A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SUMMIT COUNTY FAIR

 

 

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            The early history of the Summit County Fair is best described in a book by Karl H. Grismer, Akron and Summit County, Akron:  Summit County Historical Society, nd, published in the early 1950’s.  The following is what Grismer had to say.

 

            “Another thing which stimulated trade was the Summit County Fair, held each autumn after farmers had harvested their crops and had money in their pockets.  The fairs were not held in Akron by accident – they were brought here through the efforts of the Summit County Agricultural Society, an aggregation of loyal Akron boosters and good friends in nearby townships”.

 

            “The Society was organized November 14, 1849, at a meeting in the courthouse.  A week later the first officers were elected:  Col. Simon Perkins, president; Henry G. Weaver, vice-president; William H. Dewey, treasurer; and William A. Hanford, secretary.  Five managers also were elected; John Hoy, Sylvester H. Thompson, Avery Spicer, Philo C. Stone, and James W. Weld”.

 

            “At this meeting, the county commissioners loosened up the county’s purse strings and promised to donate $137.50 each year for the fair’s support.  They also gave the society permission to hold the first fairs on the courthouse grounds”.

 

            “During the following year the officials and managers worked tirelessly to arouse interest throughout the county and raised money through sales of $1 memberships to assure an alluring list of prizes, ranging from 50 cents to as high as $8 for the best cattle and horses.  Altogether the prizes totaled $100”.

 

            “At last, the big day’s come – Wednesday and Thursday, October 2 and 3, 1850, and into Akron from every township streamed farmers and villagers, eager to take in the big event.  The finest domestic animals raised in the county were exhibited in tents on the grounds and in the courthouse itself were exhibited fruits, flowers, domestic fabrics, fancy work, and even a straw bonnet made from county grown straw”.

 

            “In the bovine and equine display were a team of 34 yoke of oxen and another 15 span of horses, both from Tallmadge”.

           

            “The most popular feature of the fair was a series of plowing contests held on the commons just east of the jail.  (This was before the cut was made through that section of town for the branch railroad to Hudson)  Both oxen and horses were entered in the matches and, in addition to the plowing, the strengths of the animals was put to the test in pulling loaded wagons, stone boats and stumps.  Betting was spirited and large sums of money changed hands”.

 

            “Such a huge crowd attended the second fair, held October 16 and 17, 1851, that the need for larger grounds was plainly shown.  Colonel Perkins then granted the society free use of a six-acre tract on S. Main opposite the present B.F. Goodrich office building.  The grounds could not be improved in time for the 1852 fair, however, and it, too, was held on the courthouse grounds”.

            “During the following summer the South Akron tract was fenced in and a large exhibit building was erected.  The improvements altogether costing $1,800.  The fair of 1853 was held there with great success.  Three years later a half mile race track was laid out and the first races were run on October 8, 9, and 10, 1856”.

 

            “By that time, the Summit County Fair had become the leading fair in northern Ohio.  It was not only the great harvest festival for Summit County people but was also an attraction which brought in thousands of visitors from adjoining counties and even from remote sections of the state”.

 

            “Said Editor Ahsel Lewis of the Summit County Beacon in 1858; ‘Beyond a doubt the county fair is of inestimable value in Akron.  It is a magnet which pulls in at least $200,000 of outside money each autumn.  Without this extra business we fear that some of our merchants would be sorely troubled in these trying times’.

 

            “During the fair week every hotel and rooming house in town was filled up to capacity and many private homes took in guests.  Livery stables did a rushing business and stores were crowded.  Almost all the visitors had money to spend and when they spend it, the whole town benefited”.

 

            “Crowds had become so large by 1858 that the need for larger grounds became imperative.  Perkins offered to sell most of the land where the Goodrich factories now stand for $80 an acre.  But the fair officials dilly-dallied and by the time they were ready to make a decision Perkins had sold the land to other parties”.

