Reminisce: A home for the Allen County Fair

LIMA — On Aug. 24, 1948, the first day of the last Allen County Fair to be held in Delphos, a large crowd had gathered to greet the guest of honor, Ohio Gov. Thomas Herbert.

But Herbert didn’t show up.

Worse, he did show up at a Republican covered-dish dinner at Faurot Park in Lima that same day. Although the governor, The Lima News noted of the visit, “arrived early, ate hurriedly, shook hands and left for a Republican meeting in Clyde,” Delphos nevertheless felt slighted.

Stood up by the governor, Delphos would soon find itself jilted by the newly enlarged Allen County Fair Board, which in mid-December 1948 voted to move the 1949 fair to Lima. The Delphos Courant bristled, writing that “Lima literally stole the Allen County fair” and took “everything but the holes in the street” with it. “Everything,” according to a history of the fair, consisted of a dance pavilion, some chicken coops and small tents and a bank account containing $98.95.

Moreover, the Courant noted, “Delphos has held the Allen County fair here for the last twenty-eight years, taking it over when the city of Lima could not make it a success, now that it has been a success they have taken it back.” In fact, the fair had been too successful in the years after World War II and had outgrown the streets of Delphos.

The original Allen County Fair debuted in Lima in October 1851 after being organized by the Allen County Agricultural Society, which itself was formed in January 1851.

“The first Allen County Fair on Oct. 21, 1851, was largely attended,” William C. Rusler wrote in his 1921 county history, “the number of horses, cattle, sheep and hogs far surpassing the most sanguine expectations, and there was better quality.” The first five county fairs, which were two-day affairs after the initial one-day event, were held at the Terry Farm, later known as the Faurot Farm, on the southwest edge of Lima in an area currently bounded by Metcalf, McDonel and Spring streets and North Shore Drive.

Both the fair and the Allen County Agricultural Society had disappeared by 1855. The agricultural society reappeared in 1860 in large part because of the insistence of local citizens backed by newspaper editorials. “Allen County, we believe, is the only county in the state that cannot have an agricultural society,” the Allen County Democrat wrote on Feb. 1, 1860. “It is a living sneer at our farmers, that they don’t go to work and get one up.”

They did, and the fair returned in 1860 as a two-day event that continued through 1866 at the Faurot Farm site. Rusler wrote that the 1860 fair was a success, “although most of the livestock was only exhibited the first day” of the two-day early October event. “There was a fine display of carriages,” Rusler wrote, and “the varieties of mechanical and agricultural machines and implements was first-rate and abundant.”

Beginning in 1867, the fair was held on 30 acres rented on the J.B. Roberts farm east of Lima, a site now occupied by Lima Memorial Health System. In October 1867, the Democrat opined the fair “was a success and compared very favorably with former fairs.”

“Floral Hall was very tastefully arranged with articles of beauty both ornamental and useful,” the newspaper wrote, adding that “vegetables, grain, etc.,” were not as plentiful but of good quality. “Home manufactures, of every department of trade, were well represented.” On Sept. 30, 1881, the agricultural society purchased the site.

Between 1897 and 1902 foul weather during fair week wrecked the agricultural society’s finances. In October 1902, as the fair board settled bills, the Times-Democrat wrote, “The way the week started out it is surprising that the board had money enough on hand to satisfy all the claims. With but two good days out of an entire week, the result of this year’s meeting, had fair weather been enjoyed, can easily be estimated.”

After repeated county levies to help finance the fair failed, the agricultural society sold the grounds to the Lima Driving Park Co. in 1903.

The Lima Driving Park Co., comprised of local horse racing enthusiasts, built a 1,500-seat grandstand at the existing track as well as a judging stand. “The grandstand, timer’s stand and the barns which stood off the track were all painted yellow – the color of the Lima Driving Club,” The Lima News wrote in August 1998. The half-mile track, which was razed in 1927, was the site of harness racing, automobile races and daredevil shows.

For two weeks each summer from 1903 until 1923 the Allen County Agricultural Society rented it for the annual county fair. “Two more days, and the gates will be thrown open to the people of Allen County and all outside visitors to the county fair,” the Times-Democrat wrote on Sept. 15, 1903. “There is every indication that the attendance will be the largest in the history of the (agricultural) association, as it will be the first opportunity the majority of those in the country have had to see the wonderful changes made in beautifying the grounds.”

A change of location, however, wasn’t accompanied by a change in weather and persistent late-summer rains held down attendance. By the 1920s, the fair had been moved to late August.

“Allen County’s … annual fair opens today,” the Republican-Gazette wrote on Aug. 21, 1921. “The Lima Driving Park, during the greater part of the year a peaceful panorama of restful green or smooth stretch of dazzling white, has been transformed almost overnight into a city of tents. Today and for three days hence it will be the amusement center of the county – the merriest spot in all Lima.”

When the agricultural society’s lease on the driving park expired in 1923, the “merriest spot in all Lima” was moved to Delphos where it became a street fair. The Auglaize County Fair, meanwhile, sensed an opportunity. Noting that “wonderful new highways” connected Lima and Wapakoneta, the Republican-Gazette reported that “The management of the Auglaize County Fair has designated Thursday, Aug. 30, as ‘Allen County Day.’” The Republican-Gazette wrote that the Auglaize fair “is in a large measure, a home fair for the people of Allen County.”

Sour grapes notwithstanding, the county fair was now in Delphos, where a fair had been held the last week of August since 1920. “The Allen County Fair has been for the past several years a full-fledged fair, as prescribed by the laws of the state of Ohio concerning such annual events,” the Delphos Herald wrote in August 1945.

The years after World War II were good — too good, in fact — and by 1948 the county fair had outgrown the streets of Delphos and worn out its welcome in the downtown.

“Residents and merchants alike objected to odors and waste products from the expanding livestock numbers housed in tents on the street,” according to the fair history. “The city of Delphos passed a referendum that the 1948 Allen County Fair would be the last one allowed on city streets.”

In December 1948, despite protests from many in Delphos, the newly enlarged county fair board of directors voted to move the fair back to Lima.

The 1949 Allen County Fair opened on a 35-acre site near the intersection of Kibby Street and Bellefontaine Avenue known as the Showgrounds, which had been the location of numerous circuses and other attractions over the years. After only one year, however, the Showgrounds was determined to be too small, and the county commissioners purchased an 80-acre site east of Lima. That site has subsequently grown to 125 acres and is the current site of the Allen County Fair.

SOURCE

This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.

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