Eastern Illinois University Logo
Localities |

Mattoon Street Fairs


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



Additional Resources

Mattoon Free Street Fairs: 1897-1902

The Mattoon Free Street Fairs -- Introduction

The Mattoon Free Street Fairs exhibited a community’s cultural attitudes towards celebrations and progress at the turn-of-the-century. The World’s fair-like atmosphere brought publicity to Mattoon and customers to its business center. Backed by the local business community and sanctioned by the local municipal government, the Free Street Fairs showed off Mattoon’s business acumen and the city’s progressive nature to Illinois and the nation. It also portrayed important cultural values of the business community. Control of the fairs by the local business establishment ensured the correct economic and cultural image of Mattoon. Negative aspects, however, later overshadowed the event. When the Mattoon’s business leaders could no longer control the celebration and its message of progress, they opted to withdraw from the Free Street Fair, thus ending the experience.

The Mattoon Free Street Fair Boards 1897-1902

Community and economic leaders supported the Free Street Fairs and they are reflected in the board members over the years. 

The make-up of the Mattoon Free Street Fair Boards has been compiled from various newspaper article concerning the fair and the "History of the City of Mattoon" [undocumented sourcebook located in the Mattoon Public Library.]

Fortunately, an advertisement in the September 14, 1900 Mattoon Gazette listed that year’s “Official Fair Directors”, along with their standing in the community. “These men are among Mattoon’s leading citizens and their guarantee that the Street Fair of 1900 is to excel all others, needs no further endorsement.”

Additional biographical information regarding the board members was taken from

History of Coles County Illinois. Charles Edward Wilson, 1905 [reprinted Higginson Book Company, 1998.] 

Mattoon: A Pictorial History. Jean Johnston et. al. G. Bradley Publishing, Inc.  St. Louis, MO, 1993. 


1897 Mattoon Free Street Fair Board


Frank Kern, President 

L. L. Lehman, Vice President 

S. W. Phillips, Vice President 

S. R. Evans, Treasurer 

D. D. James, Secretary and General Superintendent 

J. M. Kelley, Assistant Secretary

Additional Directors 

George N. Buck  

Louis Katz 

W. W. Simpson


1898 Mattoon  Free Street Fair Board


J. J. Beall, General Mananger S. W. Philips, Second Vice President and Chairman of Construction Committee 
L. L. Lehman, Vice President  and Chairman Concessions Committee 
John McNutt, Jr.,  Secretary 
S. M. Owings, Treasurer 
Louis Katz, Chairman of Advertising Committee 
Geo N. Buck, Chairman Entertainment Committee 
Arthur Sommer, Amusement Committee

Additional Directors  
W. W. Simpson 
Theodore Jonte

louis katz ad 1900
Advertisement from October 7, 1900, Mattoon Gazette  


1899 Mattoon Free Street Fair Board


General Horace S. Clark, President 

Valentine Schlicher, Treasurer 

T. M. Lytle, Secretary

Additional Directors 

Arthur Sommer, Superintendent of Amusements 

Louis Katz, Superintendent of Publicity 

A.  H. Sutherland, General Superintendent 

W. W. Simpson, Superintendent of Concessions 

James H. Clark 

Frank Schulhoff 

William Moran


1900 Mattoon Free Street Fair Board

Officers and Directors 
James H. Clark, President (President, Mattoon State Savings Bank)

T. M. Lytle, Secretary, (Clerk of City Court, Mattoon) 
Frank D. Barr, Treasurer (city clerk) 
F. M. Schulhoff, Finance  (of the famous Bower & Schulhoff’s Fair) 
Louis Katz, Advertising (25 years leading clothier) 
George N. Buck, Amusements (for 30 years known as one of Illinois’ best dry goods merchants) 
E. E. Staninger, Exhibits (head of Chicago Board of Trade) 
William Moran, Construction (hardware dealer, member of city council) 
Amos Messer, Public Safety and Lighting (implement dealer) 
E. Blood, Transportation (of Blood and Cokendolpher dry goods house) 
George B. Swan, Fraternal and Special Days (lifetime hardware dealer)


1900 fair ad 2 
Advertisement from September 14, 1900, Mattoon Gazette


1901 Mattoon Free Street Fair Board


General Horace S. Clark, President 

T. M. Lytle, Secretary


Additional Directors 

William Moran, Construction 

Charles E. Blood, Advertising  

E. C. Craig 

E. E. Staninger 

A. H. Messer 

Charles Hogue 

George W. Shaw


1902 Mattoon Free Street Fair Board

Officers and Directors 

General Horace S. Clark, President 

T. M. Lytle, Secretary

M. L. O’Connor, superintendent of the flower parade 
 Assistants: Charles E. Rudy and John Kurtz

George H. Rudy, superintendent of Horse Department 
 Assistants:  Walter Johnson and Tom Bell 

