Fun at Ohio’s County Fairs

This 1883 photograph of the Wood County Fair from the Pemberville Public Library via Ohio Memory shows various sorts of agricultural merchandise for sale.

While the Ohio State Fair wrapped up this last Sunday, “fair season” is still in full force as county fairs around the state mark the calendar between now and October. The state’s earliest fair–in Paulding County–kicked things off in mid-June, while the Fairfield County Fair (known as the “last and best” according to their website) will draw the season to a close October 8-14. Each county in the state has its own fair, with the exception of Licking County, whose residents usually attend the Hartford Independent Fair or the Knox County Fair instead. Ohio Memory is full of images related to Ohio’s county fairs through the years, so let’s take a look at a few today!

Warren County Fair 4-H building via the Ohio Guide Collection.

It takes a lot of work to get a fair ready to go! The photograph above shows laborers constructing the 4-H Club Building for the 1936 Warren County Fair. Warren County’s first annual county fair was organized by the Warren County Agricultural Society in September 1850, although it was not the first to be so named, according to The History of Warren County. Originally held at “Osborn’s Grove,” on the farm of John Osborn east of Lebanon, the fair has long since moved to newer and larger grounds managed by the WCAS. Following the 1902 founding of 4-H by Albert B. Graham near Springfield, Ohio, the fair began including 4-H exhibits and livestock shows in addition to the fair’s many other attractions.

Children at the Wood County Fair, via Ohio Memory.
Preble County Fair poster in Eaton, via Ohio Memory.

One thing that draws many attendees to Ohio’s county fairs is the food, like the cotton candy seen being devoured above, from the Wood County District Public Library. But other attractions and activities serve as a lure, too, including harness racing–as advertised in the poster at right, for the Preble County Fair in 1839. This popular competition, in which horses race at one of two specified paces while pulling a driver in a two-wheeled cart called a sulky, is also documented in Ohio Memory at the Defiance County Fair, the Geauga County Fair, the Huron County Fair, the Wyandot County Fair and the Darke County Fair.

Other less-common spectacles that you may find in Ohio Memory include the jousting competition seen here, collected as part of the Ohio Guide Collection, or the daredevil high diver Harry Six, from Bryan, Ohio, who made his teenage diving debut at the Williams County Fair in 1897. Six set one world record in 1901 for diving 136 feet off of the I.C. Railroad Bridge in Cairo, Illinois, and won the world championship for shallow water diving in 1915, with a jump of 104 feet into a 3′ 3″ pool of water.

“See Ohio First” exhibit ca. 1966, via Ohio Memory.

If you enjoy attractions with a little less adrenaline, Ohio Memory also has examples of exhibits like the one seen at left at the Vinton County Fair. The exhibit promoted Ohio as “Transportation Center of the World” with signs reading “First in Industry” and “One in Five Persons Employed in Ohio Work in Fields Related to Highways.” Other exhibits include this floral mound commemorating Erie County Fair’s 100th anniversary in 1955, with foliage provided by the city of Sandusky’s greenhouse; a WPA exhibit at the Montgomery County Fair with handicrafts, clothing and more; and a lip reading demonstration from 1936.

Planning to take in a county fair this weekend? You’ll have your choice of plenty in counties around the state, or on Ohio Memory!

Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!



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