History of the Great Geauga County Fair
Celebrating the 191st Year
The Great Geauga County Fair is Ohio's oldest continuous county fair and one of the oldest existing agricultural fairs in the nation.
First Agricultural Society Takes Root in Geauga
In 1823, James Monroe, our 5th President, was proclaiming the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was still a young nation, the State of Ohio was only twenty years old, much of Ohio's Western Reserve was yet a rugged wilderness and the invention of modern conveniences, like the telephone, television, automobile and Internet, were decades away.
Yet, in Geauga County in February 1823, a hardy group of pioneers, some of whom were among the first settlers to Ohio's Western Reserve region at the turn of the century, had the vision to band together to form one of the state's earliest agricultural societies— The Geauga County Agricultural and Manufacturing Society. The Society, one of the nation's oldest such organizations still in existence, was designed to "promote Agriculture & Domestic Manufactures.
Members of the Society then set out to formally organize the annual county-wide fair that would showcase the development of agricultural products, plus the newest farm labor-saving devices, and also would celebrate and preserve the nation's economic independence, bountiful harvests, common New England heritage and ideals. In the spirit of hard work, perseverance, fellowship, American Yankee ingenuity and good old- fashioned fun they prevailed and thereby began a tradition that endures to the present.
First Geauga County Fair Held in 1823
Thus, The Great Geauga County Fair was officially born in 1823, with the first "Fair & Cattle Show", held on October 23 in Chardon, lasting just one day. Rail pens were built on the square for livestock and agricultural and domestic products were exhibited in the old log courthouse.
Premiums were awarded for the best exhibits in each class, among them were awards for the best: bull-$10 to Eleazer Hickox; heifer-$8 to Edward Paine; buck-$6 to Lemuel Punderson's Administrator; ewe-$6 to Edward Paine Jr.; piece of woolen cloth-$6 to Mrs. Sophie Howe; piece of bleached linen-$5 to Mrs. Catherine Kerr; table linen-$4 to Mrs. Alice Beardslee; grass or straw bonnet-$4 to Miss Caroline Baldwin. Agricultural society president Judge Peter Hitchcock, later Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, gave the public address at the 1823 fair.
Early Geauga Fairs and the Fair Today
The early Fairs were alternately held between Burton and Chardon, with at least one Fair held in Painesville, prior to the formation of Lake County, which separated from Geauga County in 1840. After that time, and since the mid-1800s, the Great Geauga County Fair has been held continuously in Burton once the County Fairgrounds was permanently established there.
The Fairgrounds today still houses several buildings that date back to the nineteenth century, including the Domestic Arts Hall (built 1856, rebuilt 1889) and Flower Hall (built 1890), both of which are listed (since 1979) in the National Register of Historic Places, plus a replica of the original Small Grandstand (circa 1892, rebuilt in 1997) and a section of the old C & E Interurban railway station which now serves as the Fair's Administration building.
Since its inception in that late autumn of 1823, The Great Geauga County Fair has been held continuously each year (a somewhat remarkable feat in itself) - despite multiple national conflicts, including the Civil War, Spanish American War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, and various droughts and hardships other significant periods and events in America's history - and it flourishes to this day.
Each year some quarter million people of all ages from throughout the Northeastern Ohio region and beyond flock to the Burton Fairgrounds, in the heart of Geauga County's scenic Amish and maple syrup country to enjoy the more than 12,000 exhibits, animals, rides, food, music, entertainment and special attractions which are featured, as billed in the Fair's motto "Something for Everyone Since 1823".
While many of the early Ohio agricultural societies in the 1800s started up several times or later disbanded, The Fair's sponsor, The Geauga County Agricultural Society, (Manufacturing was dropped from the title when it was reorganized during the 1800s), a non-profit group, still endures uninterrupted as the oldest existing organization in the county.
The governing Board of Fair Directors represents each of Geauga's sixteen townships with five directors elected at-large. Membership is open to any county resident 21 years of age or older. A Junior Fair, initiated in 1938, also is held during the Fair for area youth.
"Jollifications" & Eastern Influences Pre-date Fair
The origins and spirit of the Great Geauga County Fair actually date back another twenty-five years to 1798 when the families of the earliest settlers in Burton, the Umberfields, first held a gathering that June. The annual "jollification", or fair, as it became known, based on the early Fairs of Europe and the East, continued in Geauga County for the next two and a half decades.
This "jollification," drew widespread public interest and participation from area residents, until finally becoming formally organized under the auspices of the county's newly created agricultural society in 1823, at the urging of prominent farmers and landowners, notably Lewis Hunt who lived in what is now known as Huntsburg Township.
Mr. Hunt, a knowledgeable horticulturist with an interest in raising fruit trees, had been associated with the State Horticultural Society in Massachusetts when he lived there and was therefore familiar with the benefits of such institutions when he came to Huntsburg in 1817.
His home state of Massachusetts was also the home of Elkanah Watson, generally credited as the "Father of Modern Agricultural Societies and Fairs in America", who helped to establish the Berkshire Agricultural Society in Pittsfield in 1810. That Society, no longer in existence, held a county fair in 1811 and is considered to be the model after which subsequent American agricultural organizations and county fairs were patterned.
Changes Since 1823
During the 1800s and 1900s, the dates for the Geauga County Fair were expanded and moved up to be held earlier in the season in an effort to showcase the year's harvest, yet avoid Ohio's sometimes unpredictable late fall weather.
Today, The Great Geauga County Fair is now held annually each Labor Day weekend, Thursday through Monday, and is the "grand finale" highlight to Geauga County's summer fun events.
The "Great" in the Fair's name and seal was officially added in this century to signify the Fair's seniority standing as the "Great Granddaddy" of Ohio's county fairs!
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