Addtional Directors

Amos Messer, Livestock 
William Moran 
Arthur Sommer 
Vincent Aye 


General Horace S. Clark - veteran of the Civil War, attorney. General Horace S. Clark moved to Mattoon in February 1865, was admitted to the bar in 1868, and practiced law in Coles County. 
He served in many capacities in his affiliations with the Republican Party: elected Judge of the Common Pleas Court in 1870; elected to the State Senate in 1880; made delegate-at-large to the National Republican Convention in 1888; and chosen elector-at-large on the Republic ticket in 1896. He served as Department Commander of the Illinois Grand Army of the Republic for the year 1891-1892; was appointed Commander of the Second Brigade I. N. G. by Governor Tanner, resigning in 1903. He was a member of the Masons and the Elks. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, pp. 772-773)

James H. Clark - President, Mattoon State Savings Bank. James H. Clark moved to Mattoon in 1862 and became interested in mercantile pursuits.  A Republican in his political views, President Grant appointed him postmaster in 1869 and served until 1885. He served on the Republican State Central Committee for more than 23 years.  He also served under President Harrison. James H. Clark died in 1903. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, p. 773)

Edward Chilton Craig - lawyer.  E. C. Craig was born in Mattoon on April 7, 1872. He grow up in Mattoon attending Mattoon high school, he then attended the University of Illinois where he obtained his degree in 1893.  He was admitted to the bar in January 1896, and practiced law in Mattoon. Mr. Craig is a Democrat. He represented his ward for one term in the City Council of Mattoon and served as a member of the Board of Education. He belonged to the Episcopal Church, and a member of the Elks. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, p. 777)

Frank Kern - businessman. Frank Kern was mayor of Mattoon from 1891-1892. During his administration concrete sidewalks were laid, electric light installed, a telephone company enfranchised, and the last of the “cow ordinances” passed. 
(Information taken from Mattoon: A Pictorial History, p. 28) 

Hon. Lewis L. Lehman – President, First National Bank. Lewis L. Lehman was born in Germany and came to the U. S. in 1858, before settling in Mattoon in 1875. He was President of the Mattoon National Bank from 1880-1888, and later President of the First National Bank. The Hon. Mr. Lehman was a Republican, serving ten years on the City Council, and serving four years (1888-1892) in the State Senate. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, pp. 824-825)

John McNutt, Jr. – lawyer. John McNutt, Jr. was born in Coles County in 1872 and began practicing law in Mattoon in 1896.  He was elected City Attorney in 1899. A Republican in his political affiliation. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, the Knights of Pythias, and the Elks. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, p. 833)

Amos Messer --businessman.  Amos Messer came to Mattoon in 1859.  He was part of the firm of Messer and Flower of Mattoon and in 1900 established a real estate business in 1900.  He was a Republican, serving as alderman (1891) and sheriff (1894).  He was a member of the Masons, Elks, and the Knights of Pythias. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, pp.834-5)

William Moran – hardware dealer. William Moran was born in County Carlow, Ireland, and became one of the prominent citizens of Mattoon. He was narrowly defeated for mayor, and served as alderman from Mattoon’s Sixth Ward. Mr. Moran was a member of the Elks, the I. O. O. F. (Odd Fellows), and the Knights of Pythias. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, pp. 841-842)

S. W. Phillips -- businessman. S. W. Phillips came to Mattoon in 1895 and engaged in the broom-corn business in Mattoon. He was regarded as a man of good qualifications as a merchant, and devoted his attention closely to his business concerns. He was a Republican, and a member of both the Elks and the Knights of Pythias. 
(Information taken from History of Coles County Illinois, p. 853)


To learn more about the Mattoon Free Street Fair see the Mattoon Gazette and the Mattoon Daily Journal [1897-1903]. 

Mattoon newspapers announce the Street Fair board decisions on October 5, 1897 [Mattoon Gazette]; September 2, 1898 [Mattoon Gazette]; August 11, 1899 [Mattoon Gazette]; August 3, 1900 [Mattoon Gazette]; August 23, 1901 [Mattoon Gazette]; and August 26, 1902 [Mattoon Daily Journal.]  Articles concerning the ill-fated seventh fair begin as early May 6, 1903 [Mattoon Daily Journal.]

Scholarly materials about Free Street Fairs as a late nineteenth century phenomenon and their social and economic impacts are rare. Information has been gleaned from the following books and articles.

Doenecke, Justus.  “Myths, Machines and Markets: The Columbian Exposition of 1893.”  Journal of Popular Culture, 6 (3), 1972: 535-549. 

Doenecke looks at the ‘machine in the garden’ and efforts of Fair organizers to humanize the industrial order through pastoral motifs. Man created a new rural world by using Nature while still devoting itself to productivity, wealth and power. The fair, in its park-like setting, is a tribute to that technological society. In 1893, economic panic, class war, and growing urbanization and industrialization racked the US. In addition, the frontier (Nature), according to Frederick Jackson Turner, was closed.  The new escape, after viewing the fair, became burgeoning world markets recently opened to imperialist America. Doenecke uses a number of primary and secondary sources to support his findings.  The secondary sources, now however, are dated. It provides a concise look at the Chicago’s World’s Fair as a “machine in the garden” and market place, but myth is lost and unconnected. 

