The Canfield Fair Celebrates 175 Years
The First 100 years: Something to Crow About!
1846 was a year of firsts in Ohio. It was the year that the General Assembly of Ohio created Mahoning County. It was also the first year of the Canfield Fair, originally known as the Mahoning County Agricultural Society. The fair was held on October 5th and back then, lasted only one day. The exhibits included crafts and animals as well as produce from area farms.
This first meeting of the Society was held at the old Congregational Church of Canfield with the exhibition right after. The following year it was moved to the Canfield Courthouse, across the common. It was not until 1851 that the Board of Governors of the Agricultural Society had enough funding to purchase five acres for its festivities. After winning a legal battle over whether they could charge admission, the Board began charging 12 ½ cents (one shilling) for anyone over the age of eight who wished to enter the fenced-in property.
In 1851 spectators were excited to see two working trains of oxen each pulled by 100 animals. The exhibitors displayed 250 oxen, 113 cattle, 44 draft horses, 64 saddle and carriage horses, 37 sheep and 56 hogs. Premiums were paid only for the best. There were also inventions and innovations which were judged and paid premiums. In these early years, there were about 100 items eligible for premiums. By 1853 the premium list had expanded to nearly 600 items. By 1858 there were 857.
In its first years, the fair was only attended by men. It wasn’t until several years had passed that the first women began to attend, and then the children. In 1852 a Grand Agricultural Ball was held on the second day of the fair. Brass bands played for the crowds who were there to expect amusement.
As the years passed, the fair expanded. The Junior Fair began in 1853. This was for boys and girls under the age of 14. There were so many events occurring at the fair in two days that in 1856 the fair was expanded to three.
1861 saw the beginning of the Civil War. Food concessions became part of the exhibition. Crowds had their choice of about 30 grocery and eating stands. In that year ten thousand people attended the fair.
In 1867 the fair was enlarged from four acres to eleven. Three additional acres were added in 1868. The following year saw the addition of a floral hall; the floral exhibits being among the favorites the crowd of ten to fifteen thousand. Side shows were all the rage. One of the earliest merry-go-rounds whirled to the tune of the Arkansas Traveller.
In 1873, after 27 years of history, 25,000 people attended the fair. It had become so large and quite the attraction that an entire day was devoted to the horse exhibition. Displays included a carpet company, a grand piano and a huge display of photographs. A new invention, the Sprague lawn mower, was displayed with great attention.
The fair continued to grow and expand throughout the next century. Horses were so skittish over the first motor cars that a garage was built to conceal them. Drivers were charged an additional 35 cents to store them in the garage. By 1910 the garage was not big enough for the nearly 300 vehicles driven. A five-acre field was prepared and planted in grass for parking. By 1921 the automobile was so common that people were more likely to stop and look at the occasional horse and buggy than the auto! Auto racing was a highlight of the fair. A featured race was the 100-lap grind.
Electricity arrived at the fairgrounds in 1924. That year was also the first time the fair was open on a Saturday. The following year twenty acres of land was added for parking and four entrance gates were opened to try to handle the increased crowds. By 1927 it was estimated 70,000 people had attended the fair.
By 1935 the Fair had grown to 100 acres. The Depression years saw improvements at the fairgrounds through the WPA (Franklin Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration) which was set up to improve community facilities. A new grandstand was built where dog races were held. A new four lane highway was constructed between Canfield and Boardman in 1936, and another forty acres of parking was available for the massive crowds.
In 1940 the fair opened on a Sunday for the first time. They soon added a church service for those who wished to attend. Another 20 acres were purchased the following year but still the crowds grew and left many parking on the roads of the neighborhoods. 1944 was the first time a livestock auction was held during the fair. That year 45,000 people attended on Labor Day, filling the 80-acre parking lots. Attendance broke the 100,000 marker the following year.
The first 100 years of the Canfield Fair were certainly something to crow about! The century saw expansion in the number of days it was open as well as the attendance. Even with drought and wars, the expansion encompassed the very best of the area.
More History of the Canfield Fair
The Time of Your Life. The 125th Anniversary History of the Mahoning County Agricultural Society Canfield Fair. By Howard C. Aley.
The enduring Traditions of the Mahoning County Agricultural Fair. By Charlotte Agustin.