There’s something special about a good old-fashioned county fair. Farmers, crafters, and families come together to celebrate regional agriculture and much more. Did you realize that there are over 50 County Fair and 4-H fairs, starting in July and running through the fall? Every weekend, somewhere in the state of New York is a fair— sometimes they overlap each other with dates, and some of the farmers and crafters are at several of them. I am going to be sharing the history of the Erie County Fair…here we go!
On Sept. 14, 1819, the Niagara County Agricultural Society was founded at the Court House in Buffalo. (At that time, Erie County was part of Niagara County.) In 1821, Niagara County was divided and Erie County was formed and so was the Erie County Agricultural Society. Who were some of the towns that participated? Hamburg, Holland, Wales, Eden, Boston, Concord and Amherst.
In 1842, the fair was held on the Delaware Avenue Grounds, owned by Ebenezer Johnson and a noble herd of cattle and oxen were shown, as well as a mammoth sow weighing 800 pounds!. Prizes and awards were handed out for fruits and vegetables, as well as winning crops that produced high yields per acre, such as Indian corn, 57 bushels per acre, oats, 67 bushels, carrots 1,124 ½ bushels, beets 1,280 bushels. There was even a plowing match where Peter Curtiss and his chestnut team plowed a quarter of an acre in 51 minutes. And, of course, the women were demonstrating spinning wheels, clothes and quilts, honey and even cheese.
Then, as now, there were displays of all the new fangled items that were on the market, like sewing machines to give your wife that rosy hue back in her checks, one that could do 12-15,000 stitches per minute, with the greatest exactitude, stoves to heat the house or cook, lamps, furniture, soaps, household items. There was also new farm equipment, and new and improved ways to take care of livestock and fields, good specimens of wagons, oxbows and horse rakes.
As it was advertised in the 1840s… “the advancement of agricultural science, the consequently increased progressiveness and value of each farm and work of each man who labors upon the farm, and the greater comfort of each farmer and his family can be found here.”
In 1866, the new grounds of the Union Agricultural Society at Springville, a strictly agricultural district in the central part of the county, was chosen “to try the effect of a new location.” This was the first time that the fair ran four straight days, the longest it had run yet.
In Springville, a farm that was established in 1812 by the Dygert family was used for the races at its oval track. A little history on this farm is that it’s known as the oldest ½ mile racetrack in the U. S. A., being created in 1860. It must have taken a long time to make this track using the primitive tools that they had at the time!
There was a grandstand, as well as a judges stand, horse barn and an athletic field. Horse races were conducted every other Sunday of the month during the spring, summer and early fall seasons, with a carnival atmosphere comprised of amusement rides, merchandise booths, balloon ascensions and animal exhibitions. From 1866-1920, it was the social thing to do, with many of the attendees coming via the train from Buffalo, staying overnight and then returning the next day back to their homes via the train. Most of the horsemen racing horses would sleep in the tack rooms.
Later on, “Pop” Warner would train Jim Thorpe on the athletic fields.
A descendent of the original family of Dygerts, Robert E Dygert DMV, would become the Chairman of the Board of the Society in the late 20th Century.
Come back next week for more history of the Erie County Fair… Be sure to come to the Fair while it is going on Aug. 8-19. You can always stop by to the Lucy Bensley Center on a Wednesday and Thursday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.