 

            “David L. King, son of Judge Leicester King, then came to the rescue and leased to the society for five years a splendid 35 acre tract on the hill between Ash Street and Glendale Avenue, just west of the business district.  Covered with large trees, the tract was one of the most beautiful in the locality.  Buildings and fences were moved there from the old grounds and $3,128 was spent on new improvements, including more exhibit halls and a fine race track.  To help make the grounds the best in the state, business men liberally donated labor and teams.   At this fairgrounds, called Summit Grove, Akron had some of the finest fairs in its entire history”.

 

            Note:  “When the society’s five year lease on Summit Grove expired in 1864, King offered to sell the grounds to the society for $5,000.  The directors of the organization considered the price to high and leased for five years a 30-acre tract at S. Maple and Balch from P.D. Hall.  Fairs were held at that location until 1875.  In that year the society purchased from the Austin Powder Company a 45-acre tract known as the powder patch in the Little Cuyahoga Valley.  For this tract the society paid $5,000 in cash and a 30-acre farm west of Akron it had purchased previously for $6,000.  At its new location, the society established Fountain Park.  The first fair held there was in October, 1875.  Later, Fountain Park was greatly beautified, a fine race track built, and many buildings constructed.  Fairs were held there annually until the mid 1920’s”.  (End of citation by Grismer)

 

            From this point until 1956, fairs were held in various locations; Ascot Racing Park, Summit Beach Park and the Schoolhouse in Tallmadge to name a few.

 

            Although the Summit County Agricultural Society dissolved in 1928, the Summit County Fair continued to be held.  In 1957, the Summit County Agricultural Society was re-organized under the leadership of President, Charles Call.  The Society’s main purpose was to promote the Summit County youth and their activities.  At this time, the Summit County Commissioners leased to the Society 5 acres of the Summit County Home property located in Tallmadge.  When the “Summit County Junior Fair” opened for three days, August 15-17, 1957, the Society was the proud owner of two buildings and a lot of hopes and dreams for the future.

 

            From day one, many proud, hard working, dedicated volunteers have put in their time and efforts towards building and beautifying the grounds.  By 1970, the Summit County Fair was labeled “The Biggest Little Fair in Ohio”.

 

            In 1975, “Junior” was dropped from the name and the Society once again became the Summit County Fair.  Open class competition was added which took a big step in the family orientation of the fair.

 

            The fair quickly outgrew the original 5-acre plot and in 1979, 30 additional acres had been added.  The Society now owned 12 buildings, two show rings and a new grandstand.  With the addition of the grandstand, events such as demolition derbies, truck & tractor pulls, concerts, rodeos and motocross competition was added to the fair.

 

            In 1982, the Board of Directors implemented a “pay one price” admission.  This was a successful move for the Society in trying to keep the fair as a family oriented event.  Not only does the fair educate and provide fun for all, it is affordable as well.

 

            Currently, the Society uses the 30 buildings during the 6-day fair to showcase 4-H and open class exhibits in livestock, horticulture, floraculture, domestic arts, culinary arts and fine arts.

The success and hard work of the many volunteers over the past 47 years is clearly shown in the improvements and additions to the fairgrounds. 

 

            The Virginia O’Casek Building serves as the Administration Building; housing the fair office, a kitchen, and a beautifully remodeled reception hall that is used for meetings, wedding receptions, and many other special events.

 

            The Summit County Farm Bureau Antique Museum was built in 1991.  The museum has been noted as “one of the best antique farm equipment and home artifact museums in the state of Ohio”.  The museum received so many donations that in 1995 an addition had to be added to the building.

 

            The Arena Complex opened in February, 1994.  The 68,000 square foot, multi-use facility is rented year round for events such as indoor motocross races, horse shows, craft shows and dog shows.  During the fair, the arena houses the 4-H booth exhibits, entertainment and commercial booths.

 

            As we look to the next century and continue working towards being a “state of the art” facility, we are dedicated to the idea of educating and keeping our agricultural roots alive.  We are proud of our past and will continue to strive into the future.

 

 

 Past & Present Fairboard Directors