Madison County Fair: Fair has a rich history
The history of the Madison County Fair dates back to 1846 when the Clark and Madison County Agricultural Society was organized.
The fairs were held alternately at South Charleston and London. The last fair of this combined effort was held in London on Oct. 6, Oct. 7 and Oct. 8, 1852. Nov. 13, 1852 the following Agricultural notice was published in the Madison Reveille: “We, the undersigned citizens of Madison County, are in favor of calling a county convention, for the purpose of organizing a county agricultural society, within and for Madison County, separate and apart from Clark County; and recommend such convention be held Saturday, the 20th day of November, 1852.” This notice was signed by 38 citizens of Madison County. In response to this call, a large and enthusiastic meeting of farmers, mechanics, and business men took place in London on that date. It was explained in the meeting that the object was to dissolve the connection which had theretofore existed with Clark County in an agricultural society, and to organize such society for Madison County alone. The necessity of such a course was due to the fact that the fairs were held in Clark County “except occasionally by special favors, and by private individuals at London defraying certain expenses.”Consequently, a very large portion of Madison County was excluded from its benefits by being so remote from the point where the fairs were held. It was noted in the meeting that Madison County contained the elements “within herself” to produce the best agricultural exhibitions of any county in the state. It was resolved to proceed to organize a Madison County agricultural society and elect officers for president, vice president, treasurer, secretary, and five directors. The first board of the society consisted of: President, Richard Cowling; Vice President, Dr. J. Strutson; Treasurer, John Rouse; Secretary, W. H. Creighton; with John H. Findlay, John T. Maxey, John G. Dun, Jesse Watson, and Jonathon Farrar serving as directors.
The first fair of the Madison County Agricultural Society, was held in London on September 28 and 29, 1853. The day prior to the opening of the fair, the sale of the imported thoroughbred stock, brought from Europe a short time before, took place, and gave the newly formed agricultural society something it could not have received in any other way. Hundreds of leading stock men attended the sale and remained to attend the fair. This fair proved to be a great success. In September 1854, the agricultural society purchased “eight acres and eighty perches of land” paying four hundred and twenty-five dollars. The fairs were held at this site for fourteen years. The last exhibition was held September 18, 19 and 20, 1867.
There were many causes which led to the abandonment of the fairs. The principal cause appeared to be due to the rapid growth of the Madison County stock sales. At that time and for years these were the glory and pride of this portion of Ohio. The county needed no annual fair since it held one every month. The Madison County Agricultural Society, however, still continued to exist.
The first steps toward reviving the county fairs involved the organization of the London Driving-Park Association. This organization formed early in 1883. On March 23, 1883 a contract was given to construct a half-mile track at $339. During the spring of this year, local papers began discussing the revival of the county fairs. There were two successful race programs held; the first on July 4 and the second on August 8.
The Democrat printed the following article March 4, 1885: “We, the undersigned citizens of Madison County, are in favor of calling a county convention for the purpose of organizing a county agricultural society within and for Madison County, Ohio, and recommend that said convention be held at the court house in London on Saturday, the fourteenth day of March, 1885, and respectfully invite all persons interested to attend said convention.” This was signed by 150 of the most prominent citizens of the county. It is recorded that on January 5, 1886, the Madison County Agricultural Society met and elected officers. At a meeting of the board of directors on January 15, 1886, it was decided to sell the old fair grounds and secure new grounds. A committee was appointed to purchase or lease new grounds and a second committee was appointed to prepare a premium list. For reasons unknown, no fair was held in that year.
January 1887, the president of the Madison County Agricultural Society met with the directors of the London Driving-Park Association and submitted a proposal to hold a county fair on the grounds held by the London Driving-Park Association by either leasing, purchasing or “borrowing” the land. The proposition to purchase the land was favorably considered by the Driving-Park Association since this group was in poor financial shape at the time. The hope for a fair that year, though, was dashed by the county commissioners refusing to accept a quit-claim deed for the old fair grounds from the Madison County Agricultural Society on the grounds that the society had abandoned the grounds.
On November 9, 1889, a meeting was held at the court house of the agricultural society and interest was revived in a proposed fair. On April 14, 1890, the society held a meeting on the matter of leasing and buying ground adjacent to the old fair grounds on North Elm Street (the current site of the fair). Land was obtained and local horse fanciers were to build a track at their own expense. The state board of agriculture placed Madison County in the Ohio Valley circuit and fixed the time for their fair for the week including September 1-5, 1890. April 30, 1890 the village council of London voted to give $500 to the agricultural society to aid in the improvements to the grounds. The county commissioners donated the sum of $2,000 to assist in putting up buildings for the fair.
The fair was a success with a crowd estimated at 12,000 attending on Thursday of the fair. Rain prevented races on Friday so the agricultural society decided to extend the fair another day. The Madison County Agricultural Society has continued to present an annual fair at the fair grounds since this time. The results have varied over the years. On May 19, 1900 the county commissioners directed the directors of the society to extend the fair grounds and make improvements, not to exceed $8,000. This came about as a result of the law passed April 14, 1900 by the Legislature. The article printed in the Madison County Democrat read: “By authority of a law passed April 14 by the Legislature, the Madison County Board of Commissioners met last Saturday, as per notice published in the weekly papers, to consider the resolution asking for the extension and improvement of the grounds prayed for by the Madison County Agricultural Society. The fair board has been leasing for ten years at $400 per year the greater part of the ground used for fair purposes and the lease having expired and it being necessary to order to conduct a successful agricultural fair, to own the grounds which should be commodious, the board asked the county commissioners to consider the application favorably. The Commissioners, after carefully considering the matter gave the Agricultural Society the right to acquire by purchase or condemnation additional real estate for the improvement of the grounds, including the grounds now owned and such as shall be acquired, providing the improvement shall not exceed $8,000.” September 3, 1900 the society board bought twenty-six and one-half acres for $3,478.12. In October of that same year, the society purchased eleven and thirty-eight one-hundredths acres for $150 per acre. With these land purchases and the eight acres already owned, the agricultural society had a fair ground of approximately forty-five acres. A new track was laid out and built that year. This is the same track in use today. In 1901 many buildings were repaired and remodeled and a new grandstand was erected. This grandstand would hold twenty-eight hundred people and is the same one on the grounds today.
The year 2011 will have Madison County hosting its 122nd annual fair. Many changes have taken place from the years when the first fairs were held to the present. There is still one important thing that the Madison County Agricultural Society continues to try annually to do and that is to serve the people with the best fair possible.