The Medina County Fair is one of Ohio's oldest and largest county fairs and will celebrate its 176th anniversary this year. The fair's mission is "to provide a center of activity for the preservation and promotion of agriculture through the enhancement and management of our fairgrounds".
The fair has a rich and interesting background. It evolved from the early agricultural societies of Connecticut and for many years people came together to show their livestock on the Public Square of Medina, long before the Medina County Agricultural Society was officially organized. On a designated day each year, an impromptu group of committees was organized for the judging of cattle and horses. Gradually, the farmers' wives began to bring their handiwork for comparison. The fine arts and needlework were displayed in the old court house basement and the basement of the old Congregational Church building. This became a type of "harvest home" celebration. During these celebrations, one of the features was displays of yoked oxen. It was not uncommon to see twenty or thirty oxen in a "string". This practice was continued for several years and premiums (or awards) were offered to the township with the longest string of yoked cattle.
On June 13, 1833, the Medina County Commissioners directed the auditor to call farmers together to create an official agricultural society. For many years, there were no adequate results. However, in 1845, a permanent organization was formed, known as the Medina County Cattle Show and Fair. In 1852, despite vigorous opposition from the minority, seven acres of land were leased from Mr. Bronson, just east of the foundry. The contract was for ten years at $70.00 per year, during which time a large building which served as the floral, domestic, art and mechanical hall was built. The goals of the new society were 1) to hold a yearly display after the harvest, where outstanding produce would be recognized and the attendees would be able to learn by what methods it was produced; 2) to provide a record of agricultural achievements, whereby men could take pride in their country and generate a determination that by their efforts, progress could increase, and 3) to record new methods of agriculture and to observe and report their results. Detailed records were first kept by Judah T. Ainsworth, their secretary. The first premiums totaled $67.50.
In 1855, the first race track was constructed (1/4 mile). Each horse ran the course alone and the time was recorded by judges. The horse making the best time was the winner. There was also a prize for the best equestrian rider and draft horses were tested for their strength. Whichever one pulled the heaviest stoneboat was the winner. According to the records, "any scrub animal could claim the day's honor".
Records show that in 1858, there were 1000 entries, $650.00 was paid in premiums and 15,000 people attended the fair. Soon after this, because of dissatisfaction with the current agricultural society, several towns decided to form their own societies. One of these was based in Seville and known as the District Agricultural Society of Wayne and Medina Counties, Ohio. The first exhibits were in 1860. Because of this competition, the county fair found itself in debt to the amount of $800.00. However, the Civil War emerged and caused many of these societies to "fold". The county fair did a booming business as a result and by 1864, the society owned 16 acres which hosted a large fair house, eating house, oyster saloon and grocery. At this time, the society also made provision that each township should be represented by a director, thus eliminating the need for several agricultural societies within the same county.
Because the society had acquired the sixteen acres, as a result at the end of the ten year lease, it found itself in debt of $100.00. A "spirited meeting" of the society was held at the court house and the old-time minority used the familiar "I-told-you-so" argument. Mr. W.H. Witter was elected president and a director from each township was asked to solicit farmers to purchase stock at $5.00 per share. The funds would be devoted to the purchase of grounds for holding the fair. However, a later meeting revealed that little or no stock was sold. Therefore, Mr. Witter became the soliciting committee and in a few months, raised $1200.00.
Between sixteen and eighteen acres (records are conflicting) were then purchased from the Selkirk estate. However, in 1872, an acre and a half of these grounds was cut off by the Cleveland, Tuscarawas Valley and Wheeling Railroad. At this time, fair admission amounted to 20 cents per person, and carriages cost $1.00. A common display at this fair was that of the county's seventeen cheese factories.
In 1874, the stock shares which were used to purchase the land were made interchangeable for season tickets. This procedure brought the society out of debt to its patrons. In 1875, the society received $200.00 from the county commissioners (even though they had requested this money seven years earlier) and, in 1878, A. I. Root bought the land for $100.00 per acre. The society then purchased 21 acres at its current site and moved the sheds and buildings. There was one large frame building which was divided into halls, sheds, stalls and pens for livestock and an eating hall. A half mile track was constructed at the cost of $1000.00.
The fair continued to add buildings but refused to allow gambling dens, games of chance or anything of a questionable nature. They once refused an offer of $300.00 to allow the operation of a game of chance.
