Friday, March 30, 2012

Ohio Traditions: County Fairs

It's Spring Break so I'm digging into the archives for postings this week. was a social media concept for a website started back in 1995.  My website connected Ohioans all over the World with their fellow Ohioians still living in Ohio and elsewhere.  The site got national recognition in 1998 when featured by the Toledo Blade in a feature article and not one, but two editorials. This is an online revival of the Ohio Traditions columns that I wrote on the site 14 and 15 years ago.

Ohio Traditions: County Fairs
by RickOHIO

April 1998 (Update: June 2002)
Every one of Ohio's 88 counties has a county fair and, along with some independent fairs, you can pretty much find a fair going on any given summer or early fall day somewhere in the state. The fair schedule is complete for 2002.

The traditions of having a fair is pretty well set. The traditions at each fair, though, vary greatly. No two county fairs are truly alike.

In most counties, the county fair is really intended for the youth of the county. It's the chance for young people involved in groups like 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) to have recognition for their skills. Many counties still go out of their way to make sure the tradition of calling their county fair the "Junior Fair" is retained.

Agriculture is a big part of every county fair, even in larger counties like Cuyahoga. Animal pens and show barns are the stages at these events where athletes and fields are at sporting events. The big difference? At a sporting event you can't bid on the athletes. At a fair, you can bid on the hogs or the steers and have them processed. It teaches the kids farming and what it takes to make a living too.

Many fairs try to claim the be the biggest in some category or another. However, no county fair is bigger than the Canfield Fair in Mahoning County. This fair, always held over Labor Day Weekend, is a huge event. This fair does everything bigger than any other fair in Ohio. There are rows and rows of animal pens here. The carnival rides are more plentiful. The vendors are big in numbers and, in an election year, the politicians are ever-present too. Even parking here is an event. Good luck getting near the gate.

You don't have to be a big county to have a big county fair though. Monroe County in eastern Ohio has an entire county population less than 12,000 people and has no four-lane divided highways through it's boundaries, but it attracts a decent audience to its fair every year. Medium-sized counties like Portage, Wayne, and Darke counties have among the largest-sized fairs.

Besides looking at animals, eating is the next most-practiced activity at a county fair. It wouldn't be a fair without fresh squeezed lemonade, elephant ears, and pork loin sandwiches. Italian sausage, fresh cut potatoes, apple cider, corn dogs, and ice cream are common. Peirogies and haluska are fair foods in Northeast Ohio. Cincinnati chili and three-ways are found in the Southwest part of the state.

At Clark County's fair, they always have an old antique steam engine for making up steamed corn which, when dipped in butter, is hard to beat. Fairs held at the harvest time of year mean corn and other fresh agricultural products abound.

It also wouldn't be a fair without amusement rides and grandstands too. These are fair staples. Horse races and country singers are common grandstand attractions for many fairs. The Stark County fair has a demolition derby every year which attracts alot of amateur drivers to the spotlight.

Meet your elected officials here too, especially if they are campaigning. One long-time politician, Tom Ferguson, used to send his staff to every fair to hand out yellow bags. Hordes of bag-toting fair goers would fill up those bags with handouts from other booths while serving as walking advertisements for the former state auditor. U.S. Senator Mike DeWine, known for his grassroots approach to politics, has probably been to more county fairs than anyone.

Politicans, even statewide candidates, come into a county for the fair. You can meet and greet a lot of potential voters just walking around a fair. Local radio stations broadcast live from fairs and this is also, often, your best chance to get on television.

Today's fairs are, no doubt, more commercialized and less agriculture-focused than in the past. Family entertainment has replaced the agricultural reasons to put on a fair. Some will say the tradition of the county fair has been lost. However, the county fair is still very much a part of life in all of Ohio.

This Ohio Tradition stands out for sure.

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