Ag Park History
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 $
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 $
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.
Platte County Agricultural Society
- 822 15th
Street | Columbus, NE 68601