved yields of each individual farm drove the American juggernaut forward on the world stage: the farm was the foundation of the nation’s growing might. No matter how great the cities and factories may become, without food grown on the farm, they must fail.

The Advent of the American County Fair

The Berkshire County (Mass.) Agricultural Society, founded in 1811, organized the nations’ first successful county fair. As the concept spread rapidly across the new nation, the nascent agricultural societies would go on to answer many of the deepest needs of rural communities. They would become the main source for scientific education farming, encourage healthy competition for excellence and provide a vital social network for the citizen farmer. These societies would organize annual fairs where the produce of the farm—livestock, fruits and vegetables, domestic goods, fancywork, and comestibles—could be shown. Even the farms themselves were entered for neatness and overall condition. These local fairs became milestones in the annual calendar of the farm.

Initially, these fairs were largely agricultural in nature, the exhibitors being mostly farmers competing for wards or ‘premiums.’ Toward the mid-century, as businesses developed parallel to the agricultural bounty of the nation, more nonagricultural visitors came to the fairs, introducing farm implements like the mechanized mowers and reapers, advertising fledgling railroads and steam packet companies and other farm-related goods and services. Eventually, the public nature of the events brought western land speculators, railroad stock companies, patent medicine shows, prospective colleges and finishing schools, mercantile booths and other local business enterprises. Spectacles, midway amusements and more complex entertainments were developed to add status and interest to local fairs.

Local Historic Background

The Lake County Agricultural & Horticultural Society was founded in 1851, when the old Waukegan Horticultural Society voted to expand to include the whole county as well as all branches of agriculture. The old Waukegan Society had held summertime farm exhibitions at the courthouse for many years; our 1863 Summer Fair is reminiscent of that early tradition.

In politics, research into local events has uncovered the first local agreement to accept the newly-introduced Federal “greenback” as the only paper currency to be accepted for local produce, agreed to in June 1863 in Millburn. Though 1863 was not an election year, pro-Union stump speeches, railing against “copperheads” and Federal policy would put the politics of the time squarely out before the public.

1863 Summer Fair Exhibitors Needed!

Each annual 1863 Summer Fair is a chance for dedicated living historians who love their craft to showcase their talents. All you need is one good historic item, homegrown plant or fascinating concept that you can build a plausible Fair Entry around. If you don’t wish to exhibit at the Fair, we hope you’ll drop by for a browse! There certainly will be a lot to see—if last year’s Fair was any indication! Learn more »

The Fair is a juried event, which means that exhibitors will need approval from the Fair committee to participate. Campsites within the Fairgrounds will be assessed by our volunteer judges for historical authenticity, strength of interpretation and for appropriateness to the theme of the venue.

There is no charge to participate in the fair, however it is a juried event and sales are limited. The main purpose of the Fair is educational. Each exhibitor must provide an educational presentation to the public—this might be a period craft demonstration, or an informative presentation on an exhibitor’s fair entries. The following rules apply to all participants:

• Fair vendors are allowed to sell only civilian items.

• Fair vendors are not allowed to use electricity or any modern conveniences.

• Fair vendors must present an educational demonstration or presentation related to the articles in their booth.

• Registration must include a complete list of all members who will be attending—if you are not sure if one of your members will attend, err on the site of caution and include their names on your list.

As important as those who choose to exhibit, are those who choose to attend and enjoy the spectacle. Please be aware—Confederate military uniforms will not be recognized within the Fairgrounds, they will be assumed to be a state militia, military school or home-guard uniform—you have our fervent thanks in advance for your cheerful cooperation. The Fair is for all to enjoy—make the most of it, blue or grey!

CivilWarDaysFair Impressions

Fair entrants are encouraged to be imaginative—feel free to create a Fair Impression in one or several categories.

Though specifically forbidden to offer homemade foodstuffs for public sale at the Lake County Health Department’s strict regulations, many other types of demonstrations are available, including: the whole historic spectrum of fabric arts (tailoring, knitting, tatting, sale of clothing, quilting, etc.), woodworking, millinery, even sale of historic clothing and accouterments (no military items, please)—the list is limited only by the imagination, research and resourcefulness of the living historian involved. No “blanket trading” will be allowed within the Fairgrounds, but is always welcome in Sutlers’ Row.

Explore impression categories »

Impression Categories

Flowers, Fruits & Vegetables

This category is reserved for period educational exhibits of prize flowers, fruits (with recipes, perhaps?) and heirloom vegetables and herbs. Please be prepared to interpret these items for the public. Historic breeds only, please, and be prepared with documentation—Society members love their heirloom plants are always eager to learn something new about something really old! An award for “Best Blooms” is always given.

Craft Demonstrations

Any Civil War-era handcraft or traditional craft or trade may be portrayed and product offered for sale during the Fair.

Hawkers & Walkers

Itinerant vendors are encouraged: peddlers, herb-sellers, fruit and vegetables sellers, sketch artists, silhouette cutters and other period-correct itinerant commercial impressions. This includes itinerant service providers such as painters, falsegrainers, knife and scissor grinders and tinkers, etc. By definition, these exhibitors would not have an exhibit tent or fixed place of business, but are welcome to coordinate with the Society tent for breaks and other needs.

Games & Public Activities

Games and public activities are an important part of our shared public history and are encouraged as a traditional part of agricultural fairs. They promote a spirit of fun and competition and add so much to the spectacle and energy of an event.

Team tug-o-wars, games of graces, a children’s toy station and other public activities can be organized as a historical impression. This would include other staged competitions such as farm skills contests, skillet tosses and similar games.