One of the most unique premiums offered by the society was a small flag made of cotton cloth, painted with stars and stripes and emblazoned with a "device consisting of a jolly-looking human face with thumb on nose, which as interpreted meant "Take me if you can". This was offered to the county which would bring the largest delegation to the county fair in 1878, and was won by the Summit County delegation. The origin of this flag was connected to one of the greatest sleigh ride competitions ever known in Medina. In 1856, Summit County originally won the flag by bringing 171 four-horse sleighs (Medina County brought 140 four-horse sleighs, and Cuyahoga County, 151 four-horse sleighs) to a central meeting place. Because Medina was unhappy with the results, they challenged Summit County to another competition and won permanent ownership of the flag with their 182 four-horse teams.
The early days of the fair saw a three day long event. It wasn't until 1922 that electricity was installed and fireworks began in 1928. In 1935, the grounds were finally deeded to the county commissioners. In 1947 ten acres of land were rented from M. Geusiuer to provide two new parking lots, and even then, in 1948, the grounds needed enlarging again. However, this renovation had to wait until 1956 when the fair was in a better financial situation. Then a new floral hall, and a new addition connecting the Grange and Art Halls was added. By 1959, three new Junior Fair barns were built and the fairgrounds were enclosed by fences. Nineteen additional acres were also purchased for $20,000.00. Two additional horse barns were added in 1962 and 1963 and new restrooms were added in 1964.
Several interesting events occurred during the fair's early history. One of them was the sale of counterfeit tickets in 1911. The fair was swindled for more than $100.00 for two days. During the World Wars (in 1942), the fair was shortened to one day due to lack of transportation. Awards that year were paid in the form of war bonds and stamps. Also, the steer sale was conducted by each bidder obligating himself to buy bonds. Bids were submitted in the form of bond applications, where each bidder submitted applications equal to the amount he was raising the bid. Each bid was equal to at least a $25.00 bond. According to one record, there were more than a million dollars’ worth of bonds sold, and the champion steer brought $125,000. Another source quotes the entire sale as totaling $113,000.
Another interesting story centers around the fact that the implement dealers used to give away a farm tractor at the fair each year. On one particular year, they awarded between 1, 250,000-1,500,000 tickets for the drawing. An Elton Wilkinson had between 1100-1500 tickets alone. There were so many tickets that when it came time to draw the winning one, all tickets had to be emptied onto a canvas cover and two boys had to dive into the pile to mix them up. Both boys were completely covered. Also, in 1951, a balloonist was hired to provide entertainment for the fair. However, after he didn't show up for the first three days of the fair, and no one could locate him, a replacement was hired. When the replacement ascended to a height of 5000 feet, he was forced to parachute out. His crumpled balloon landed nearby.
Many events have come and gone at the fair. In the 1940's, ministerial tents were quite common. Also, an annual school day was provided where each county school sent a team to compete in sack races, foot races, egg tosses, shoe scrambles and bean bag kicks. The winning school would take home a grand prize of $10.50. Baseball games were also a common sight and many county communities competed at the annual fair. At one time, there were three ball diamonds on the grounds.
The year 1947 saw the repeal of the 1888 law stating that bars within a two mile radius of an agricultural exhibit must be closed during the fair. Also, the society was faced with a major dilemma-what to do with the more than 1000 Junior Fair exhibits that year.
In 1952, the annual fair was cancelled due to the polio epidemic in the county, and in 1953, the directors explored the possibility of joining with Summit County to create a Medina and Summit County Fair.
Over the years, the fair has experienced many growth pangs with the addition of a new grandstand, "big name" entertainment, a new sheep barn, milking parlor, home department, restrooms, beef barn, draft and pony barn, 4-H horse arenas, the expansion of the campgrounds and fair office, state of the art water and electrical systems, as well as the addition of winter storage space and an annual holiday lights display. Today, the fair sits on 92 acres, between Smith Rd. and State Route 42, inside the Medina City limits. Over the last few years, over $1,500,000 has been spent on improvements to the grounds.
The fair's original budget of $67.50 has expanded to a budget of over $1,000,000. Over 800 exhibits, 350 concessionaires and 1200 Junior Fair members help to welcome the 110,000 plus fair attenders each year. 30 directors and their significant others, as well as the grounds crew, and office staff will attest to the fact that maybe "the first 100 years are the hardest" as stated in one historical account, but the past 170 years have provided their share of exciting challenges as we constantly strive to make each fair bigger and better.
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We’ll see you at the fair!