Editor’s Note – Thi is the second in a series of articles and presentations by the Highland County Historical Society focusing on agriculture.
John Wickerham, a lifelong resident of Adams County, will present an account of possibly the largest event ever held in Southern Ohio – the 1957 World Fair of Agriculture, or better known as the World Plowing Matches – at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 28 at the Highland House Museum in Hillsboro.
The Wickerhams were one of the host families for the exposition near the Wickerham Inn on SR 41 between Peebles and Locust Grove. John Wickerham worked at the event as a young man, mowing the area and also being in charge of the water system that was installed just for the event. Wickerham will give an account of the stories and experiences of a small town in rural Ohio that welcomed as many as 450,000 visitors to Adams County over a four-day period. It was the first time the world sent its national champion plowmen to the United States for the event. Fourteen countries sent plowmen to the competition.
During the event, the Ohio State, U.S. National, and the World Plowing matches were all held on 2,500 acres of land that covered 16 farms. The matches included flatland plowing and contour plowing competitions. Hillsboro plowman Duane Mootz won the trophy for the National Contour Plowing Contest, which earned him a trip to the 1958 World matches in Ireland.
Mootz’s family renovated the tractor and plow for the 50th anniversary celebration in 2007. Tim Mootz will have the tractor and plow at the museum for participants to view before and after the presentation. The Mootz family has other memorabilia to share, as does Wickerham.
“Come hear how this rural area managed to host the 400,000-plus crowd; and how they handled the traffic, parking, and housing,” said John Kellis, a historical society member. “There were no county water lines outside Peebles at the time, the Appalachian Highway did not exist, but there was a passenger train and bus service that ran through the county.”
There was an airfield built on SR 73 near Locust Grove just for the event, and International Harvester brought the its DC-3, at the time the largest passenger plane to land in Peebles. The governor, secretary of agriculture, and the Goodyear Blimp were there. The expo also hosted the North American Sheep Dog Society trials, and the U.S. Army Field Band and Wright-Patterson Air Force Bands gave daily concerts. JC Penny sponsored daily style shows for the ladies and had Hollywood create a Broadway show just for theevent.
Demonstrating conservation practices were an equally important purpose for the agricultural fair, showing new methods of conserving soil and water resources. On display were contour strip cropping, forestry practice, pasture seedings, fertilizer rate for crop and pasture production, pond construction and irrigation displays, spring development, sod waterways, and wildlife habitat practices to help farmers become more efficient while preserving natural resources.
“The country was not that far removed from the Dust Bowl and improving the way we produced food and fiber in the U.S. was essential,” Kellis said. “The state widened and improved area roads for the show, and traffic on SR 73 was halted when planes landed or took off, including IH’s DC-3. Come join us to hear how our Adams County neighbors managed to pull this off 60 years ago.”
Information for this article was provided by John Kellis