The place to show off: Fair: 147 years and counting
Fair: 147 years and counting
(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today the Sun-Gazette offers the next installment in a weekly history series that tells the stories of those who came before us.)
For nearly 150 years, folks from all over have looked forward to traipsing the county fairgrounds in exploration of the Lycoming County Fair.
“It was the place where everybody came together once a year,”
said Rocky Reed, fair board vice president. “People obviously didn’t have Facebook, so that was how you stayed in touch.”
For generations, Reed’s family has been involved with the county fair, this year being its 147th edition.
Reed said his grandfather used to exhibit dairy cattle there in the 1940s with help from Reed’s father.
“It was competitive, too. The farmers wanted to have the best crops. You showed your wares, showed off to the townspeople. It was their opportunity to bring their wares and their livestock into town and show the people what they’re doing,” said Reed, who has been involved with the fair in an official capacity for 16 years.
The fair officially began in 1870 as a week-long exhibition hosted by Muncy Valley Farmer’s Club, presided over by Dr. George Hill, according to a history of the fair on the fair website.
Locals put their livestock, grains, fruits vegetables, canned goods and crafts on display at the Hughesville Trotting Park.
Within five years, the farmer’s club had nearly 200 members who paid 50 cents in annual dues.
Hughesville’s first newspaper, the Canusarago Daily Herald, appeared in 1873 and printed features on events, programs, prize winners and other happenings for six days of the fair.
In the early 1900s, fairs were held in Memorial Park and the Vallamont area of Williamsport, but Hughesville ultimately won out as the fair’s permanent location.
Despite actively using the area for decades, the fair association did not own the fairgrounds for quite some time. Early records indicate a first purchase around 1915 with another 50 acres deeded to the association by 1930.
Era of prosperity
The Roaring ’20s brought prosperity to the fair, especially due to the automobile’s rise in popularity and the nation’s efforts to pave highways. It helped that the North Branch Railroad, headquartered in Hughesville at the time, ran special excursions for the fair as well.
Along with the popularity of the automobile came the popularity of automobile racing on the half-mile dirt track, which became a fixture of the fair for decades.
Indianapolis 500 greats Ted Horn, Tommy Hinnershitz, Jimmy Bryan, Johnny Parsons, Le Wallard, Joie Chitwood and others had appeared in the race, according to the fair’s history.
Those drivers aren’t the only celebrities to have graced the fairgrounds.
In 1929, the famed pilot Amelia Earhart made an emergency landing there to refuel after getting lost on her way to Bellefonte, the history says.
The next year, a landing field was established, complete with hangars and a 1,700-foot runway.
The fair was put on hiatus during World War II in order to conserve products. After the war, the fair came back full-swing, but with many changes.
Hangars were removed and the airfield repurposed, and automobile racing came to an end in the 1950s due to safety concerns, noise and dust issues, according to the fair history.
The fair also changed from a seven-day harvest festival that typically took place in September or October to a 10-day July celebration.
Reed said that, despite many changes over the past 147 years, much about the fair is still the same — from having food vendors on the midway to the horticultural exhibits of fruits, grains, vegetables and livestock.
“A lot is still very similar,” he said.