Glassberg, David. American Historical Pageantry: The Uses of Tradition in the Early Twentieth Century.  Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1990.

Glassberg’s book focuses on the community’s control of history and tradition through the ritual of historical pageantry. America’s pageantry history spans roughly the Progressive era years of 1905 to 1930.  Glassberg lays out the history of community celebrations prior to the pageantry movement, however he overlooks the Street Fair movement.  Parallels, though, can be drawn to questions he posed. Namely, what were the creator’s explicit purposes and symbols of the Fairs? How did the fairs depict history, community and change? And, how were the social relationships entailed in producing a “collective” [community] imagery?  (p. 3)

Howells, D.  “Fairs In America.” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, 106, December 1902: 163-167. 
Lloyd, Nelson.  “The County Fair.” Scribner’s Magazine, 34 (2), August 1903: 129-147.

These two article recount contemporary views of county fairs at the turn of the century. Howells muses on turn-of-the-century country fairs and accompanying amusements, which gives a good comparison to the Mattoon Free Street Fair. 
Nelson’s colorful musings bring fairs to life, and add a human rather than academic dimension. The article is a snapshot of county fairs. He describes street fairs briefly at the end of the article, but does not give them justice. 

McKenney, Carlton Norris.  “The Richmond Free Street Fairs and Carnivals.”  Virginia Cavalcade, 32 (2), 1982:  86-95. 

McKenney recounts the Richmond Free Street Fairs of 1900 and 1901 and briefly describes the people and events that made them possible.  His article points to civic boosterism as the driving force behind the Richmond Free Street Fair.  Like Mattoon, Richmond found the street fair to be a showcase for downtown merchants as well as the city.  The article unfortunately lacks footnotes or other authoritative materials (drawing mainly from the Richmond Dispatch). 

Miller, John E.  “The Old-fashioned Fourth of July: A Photographic Essay on Small-town Celebrations prior to 1930.”  South Dakota History, 17 (2), 1987: 118-139.

Miller’s examination of celebration practices in small South Dakota towns is insightful, but all too brief.  Fourth of July celebrations, like Street Fairs, provide commentaries on community identity and ideology. These celebrations according to Miller are “carried on within the context of civic time and space,” and are a broad consensus of social values. Photographs enhance the readings. He relies heavily on newspapers, lacks footnotes and photographic citations. Still the article is worthy of review to those interested in American celebrations.

Prosterman, Leslie Mina. “The Aspect of the Fair: Aesthetics and Festival in Illinois County Fair.” University of Pennsylvania, Dissertation, 1982.

Prosterman examines the aesthetic processes of Illinois county fairs in the early 1980s.  She examines the exhibits, judges, criteria and participants of the county fair and its influences on the community.  She relies heavily on personal interviews and experiences to state her claims.  This dissertation provides background information on the history of fairs along with workings of fairs.

Rydell, Robert W. All the World’s a Fair.  Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Rydell delves into the meanings of World’s Fairs from 1876-1916. Fairs held deep meanings of progress, not just economic; but more importantly, they were symbols of racial progress. Fair and exhibit organizers, anthropologists, and even Midway entertainment, echoed themes of America’s cultural and racial superiority (progress) to its visitors.

Articles on carnival and celebration entertainment, though not a primary focus of this site, but still important include

Dembroski, Theodore M. “Hanky Panks and Group Games versus Alibis and Flats: The Legitimate and Illegitimate of the Carnival’s Front End.” Journal of Popular Culture, 6 (3), 1972: 567-582. 

Carnivals are a significant part of the outdoor amusement industry and more complex than meets the eye.  Dembroski through his research describes the social aspects of the front end of carnival midways, games, food and straight concessions. The article relies heavily on interviews, observation, personal experiences and trade magazines and has a bias to the legitimate carnie.  The article is valuable as a dictionary of carnival terms.

Inciardi, James A. and David M. Petersen.  “Gaff Joints and Shell Games: A Century of Circus Grift.” Journal of Popular Culture, 6 (3), 1972: 591-606.

Inciardi and Petersen trace the evolution of circus grift (short-changing or ‘sure-thing’ gambling). Grifting is examined from its earliest association with animal shows to its decline in modern (mid 1900s) legitimate circus entertainment. This all too short article gives a good view of the illegitimate side of circuses and carnivals without traditional stereotyping and negativism. 


West, Amanda B. National Trust GuideMain Street Festivals: Traditional and Unique Events on America’s Main Streets. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1998.

A state by state review of popular Main Street Festivals held in revitalized commercial districts. “Developing festivals and other events based on local history, agriculture, or just plain fun is an excellent way to bring people back to the downtown to see the new businesses and rehabilitated buildings. [Festivals] are reflections of a community’s identity, which…have kindled community pride and a sense of place…” (p. xiv). Each festival and city are briefly described along with dates, admissions, travel and contact information.  The late July Bagelfest continues the business-community partnership of street festivals in Mattoon (p. 103).