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The Agricultural Society & The Fair

grandstand view [Click here to view full size picture] HILLSDALE COUNTY FAIR

Emblazoned on the façade of the grandstand of the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds are the words, “Most Popular Fair on Earth.” Established by the Hillsdale County Agricultural Society in 1851, the Fair, held annually the last week of September, has become and still remains an integral part of the life and history of Hillsdale County.

The first fair was held in 1851 on the Court House Square in the village of Hillsdale. The next year the fair was held on the public square in Jonesville and for a number of years the location of the Fair alternated between the two villages.
This arrangement became inconvenient and impractical. Consequently the Agricultural Society procured land which eventually became a part of what is now the present fairgrounds. By 1859, the Society entered into an agreement with John P. Cook and Chauncey Ferris to purchase “17 acres constituting part of the present grounds, 7 acres at the south… and 10 acres next north.” All subsequent fairs have been held on these grounds.

At first the exhibits were not very extensive-totaling fewer than 100 entries. There were a few cows, a thoroughbred bull, and some horses exhibited. No sheep, swine or poultry were shown. Inside, the exhibition featured a few domestic goods, articles of needlework, some bread, butter and fruit as entries.

Gradually improvements were made in the grounds, attendance and entries increased, and the fame of the fair spread. A racetrack was built as well as Floral Hall (1866) --now the Merchants Building-- and a dining hall. The first grandstand was erected in 1872 east of the race track with a seating capacity of 750 and the reputation of fine horse racing was established. Soon the Fair Board realized that the grandstand should face east rather than west so in 1888 a new grandstand was built. In 1938 a more modern structure was built. From the grandstand and from the fences around the race track spectators were able to watch the races as well as the famous baseball tournaments.

The popularity of the Fair is illustrated as the attendance in 1915 was reported to be 40,000. Special excursion trains brought hundreds of visitors from across the Midwest. By this time not only the whole range of the finest in agricultural products, machinery, and livestock were exhibited, but also displayed were artistic Grange activities, school exhibits, and 4-H Club projects. The “Midway” (the area between the grandstand and the exhibit halls) featured the traditional merry-go-round as well as other exciting rides. Sideshows, in addition to eating concessions, shooting galleries and fortune tellers-all attracted an audience.

A feature unique to the Hillsdale County Fair was the Woman’s Congress established in 1896. Through the years cultural programs have been promoted ranging from distinguished speakers, fine musicians and dancers to spelling bees.
A further function of the fairgrounds was to provide an ideal site on which to hold Sunday School picnics, family reunions and, in the early days, Chautauquas ( a week long cultural event featuring speakers, musicians and dramatists).

Today’s Fair still features the traditional wide variety of displays and exhibits. Additionally, a museum maintained by the Hillsdale County Historical Society affords visitors a historical view of Hillsdale County. Modern attractions such as horse pulling, tractor pulling and modified truck pulling are a part of the week’s fare. Many world records have been made and broken during the course of these competitions. Evening events by well-known celebrities in the world of entertainment draw large audiences.

The Fair is still directed and maintained by the Hillsdale County Agricultural Society. Over the years, the Fair has been fortunate to have been managed by long term Secretaries of the Agricultural Society such as Harry Kelly and Wayne Nichols. All expenses are still defrayed by the receipts of the Fair and other uses of the grounds. Fair-goers today still experience the atmosphere, the sounds, and the sights that have entranced visitors since 1851. For a portrayal of real Americana, come to the Hillsdale County Fair-it does live up to its slogan. “Most Popular Fair on Earth.”

For more information about the Hillsdale County Fair, check the web site:
www.hillsdalecountyfair.org
Source: 150 Years in the Hills and Dales, Vol. I. p. 86.

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farm machines display_fair [Click here to view full size picture]

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Please hover on each photo to read captions, click to enlarge. Parking at the fair [Click here to view full size picture]

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Stunt plane [Click here to view full size picture]

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Fair goers photo-op [Click here to view full size picture]
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