Adobe Stables at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds

Year Listed: 2007
County: Otero County
Construction Date: 1938
Threat When Listed: Neglect

Status: In Progress 


The Adobe Stables consist of four long, rectangular stable blocks that face each other across a large open space used for saddling and other race preparations. The stable blocks are approximately 12’ deep; each stall is roughly 10’ wide. The total combined length of the four stable blocks is approximately 840’, containing 80 stalls. Slightly pitched shed roofs, which slope towards the rear, cover the single-story, rectangular plan stable blocks. The stables are constructed of adobe blocks resting on a concrete foundation. The walls are approximately 8’ tall. The adobe blocks measure roughly 6” x 6” x 12”. WPA workers left the adobe blocks exposed instead of covering them with plaster, which is how WPA adobe block construction was typically finished. The interior walls dividing the stalls are also composed of adobe blocks. The stall openings have simple wood framing and concrete sills. A wooden dutch door covers each opening. The floor of the stalls is dirt. Each stall has a single, 4-light, fixed, wood-framed window on the rear wall. Exposure to weather has weakened the adobe walls on the north end of the stables, causing a portion of the north wall of the west and east stable blocks to collapse.


The Adobe Stables meet Criterion A in the area of Social History for their association with New Deal construction programs. Constructed by the WPA, the Adobe Stables present an important record of the federal relief programs administered in Colorado’s eastern plains during the Great Depression. Though the dire economic conditions of the Depression affected all of Colorado, drought and dust storms hit the agricultural-based economy of the Eastern Plains especially hard. The stables were one of a series of WPA improvement projects at the Arkansas Valley Fairgrounds between 1937 and 1940 that provided a significant source of employment for Rocky Ford. It is also the best surviving example of WPA work at the fairgrounds and in Rocky Ford.

The Adobe Stables also meet Criterion A in the area of Entertainment/Recreation. The stables are part of a fairgrounds facility that is very important to the history of Rocky Ford. The fair celebrates Rocky Ford’s proclaimed title as the “Sweet Melon Capitol of the World.” The fair draws visitors from throughout southeastern Colorado. Established in 1892, the Arkansas Valley Fair is the oldest continuous fair in Colorado. The fairgrounds also host a variety of 4-H programs, recreation activities, and special events throughout the year.

The Adobe Stables meet Criterion C for architecture for their distinctive method of construction. The stables are a good example of adobe construction, a regional construction method that is becoming increasingly rare. It is especially unusual for a structure with exposed adobe blocks to survive; WPA workers typically covered adobe blocks with stucco. However, the fact that the adobe is exposed allows an uncommon opportunity to examine adobe construction methods more closely. The WPA used adobe construction for many of its projects in eastern Colorado since this indigenous construction method was both inexpensive and labor intensive, fitting with the WPA’s objectives of spending as little of project budgets as possible on materials and as much as possible on labor.

Historical Background

George W. Swink, a State Senator and agriculturalist, started the first Watermelon Day in 1878, with free watermelon distributed to Rocky Ford visitors. This event evolved into the Arkansas Valley Fair. Established in 1892, the Arkansas Valley Fair is the oldest continuous fair in Colorado.

During the early 20th century, the fairgrounds the Crystal Sugar Company owned the fairgrounds and leased them to the fair association. In 1936, the Arkansas Valley Fair Association purchased the grounds from the Crystal Sugar Company. The fair was an important community and regional event, especially during the Depression when people were seeking a distraction from economic hardships. The fair association announced a “new, novel, and peppy” fair program for the 1936 fair. The program included Tommy Douglas and his educated mule, stunt plane feats, ski jumping from fast moving automobiles, and stunt driving in addition to the usual horse racing, steer roping, and bulldogging contests. Attendees came from Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas as well as from all over Colorado.

During the 1930s, several WPA improvement projects occurred at the fairgrounds. The county commissioners sponsored the first WPA improvement project at the fairgrounds in 1937, which consisted of general repairs, totaling $18,036 in cost. Improvements included painting the grandstand, rebuilding the boxes and replacing seating in the grandstand, and building a new corral.

The Rocky Ford School District (Otero #4) purchased the fairgrounds in January 1938. The district planned to use the fairgrounds as a recreational facility for the nearby high school, creating a permanent facility for school sports and physical education. The school district leased the grounds to the fair association during the fair. After purchasing the fairgrounds, the school district applied for a WPA project to construct new horse stables, raze existing barns and horse sheds, repair the stock and implement building, repair the grandstand, and generally improve the grounds. The district submitted the project application (No. 465-84-2-196) on January 24, 1938. The total cost was $24,022 with $20,897 of that in federal funds. According to the application: “School District #4 is interested in improving this property in order that it might be more useful for carrying on all types of athletic events, 4-H club work, and various other types of school activities.” According to a progress report: “the ‘Old Mexican’ idea was employed in roofing these sheds in that we used a mud, straw and sand mixture, laying it a depth of about 3 inches so as to make the roof water proof even in rainy seasons, thus affording a good insulated dry roof at a minimum cost to the sponsors.” The WPA supervisor estimated that workers would need to manufacture about 60,000 large adobe bricks in order to construct the horse and stock stalls. Construction started in March 1938 and ended on November 25, 1938.

Many of the stalls have been repaired and a successful Kentucky Derby-themed fundraiser was held in 2017. Further fundraising is required for matching funds to assist the owners.

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