History of the Seneca County Fair

The organizational meeting of the Seneca County Agricultural Society was held in 1841. However, the first recorded meeting was on April 10, 1810, just 15 years after the county was organized.

The first county fair was at Ovid, October 21 and 22, 1841. The receipts were 279 and payments of $233.50, showing a profit of $45.50.

In 1842, the fair was in Waterloo. John Johnston of Fayette, historically recognized as the first farmer in the United States to tile his land, was President in 1844.

In February 1856 the Agricultural Society was reorganized and the fair alternated between Ovid and Waterloo until 1870. Since that date, it has always been in Waterloo.

In 1878, the exhibition halls at the county fair were large tents on wooden frames which could be dismantled when the fair was over. On Oct. 2, 1878, Floral Hall was so packed that the side of the tent had to be raised to let in air. Among the exhibits that year; a silk embroidered chair, crayon sketches of the family of Mrs. James Joyce, a large cage of canaries and a case of preserved butterflies.

Many county residents were involved in some way with the fair and its’ exhibits. In 1878, committee members were in charge of the following committees: Grain, seeds, roots; Horses; Cattle; Sheep; Swine; Poultry; Butter and Cheese; Machinery; Leather work, harnesses, boots; Fruit; Vegetables; Flowers; Paintings, musical instruments, wood decorations, etc.; Embroidery and fancy articles; Domestic products which included corn brooms, flour, honey, wine, bread & canned goods; and Carriages made in Seneca County. There were both mule and horse races.

In 1881, the officers of the agricultural society announced plans to purchase a permanent site for the fair. Up to this time the site was rented each year. Many offers were received by the Society. William H. Burton who had recently purchased the Maple Grove Racetrack from Joseph Wright, offered it to the society for $6,000. Rumsey of Seneca Falls would sell 23 acres for $3,000. Ovid offered land with running water for $3,000. William A. Beaver of Romulus had land to sell and the town of Romulus offered to pay $1,000 toward the land and it would grade the track. John Gaylord offered 25 acres at Kingdom for $250 an acre. All offers were considered by the officers and the final decision was to purchase the Waterloo property from Burton. He sold it on October 27, 1882, to the officers of the Agricultural Society for $6,000.

The need to purchase a site for the fair became evident when the Society realized it could never accumulate resources or be very successful unless it had its own land for the annual fair. Ten men were appointed to a committee to view the various sites that had been offered. A meeting was at Romulus, February 9, 1882, to hear the report. It was agreed that it would be difficult to raise $6,000 to purchase the Burton property.

A second meeting on February 22, was at the Towsley House in Waterloo, to work out details. William B. Clark was chairman and Francis Bacon, secretary of the meeting. Mr. Bacon suggested that 300 shares of stock at $20 a share be sold to raise the needed $6,000. Leonard Story suggested 600 shares at $10 be sold and the latter plan was adopted. The following men were assigned the job of selling the stock: Francis Bacon, Leonard Story, John C. Wolf, Martin Hough, James Seeley, Uriel D. Belles, David Stacey, Myron Cosad and George E. Thomas. By June 30, all the stock had been sold and the Agricultural Society was on its way to having a permanent site for the annual county fair. William H. Burton sold it on October 27, 1882, to the officers of the Agricultural Society for $6,000. The site of the present County Fair!

The Society erected a new permanent exhibition building and named it Floral Hall. It was in the form of an L. One side was 210 feet long and 54 feet wide, a wing was 100 by 54 feet. A new grandstand, stables for horses and pens for cattle, sheep and swine were also built. Over 6,000 people attended the fair that first year (1883?) and $1,900 was taken in from admissions at 15 cents per person and 25 cents per vehicle.

The popularity of the fair induced the society, in 1887, to schedule two fairs, one in the summer and one in late September. No liquor or beer was sold at the fair.

In 1895, special events included: Donkey rides, Aztec mummies on display, one mile bicycle races. School children were allowed a half-day holiday to go to the fair. The main feature that year was a man going up in a hot air balloon. It took five gallons of kerosene to inflate the balloon.

At the annual meeting in 1896, $1,000 was paid on the principal for the mortgage, total still owed was $1,700. In 1899, it was noted the Society was out of debt and had $200 in the Treasury. (17 years after purchase).

