The 2016 Champaign County Fair, which opened today and runs through Aug. 12, is celebrating a milestone this year – its 175th anniversary.
To commemorate the achievement, Fair Entertainment Chairman Todd Dallas put together a display featuring memorabilia and other items pertaining to the fair and its long and storied tradition.
“There was quite a display for the 150th fair, which I wasn’t any part of, and I thought we needed to do something for the 175th anniversary to once again display our history,” Dallas said. “I started showing 4-H at the fair when I was 9 years old, so I’ve been more or less a part of this fair for 40 years.
“This display is just something I felt was necessary to try to pass along to the public so people can see it and enjoy some of the history. I’ve learned a lot going through all of this stuff,” he added.
While a lot of the items on display are from the 150th anniversary celebration and have been sitting in boxes since 1991, there have been additional items acquired over the past 25 years and new historic information uncovered by former OSU 4-H Extension agent Doug Dill, who died in April.
“It was kind of one of Doug’s ultimate goals to research the history of the fair,” Dallas said. “He had done a lot of work, and I’ve tried to put all that together with the stuff from the 150th anniversary and display it all here underneath the grandstand.
“Unfortunately, there is not everything here from the very beginning of the fair. From my understanding, there was a lot of information and records that were lost in a fire, but I don’t know a lot of details of that incident,” he added. “We are missing a lot of the stuff that actually happened in the late 1800s and early 1900s.”
Historic pieces on display
Fortunately for history buffs and those hoping to rekindle some old memories, there are many pieces related to the fair that have been preserved over the years, including one item dating to the inaugural Champaign County Fair held in 1841.
“We have a copy of the very first minutes of the first meeting of the Champaign County Agricultural Society Board held 175 years ago, and we also have an extensive collection of fair books dating as far back as 1932,” Dallas said. “We are missing quite a few between 1932 up until the 1960s, but we basically have all of them from 1960 to present day.”
Also on display are old newspaper articles, many of which are contained in folders so fairgoers can read up on the fair’s history. One such article details a crowning achievement in the fair’s history when, in 1955, the Champaign County Fair was named the “Best in Ohio” by the Ohio Fair Managers Association.
Dallas said other items of interest include posters from past years’ entertainment acts, award ribbons from the 1925 fair, admission tickets from the 1861, 1887 and 1894 fairs, and quite a few photographs taken during construction of the current grandstand in 1949.
“The old wooden grandstand was torn down at the end of the 1948 fair, and they just got the new one finished in time for the 1949 fair,” he said.
In an attempt to attract more attention to the display, a television is set up to not only showcase a 45-slide PowerPoint presentation put together by Dill, but also a 16-minute movie Chester Hooley taped in 1941 during the 100th Champaign County Fair.
“The movie is in all black and white and there is no sound, but there are some very interesting images,” Dallas said.
Once the 175th edition of the Champaign County Fair comes to a close on Aug. 12, Dallas is making it his mission to ensure the items in the exhibit don’t end up sitting in a box for another 25 years.
“I’d like to make this a permanent display at some point in time,” he said. “Hopefully, this year’s display will spur more interest and people might come up with some other pieces we can put on display here.”
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.