The Society was formed on June 2, 1941 when about 50 Platte County farmers and businessmen met. Gifts of both land and money had been offered if such a society were organized. Much of the early efforts of contacting people in the county, securing gifts and obtaining necessary legal work, was done by M. M. Taylor. Mr. Taylor was the President of the Central National Bank. It was primarily through his efforts that the gift of $5,000 cash from Mr. Theo Friedhof and the gift of the 84 acre farm from Mrs. Albert H. Gehner was made.
Mr. Friedhof was a retired merchant who for many years operated a department store on the southeast corner of 13th Street and 27th Avenue. Mrs. Gehner was the daughter of one of Platte County’s earliest settlers. Her maiden name was Helen Browner and the farm which she gave was known as the Browner Farm.
The first Board of Managers represented all parts of the County as is true of all subsequent Boards. The first officers of the Society were:
President: George Soden, Manager of the local Swift & Co. plant.
Vice-President: A.P. Peterson, Lindsay Postmaster.
Interested in 4-H and was referred to as the father of the 4-H movement in Platte County.
Secretary: J. H. Moeller, Owner of Columbus Credit
Bureau Treasurer: M. M. Taylor, President of Central National Bank
Ed Nielsen was appointed to head the drive for funds. He was owner of Nielsen Garage. The goal was $10,000 with a minimum of $ 5,000. A very successful campaign raised over $ 13,000. An additional gift of $ 5,000 was then made by Mrs. Gehner and Mr. Friedhof and it was earmarked for the auditorium. Mrs. Gehner gave additional gifts totaling $ 8,000 which were used to beautify the grounds and make other improvements.
As money became available buildings were built to house livestock during the Fair and horses during the Races. A grandstand was built as was a race track. Many areas of the grounds were used for production of crops and a beef herd was kept until 1959. Improvements continued to be made.
The Society has sponsored a Fair every year since it was organized. In 1941, tents were used for the housing of livestock and exhibits. Later permanent buildings were erected. The Fair has always been primarily for 4-H and FFA exhibits. However, open class shows have been held in some classes.
To commemorate the 25th Fair in 1965, it was an “all free” Fair. Since that time no admission to the grounds has been charged. Both attendance and exhibits have grown to make the Platte County Fair one of the largest in the State and possibly the Midwest.
The first race meet was held in 1942 generating approximately $10,000 in profit. Nearly all of the labor was donated the first few years. Profits continued to grow peaking at $ 366,000 in 1987. This was the first year of intrastate simulcasting, with Ag Park being the first Nebraska track to broadcast their live meet to Omaha and Lincoln. Interstate simulcasting followed in 1989. Since then profits have declined due to rising expenses and competition for the entertainment dollar. However racing was once again profitable in 1999. A Race meet has been held each year since 1942.
The track was a half mile in size at first, but in 1958 was enlarged to 5/8 of a mile. Additional barns have been built until up to 1000 horses can now be stabled on the grounds. Many barns have been built to accommodate livestock exhibits during the Fair.
Soon after the organization of the Society a need was seen for a grandstand and also barns to house animals during the Fair and Races. The first barns and a grandstand seating 750 people was constructed in the mid-1940s. Since then as money was available, additional buildings have been added.
In 1952, an exhibit hall, which has since been replaced was built. This building had kitchen facilities and was used many years for various meetings. In 1953, a Behlen type multi-purpose building was erected costing about $22,000.
In 1956, an administration building of cement block construction was built. This building is heated and air conditioned and cost over $ 16,000. It is used for the offices during the Fair and Races. Also in 1956, a new paddock was built costing $ 4,200. City water and sewer lines were extended to the grounds that year. This project cost over $30,000.
During 1957, the track was enlarged at a cost of $ 12,000. Concrete and black top roads were built costing over $ 34,000. Additional roads and drainage were built in 1958 costing $ 21,000.
In 1949, the size of the grandstand was doubled, but in a few years was again inadequate. A new grandstand was built in 1959. Behlen Manufacturing Co. was the contractor. This modern and conveniently arranged facility has a seating capacity of 4000. It has a mezzanine floor with convenient restroom facilities on both levels. The grandstand cost about $ 350,000. In 1963, an exhibit hall with kitchen and dining facilities was added to the grandstand. There was also office space and storage areas on the second floor. This addition cost over $ 186,000. An additional $ 35,000 worth of equipment for the addition was purchased. This consisted of chairs, tables, kitchen appliances and utensils.
In 1962 a trailer park and bathhouse was constructed. Trailers owned by people connected with the races, fair and shows (craft shows, antique shows, livestock shows) use these facilities. This cost over $ 18,000.
A new caretakers house was built in 1964. This was a brick home and replaced the old frame farm house which had been used for many years. The cost was $ 15,000.
The parking area was extended through the years as more and more people attended the Fair and Races. In the years 1965, 1966 & 1967 portions of the lot were paved at a cost of over $ 75,000. This makes an excellent all-weather surface for parking during the Races and a location for the carnival and machinery exhibit during the Fair.
In 1966 a new vet barn was built at a cost of $ 5,000. This is used by the veterinarian during the Races to keep horses for examination.
New barns were built from time to time and old ones remodeled. In 1969 some of the oldest pole type barns were removed and an all metal barn was built. This barn has partially open sides and has removable show pens for hogs and sheep. It also has a show arena with bleachers. During the Races stalls are put in to stable horses. This barn cost about $ 80,000. Other horse barns built in 1968 cost $ 22,000. In 1981 two new barns were built for a cost of $ 50,140.
In 1983, an elevator was installed in the grandstand for $ 40,559. The 4-H Clubroom was added on the Behlen Barn in 1984 at a cost of $ 26,000.
In 1985 the new addition on the grandstand was complete, which increased the size of the clubroom, added a new dining room and offices on the ground level. The total cost was $ 442,000.
Also in 1985, construction began on an indoor arena. Barns were moved, dirt work done and paving for a cost of $ 117,000. The indoor arena was completed in 1989 for $ 825,000.
A heating system and drywall were installed under the grandstand and on the mezzanine level in 1991 for a cost of $ 180,000.
In 1995 improvements were made to the exhibit hall, with wallboard and insulation installed for $ 72,000. Air conditioning was added in 1997 for a cost of $ 62,000.
There were many other minor improvements and additions which add to the attractiveness and convenience of the facilities.