The History of the Shelby County Fair
Careful investigation has shown that the first fair held in Shelby County was on October 8th, 1840. The premiums offered at this fair amounted to forty-five dollars. This fair was very successful and Shelby County was destined to take prominent rank among the grain growing and stock raising counties of the flourishing Miami Valley. It contains many varieties of soil to make this county one of the best. Wheat, oats, corn, and hay were the main crops in those days with oats one of the top crops in the state rating. Most farms were much different than today: as they about all raised a variety of stock and poultry. Soybeans were unheard of then. Milking was done by hand and many ran milk through separators to divide the milk and cream to make butter and feed milk to the family, pets, hogs and poultry. These people worked very hard. They were up at daylight and worked all day long. The whole family pitched in and worked together just to eke out a living. They had very few conveniences and no luxuries.
The place of exhibition of this first fair was in the Courtsquare of Courtyard. It was held under an act passed by the legislature on April 12, 1839; “An act to authorize and encourage the establishment of Agricultural Societies in the Several Counties of the State and Regulate the Same.’’ The second annual fair was held in Sidney on September 28, 1841. This was the last one held under this organization. These early fairs were mostly showing a variety of grains, vegetables, eggs, fruit, and homemade products. These fairs were very educational as many new ideas on farming and housekeeping were exchanged.
The next fair held in the County was at Sidney in the market place on October 15, 1851; this fair was given under the auspices of a new organization. The market place was held on the South side of the square in Sidney. Many old timers tell us that each week the family loaded up the buggy and wagons with homemade products such as: butter, soap, milk, eggs, fresh side meat, chickens, fruits, vegetables, cream, noodles, bread, and cornbread. From these sales and hard work these families were able to survive and prosper.
On June 5th, the board met and adopted a premium list for the fair and decided to hold its fair on the 28th and 29th days of September; but at a meeting of the board held in August of that year, it was resolved to have but one day of the fair as there was a show advertised for the 29th of September. The receipts for the fair year was one hundred and eighty-six dollars; sixty-seven dollars of this amount was received from the county. The records do not show whether this fair was held in the market place or in the public square.
The third annual fair was held in October on the 5th and 6th days in 1853 on grounds west of Sidney (known as the Jorden Property) then owned by Dr. H. S. Conklin. The fourth annual fair was held on the 12th and 13th days of October, 1854 on the east side of the river and north of the railroad on the grounds B. W. Maxwell. The fifth annual fair was held in 1855 on the grounds of J. T. Fulton on the 4th and 5th days of October. At this fair the interest began to wane and it did not come up to the fairs held two or three years prior. In those days, most fairs were held in October as most had the crops and fruits harvested and had a few days to be thankful and rejoice. The matter of securing a place to hold the fairs became burdensome and it was difficult to secure grounds for exhibition of stocks and for domestic, mechanical and miscellaneous articles. The public square for the one and the court square for the other was sometimes used, and on one occasion the market house was used.
A period of five years elapsed during which there is no record of the doings of any society or organization in the county. A new organization was formed in 1859 and a part of the present fairgrounds was purchased in 1860 and deeded to John H. Mathers, A. Alex Lecky, James A. Wells, J.F. Fulton and J.C. Coe as Trustees of the organization. This organization was known as The Shelby County Agricultural Institute and issued and sold two hundred and twenty-nine shares of stock at ten dollars per share to 222 persons. The money was to be used in paying for the grounds and making improvements thereon.
The first fair was held on the present grounds the 4th, 5th and 6th days of October in 1860. At that time and until November 1902, the property belonged to individuals who had invested their money for the purpose of furnishing a place for the accommodations of the Agricultural and Mechanical Industries of the County to exhibit their productions, and which the stockholders never received one cent.
The receipts received from the annual fairs, were expended for improvements and beautifying the grounds.These grounds were blessed with beautiful large oak trees, many of which still stand. At first, the buildings were rather crude with rough lumber pens being used to confine the smaller farm animals. At that time horses were the principle means of power and transportation and so they received much attention and naturally horse barns and trotting track were constructed at an early date. Other buildings were erected from time to time.
At the November election of 1902, the electors of the County decided by ballot to authorize the Board of County Commissioners of Shelby County, Ohio to purchase and improve lands upon which to hold County Fairs, and to issue bonds of said County and levy taxes to pay for same. The act provided that there should be elected from each township, two persons to a board styled. The Board of Managers of the Shelby County Agricultural Society and under this management, the receipts of the County fair are continually growing.
A new judges stand was constructed in front of the grandstand. Further grounds improvements included a multipurpose building; fence replacement around the entire grounds; 4-H horse barn; vinyl siding was put on the grange hall, old merchants hall, and junior fair office. In the spring of 1994 the old sheep barn, hog barn, babyland building, dairy pole barn, stud horse barn, scale shed, and metal hog barn were torn down and a new livestock complex building was constructed.
The Fair Management has through the years anticipated the needs of the community, both agriculturally and commercially. The Shelby County Fair during all the years of its existence has experienced foul weather and sunshine, depressions and boom years; has operated annually even through the unsettled conditions of wars. The Society has grown from the market place and court square downtown and pasture field with borrowed money in the treasury to the uncumbered grounds containing 30 acres on which 45 buildings and all necessary accessories for the use and convenience of the exhibitors and visitors, who annually attend THE SHELBY COUNTY FAIR.
– Shelby County Agricultural Society