The $140,000 4-H Encampment Building was one of several fairgrounds projects that utilized federal funding made available during the Great Depression. $30,000 was provided by the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works.
The project was started in the summer of 1934. The July 20, 1934, the Hutchinson Record reported that work on the building was delayed due to a late shipment of brick from the brick plant in Buffalo, Kansas. At that time, eighty men were working on the building, laying interior brick.
This large building project was no doubt important to the local economy in the depths of the depression. The November, 1934 State Fair Bulletin noted that all labor and practically all of the material used was secured in Kansas with 86 1/2% of the $28,000 spent for labor going to Hutchonians. All labor was limited to thirty hour weeks in order to distribute the work among a large number of men. Approximately $26,000 was spent on eighty-five carloads of building materials obtained through Hutchinson dealers. A total of sixty-five carloads of local sand were used. The building was not completed until December 21, 1934 when board officials examined the building and fair secretary, H.W. Avery, declared it to be “the best in the United States.” At completion, the Y-shaped, two-story brick building was large enough to house 800 4-H youth, with a dining room capacity of 800 and an auditorium that held 1,000.
Governor Alf M. Landon and Senator Arthur Capper paid a visit to the 1935 Fair to dedicate the new 4-H Encampment Building. Delegates from every county in the state came for the first encampment in their new building.
It was also noted that the Kansas State Fair was the first state fair in the United States to start a 4-H Club Department. The Encampment Building is still in use, providing important living and activity space to 4-Hers attending the fair.
During December, 1940, as a response to World War II, the National Guard was mobilized on the fairgrounds in the Encampment Building which housed 378 Hutchinson and Reno County men who named the temporary location Camp Fred L. Lemmon after a popular National Guard Captain from World War I days. The guardsmen were called the State Fair Soldiers. In 1942, the Navy housed men in the building while the nearby Naval Air Base was constructed. The Encampment Building was used toward the end of the war to house German prisoners of war. The POW’s arrived in March, 1945 and worked for local farmers until November of that same year. The men were hired out that summer to work for farmers and orchard owners in the Hutchinson area. Pay was in script which could only be spent in a commissary installed inside their quarter. Friendships were made between some of the Germans and the local residents which have continued for years.
The first mass for Holy Cross Catholic Church, now located across Plum St. from the Fairgrounds, was said in the Encampment Building on June 23, 1957. This site for Sunday Mass was used until a new church and school building could be constructed.
The building has continued to be used primarily as an encampment facility for 4-H activities since 1945. In the early 1980’s the building housed a Chinese youth delegation.
The building was extensively renovated in the mid-1990’s with air-conditioning added to the auditorium and two exhibit halls on the first floor.
Today it is one of the most frequently used buildings throughout the year as a popular location for meetings, wedding receptions and similar events.