By Derek M. Otto
The Erie County Fair is in full swing, The rides, exhibits, and food are all set up and people from all over will come to the Erie County Fair. Well it just happens that for two years, the Erie County Fair was held in Springville.
During the Civil War, Springville had a slight expansion westward; the new Springville Rural Cemetery was laid out in 1864. Behind it on Waverly Street, a new Union Agricultural Grounds was laid out. With several years of poor receipts at other venues, the Springville grounds promised to be a good change for the fair.
The 1866 Fair was held in Springville and it was the first time that the fair ran four days.
Springville had another venue that interested a lot of people coming to the fair: Dygerts Driving Park. This was the start of horse racing being part of the Erie County Fair.
1866 was the first time that a Ladies Department graced the fair. The Ladies Department displayed everything that made “the home comfortable and pleasant.” Quilts, rugs and finer china were displayed. Also, new advances in home preserving were being sampled and techniques shared. On the agricultural side, Durham and Ayrshire cattle and working oxen were some of the finest specimens ever exhibited. The fair came back to Springville in 1867.
In the 1800s, county fairs were held in late September when the harvest was in. The Union Agricultural Grounds, just like the Hamburg Fairgrounds, were used for other exhibitions. Prior to the 1867 Erie County Fair, bad weather struck the Union Grounds. As Reported in the Buffalo Express July 1, 1867 and the New York Times on July 3, 1867, in late June, an exhibition was going on and a thunderstorm came upon the crowd. Everyone ran into the exhibit sheds to seek shelter. In one shed, a large crowd gathered. That shed was struck by lightning and all people in the shed were struck. “ Most were knocked senseless and fell face first into the ground.” Two horses died immediately and several people didn’t recover. (It’s unclear on the report if people died or had permanent injuries.) Many people were left with scorch marks, blisters and remained senseless for several minutes. ”One lady lost her senses but not her locomotion and grabbed the bus and was taken to Holmes Hotel were she couldn’t remember anything for the time of the flash until she came to in her room.”
The Holmes Hotel would become the Concord House Hotel at the corner of Main and Buffalo Streets, where Crosby’s stands today. With that slight setback, not unlike 150 years later when a tornado hit the fairgrounds.
The 1867 fair came in late September. The newest things in 1867 were the demonstrations and displays of several types of sewing machines. New parlor and church organs were played in hopes of being purchased by onlookers. In the animal department, prizes of $8, $5, and $3 were given to teams that could plow a half acre the quickest.
One of the biggest news items of the 1867 fair was the formation of the national Grange, the fraternal organization to help support farmers’ interests. Races and sweeps again took place at the Dygert Farm on the corner of Cattaraugus and Elk Streets.
The Springville location was great for the village and the fair-goers in the sense that the hotels and merchants were centrally located to the Union Agricultural grounds and the Dygert Farm. Ladies not wanting to part take in the horse racing could still participate in the Ladies Department, which was across town.
In January 1868, thing would change for Springville and the fair. At that time, it was decided that the Fair needed a permanent home. Springville was a main contender but the newly-formed Hamburg Agricultural Society offered use of the newly-built driving park and facilities free of charge to the Erie County Agricultural Society. The vote was a heated one and stories are that not all of the Springville delegation was present.
In the end, Springville lost out to Hamburg by one vote: Hamburg 18, Springville 17. There were hurt feelings; Springville didn’t participate in the fair for several years. Springville innkeepers and merchants felt a huge financial blow.
Eventually, the Union Agricultural Grounds would become the livestock barns for the railroad, houses would be built, a gravel pit and grain mill would fill the old grounds. The Dygert Track remained a center of activity for many more years. Fairs carnivals and a variety of activities would take place there well in to the 20th century.
A complete history of the farm and racetrack has just been published by J. Peter Dygert and can be purchased at the Concord Mercantile or Lucy Bensley Center.