Midway games are welcome as long as they comply with the clearly-stated boundaries of the Illinois statues. Persons wishing to provide a historic game are as a public demonstration are encouraged to contact the Fair committee regarding the finer points of Illinois gaming laws. Activities defined as gambling will not be allowed; nor any game of chance played for money or other compensation. Games of skill which compensate the actual participants, however, are welcome and are specifically exempt from regulation.

Stage Entertainers

Groups and individuals are sought for musical performances, period dramatic readings, stage sketches, patriotic tableau or any other suitable performance. This includes recitation of famous public speeches, puppet shows, juggling, period illusionists, fire-eaters, slack rope walkers, contortionists, trick animals or other entertainment. This includes itinerant preachers, politicians, patent medicine drummers and other similar traveling performers.


Anticipating possible logistical problems, we are encouraging the presentation of small lifestock (chickens, rabbits, ducks, sheep, goats, turkeys, etc.) as though they were to be judged at a period Fair. Period-correct cages or other enclosures are required, as well as historically correct food dishes, etc. Please be prepared to have an attendant with the animals at all times. Those wishing to exhibit larger livestock may be provided for on a case-by-case basis, so don’t be shy about asking. “Best in Breed” awards may be given in this category.

Wider World Exhibitor

This category is reserved for historic impressions of an educational nature which portray the world beyond Lake County. Could you portray a representative from a railroad, a Soldiers’ Aid Society, a Great Lakes steam packet line, a Temperance League, a local livery stable, or a northern Illinois stagecoach line? What about a teacher from a ladies finishing school, boarding school or teacher’s college? A land speculator selling lots in a western “utopia”? Use your imagination but keep your impression plausible, factual and relevant to the 1860s’ residents of Lake County. Also, be prepared to share your documentation and research with the curious.


No modern packaging is allowed. Tie-on price tags are encouraged whenever possible, sticker tags will be allowed on china and glassware for practical reasons. The aesthetic—the Fair’s look and feel—is slightly rustic but festive. Our forebears would have wanted to put the “best foot forward.” Tables should be nicely covered or painted, and constructed booths are encouraged for appropriate impressions. Patriotic 1860’s-compliant bunting and decorations are also encouraged. All signage, broadsides and other ephemera should be representative of the time period.


We will be hosting a number of different contests and competitions for reenactors to participate in this year. Please see the descriptions below for more information and indicate your interest on the registration form.

Explore contest categories »

Camp Cooking Contest

This contest is designed not just to test the culinary skills of the reenactors, but to emphasize authenticity.  Each camp wishing to participate should indicate such on their registration form or when they register at the event.  Materials for cooking will not be provided.  Each camp will be responsible for their menu and should bring whatever material they deem correct to their impression.  Emphasis will be place on the accuracy of the meal to the overall camp impression.  The judges will visit each camp to learn about the camp impression.  They will take notes on such aspects of the meal as how the food was obtained, what implements are used in the preparation, what the camp is representing and the consistency of the meal to that impression.  Each camp should be able to explain what their impression represents, where they are camped, and any other information requested consistent with your impression. 

Our goal is to show the public another aspect of life during the Civil War.  We take for granted the ability to walk into a grocery store and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables regardless of season.  This was not how life was lived 150 years ago.  When preparing your meal please consider what would reasonably be available to your camp.   Our desire is to help educate the public on everyday life and we would appreciate your help with this goal.

Summer Fair Food and Crafts Judging

The theme for the Summer Fair Food Judging is "Stocking Up" and will feature all manner of preserves. From pickles and kraut to jams and jellies, catsups, chutneys, and even shrubs. If you have a knack for preserving the season's bounty with a certain method, we want to see it! 

We ask that people try smoking, salting, drying or otherwise preserving meats that will hold without refrigeration for several months as well. Period baked goods also welcome. Each food entry should come with a printed recipe to share (and it would be helpful to have these a few days in advance, if possible). 

For the Crafts Judging we would like to invite those who engage in needle crafts and quilting to display some of their handiwork at the Fair. 

*All Summer Fair Food and Craft Judging entries should be assembled and clearly labeled by 11 o'clock Saturday morning at the Ag & Hort booth at the Summer Fair


1863 Summer Fair Premiums

For each exhibition category, premiums (1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes) may be given to exhibitors who are judged to have achieved an outstanding presentation in their category. Exhibitors may be entered in a number of categories.

The Award for Excellence is a great honor bestowed by the Fair judges for various facets of exemplary historic interpretation. Judges’ Discretionary Awards for Excellence will be given for outstanding interpretation, originality, research etc. at the discretion of the Fair judges. Entries will be judged on authenticity/appropriateness of clothing or costume, exhibit area layout and construction details, believability, and the quality of the goods entered. Research documentation is optional but can help an exhibitor’s overall score.

Military, Civilian and Summer Fair Registration

* Field is Required

Number of Tents:

Please indicate which members of your group (if any) are interested in participating in the following competition:
Summer Fair Registrants Only
Please give as much detail as possible; the Summer Fair is a juried venue and approval is required from the Fair Committee to attend. If using period-correct broadsides, pamphlets or other reproduction ephemera, please provide examples. If you are new to this event or are considering a drastic change, photographs of your proposed interpretation are strongly encouraged.
* No other items or services will be allowed once this list is approved.
Terms and Conditions
By checking this box I acknowledge it is fully understood and agreed that to the fullest extent permitted by law, the registrants shall defend, indemnify and hold harmless the Lake County Forest Preserve District, its officials, employees, volunteers and agents against any and all liabilities, claims, damages, losses, costs and expenses (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) arising indirectly or directly in connection with or under, or as a result of this Agreement. By submitting this registration, we agree to abide by the event’s guidelines.


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