In the early years of Highland County, fairs were often on the streets and they were held in various towns. The first fairgrounds in the county was on the east side of North High Street.
In 1899, a People’s Fair was held in Hillsboro. It had horse races, sprint and sack races and ballet.
In 1922, the fair was on the streets of Hillsboro. It had a car show and served pumpkin pie.
The Highland County Agricultural Society is responsible for current fairs, which are a celebration that brings the community together. They come together to socialize, learn, enjoy good food and entertainment. Fairs allow the community to display its goods and animals, enjoy rides and games and competitions. Fairs are usually held at regular intervals, generally in the same location and the same time each year. They are held for days or weeks.
Before the 1930s, fairs were held in different towns at different times of the year. In 1849, the first county fair was held in Leesburg in October. In September of 1937, a fair was held in Greenfield. In August of 1938, a fair was held at Roberts Park in the southern part of the County. In September of 1939, a fair was held in Hillsboro.
There were no fairs during the Depression years or World War II. Before those events, the fairgrounds was owned by a local businessman. In 1946, a grounds committee was formed. The committee was made up of chairman from each of the 17 townships in Highland County and other people who wanted to start a county fair. The previous grounds were offered to start for use. That year the exhibits were under tents.
The Agricultural Society purchased land on John Street in 1949 to be used as fairgrounds. The first building was erected the same year. The Ohio National Guard wanted to erect a building on the property for equipment storage and offered it to use during fair week. The building still stands on the fairgrounds today.
In the 1950s, the first beef barbeque was held by the Agricultural Society and it continues to serve barbeque today. It uses the money raised to make improvements to the grounds and buildings. In 1955, the first livestock barn was built for dairy cattle. Then in 1956, two more barns were built for pigs and sheep.
In 1957, the Grange Building was built and is also still in use. It had first kitchen on the grounds. Lunches and other meals were served in the building until it was paid off. The 4-H built the building next to it and still uses it today for fair exhibits.
In 1958, the Merchants Building was built. Local merchants prepaid for rental space to use during the fair to pay for the construction. They also rented storage spaces for the remainder of the year. It was later that another building was built to display arts, crafts and flowers.
The Hillsboro Rotary Club has manned the fair gates since 1947. It built a ticket office at what was then the main gate in 1959. It still stands but has not been used for years.
Also in 1959, dairy and beef wash racks were built. The County Farm Dealers also erected an entertainment building for the queen contests, music and other demonstrations.
In the 1960s, a horse barn was built and it was decided that the fair would be held every year the week of Labor Day. In 1962, a covered show ring was added and in 1963, restrooms with running water were built. In June of 1965, Western Horsemen paid for ground for a western rodeo. In 1966, the First Methodist Church of Hillsboro erected a permanent food booth.
In 1976, a second clear-span metal frame building was erected to use for Jr. Fair exhibits. Also that year, a second beef barn was erected.
In the 1980s, a broadcast barn was built for WSRW, where it broadcast from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. A barn was also built for goats during that decade.
In the 1990s, the old entertainment building was remodeled by the Garden Club and now exhibits flower arrangements.
Over the years exhibits have changed. In 1947, fair participants showed beef and dairy cattle, pigs, poultry, farm products, fruits and vegetables. The Grange and 4-H also had exhibits. Today, the fair continues with most of the exhibits from 1947, but it also includes all kinds of other attractions. There are currently 125 acres and 25 permanent buildings on the grounds. A big difference from the 20 acres and tent exhibits in 1947.
Sources for this story include hchistoricalsociety.weebly.com, People’s Fair Brochure 1899, Highland County Fair Brochure 1947, farmfitliving.com, Brittanica.com and collinsdictionary.com.
Jackie Wolgamott is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.