The County fair was the biggest event of the year. Top class acts appeared there each year. In 1908, the star attraction was the Wild West Indian Congress and American Hippodrome which included 70 people with 30 Sioux Indians. In 1910, the Society scheduled free band concerts and open air vaudeville during fair days, downtown in the shopping district.

On May 17, 1916, the grandstand horse sheds and a potion of the cattle pens were totally destroyed by fir. William Youngs of Seneca Falls was arrested for arson. He claimed the fire was accidental. He started a fire under the grandstand to dry his clothing and to keep warm. Loss to the Society was between three and four thousand dollars, but by July 25, a new grandstand was being built. It was built east of the old one. It would seat 1,500 and horse stables were built under the grandstand.

In 1921, the officers were: Arthur W. Huff, President; Commodore C. Pontius, First vice-president; W. Clinton Kime, second vice-president; J. Willard Huff, Secretary; Frederick G. Stewart, Treasurer. Directors were Myron H. Cosad, Joseph H. Manges, Charles H. Pratz, Dwight M. Kellog, Millard F. Garnett and Burt E. Smalley. Because of the previous success of the fair it was extended to four days instead of three. The main entrance was moved to the southwest corner and a double driveway was put inside a new fence. Now people cold drive in to the main hall. The fair grounds would be illuminated for the first time at night. The eastern part of the floral hall was set aside as a dance hall and there was dancing every afternoon and evening. The Free Attraction was Miss Jessie Lee Nicholas and her Society Horse Show and Circus. It seemed that this would be one of the most successful years in the history of the fair, 1921. But tragedy struck. On August 19, Leroy S. Marti of Liverpool, a policeman was killed in a motorcycle race. On August 28, Commodore Pontius, of Kendaia, the V. P. of the Agricultural Society, burned to death in a fire at his home. He had gone into the barn trying to save some of the animals when he was trapped in the flames. Then on October 13, Floral Hall was destroyed by fire. Built in 1883 it had cost $10,000. In the building were 42,000 gallons of canned beans and peas, valued at about $22,500. In the dining room and kitchen there were 1,300 more cans of vegetables. Thee were all the property of the Geneva Preserving Co., on Swift St., which used the building for storage. Note: Greenwoods-beets & purple cabbage. The Agricultural Society had insurance of $5,500 and the building was considered a total loss. The canning company had its stock insured for $35,000. The estimated cost to rebuild was $15,000.

About 1916, the state had announced that it was considering cutting down on support for the county fairs. It felt there was too much emphasis on side show attractions and not enough on agricultural interests. Apparently it changed its mind, for in 1924, the Society received $4,000 from the state for premiums.

The first auto races were in 1925 and were very successful.

In 1936, a new feature was exhibits of work done by the local schools. Claude C. Doxtator, the agriculture teacher at Waterloo H. S., had a vocational exhibit at the fair. The first football game of the season, that year was played during fair week at the fairgrounds. Waterloo played Ovid.

Since the first fair was held in Ovid in 1841, there have been only 3 years when there was no fair. When construction was started on the Seneca Ordnance Depot, housing was desperately needed for the worker and his family. Many of the local residents opened their homes to the workers but there were not enough homes available, especially for men with families. The job would take at least two years to complete and so arrangements were made with the Seneca County Agr. Society to rent the fairgrounds for a trailer camp.

Waterloo Trailer Park Defense Project No. 18 was started, Electric service and sewer lines were put in and by October 1941, 105 families were living at Waterloo Trailer Town. The government brought in 75 trailers and 26 defense workers had their own mobile homes. The trailer camp was dedicated on Nov. 3, 1941. It remained until late in 1942.

In 1945 the fair was cancelled because of government restrictions governing such affairs. Quoted were: shortage of manpower, difficulties in securing entertainment.

1941, 42 and 45
Through the years the people who serve as officials or committee members of the Agricultural Society have been a loyal and hard-working group. Second and third generations have worked for the success of the fair. (Poormon – TenEycks)

There have been bad years, weather has a lot to do with the success or failure of the fair. Buildings have burned and they have been re-built. Other forms of entertainment and bad weather have kept people away and fair officials have probably wondered whether it was worth the effort to continue.

In this modern age of computer technology and video blitz, the county fair may be to some, nostalgic and hokum, but it is truly by the people and for the people, and all indications seem that it will continue for a long time to come.

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