Henry Overholser and the Oklahoma State Fair

State Fair Tkt 1954.jpg

Did you know?

When one thinks of the State Fair of Oklahoma, the sounds of carnival rides, carnival games and the aromas of kettle corn and corn dogs come to mind. What most people don’t realize is the State Fair of Oklahoma was first held in 1907, making it 112 years old this year. As the State Fair of Oklahoma returns this week (September 12-22, 2019), let us not forget the man who is credited for suggesting to form the organization of the State Fair Association of Oklahoma and who served as its General Manager – Henry Overholser. He would serve on the Board for many years with good friends C.G. Jones and Charles Colcord.

Henry Overholser believed in entertaining the masses as he had built the Overholser Opera House in 1903 near what is now Sheridan and Robinson Avenue in downtown Oklahoma City. In 1906 he helped the Chamber of Commerce (formerly the Board of Trade of which he was former President) purchase grounds at 10th and Eastern for a permanent home for the State Fair of Oklahoma. The first fair was held on October 5, 1907, with Governor George Haskell giving the opening address. One of its features of the fairgrounds was a half-mile horse racing track with a grandstand to seat 5,000 people. Aviatrix Amelia Earhart was the star of an air show for the State Fair in 1933.

As the Fair expanded it soon ran out of room, and a new location was found where it stands today in the area of Reno Avenue, NW 10th with I-44 on the West and May Avenue to the East. The State Fair was held at the new site in 1954. Douglas High School was built on site of the old fairgrounds. 

Henry Overholser who is also known as “Father of Oklahoma City,” died in 1915 at the age of 69. He was affectionately known as “Uncle Henry” to many of the older residents of the city during his lifetime. Today he would be pleased to see the State Fair is still going strong in a city that expands more than 600 square miles. The fairgrounds area is known today as State Fair Park and is one of the largest and busiest in the country boasting 435 acres and attracting close to one million people. Uncle Henry would be most pleased to see how both Oklahoma City and the State Fair have evolved today.

Written by: Lisa Escalon, Museum Coordinator