Butler County Fair’s rich history goes back to 1836

In Butler County this week is fair week (July 22-28). You still have a few days to attend and enjoy the sights and sounds at the fairgrounds in Hamilton.

That might be the tractor pull, the Demolition Derby or the Tug-a-Truck event, or better yet come out in support of area farmers and certainly those young people who are taking part in the Junior Fair.

The Butler County Fair has a long history that goes back to Oct. 13-14, 1836, when the Butler County Agricultural Society held its first gathering around courthouse square in Hamilton. That first fair was a far cry from the fair of today. A few wagons displayed the newest farm implements, while there were small displays of produce and livestock.

In 1851, under a new state law, the county fair was reorganized by the Agricultural Society. Held Oct. 2-3, it was moved to a small oak grove north of the city near the Miami-Erie Canal. A small number of horses and cattle were displayed, as were a large number of swine that had become very important to the well-being of local farmers. There were many other displays.

The next year, the fair moved again, this time to Bigham Grove, where it continued until 1856, when it moved to its present location, which, over the years, continues to become bigger and better. The Butler County Fair grew and became financially successful.

A race track was constructed during 1874 that was 714 feet long and 380 feet wide, or approximately a half mile. The construction was done by Henry Frechtling & Company at a cost of $560.

In the 1880s, agricultural activity was starting to enter the mechanical age. The best farmlands had all been cleared by that time. Horsepower in 1880 was provided by over 11,000 horses on county farms. There also were 700 mules, the poor relation of the horse. Farmers produced 600,000 bushels of wheat on 40,000 acres. But corn was king with 60,000 acres yielding 2,358,000 bushels, much of was fed to 40,000 hogs. Sheep were also important. Over 12,000 of them grazed on county pastures.

Oats, rye, barley and buckwheat were also grown. No soybeans were raised in the county, and farmers knew them as an exotic plant grown in the Orient providing protein and sometimes known as the “cow of China.”

During the 1880s and 1890s the Butler County Fair continued to grow and prosper. During this time entries multiplied, which led to the building of numerous permanent structures. On September 16, 1891, the Agricultural Society purchased an additional 13 acres of land to be used for expansion. Even though the fair seemed to be successful, the Agricultural Society found itself facing financial problems. The 1896 fair was controlled by an outside group, but by the turn of the century, the Butler County Fair was again successful and one of the most respected fairs in the state.

In 1913, a fire destroyed the old wooden grandstand, which was replaced that year with a 3,000 seat facility that cost $33,000. It is believed the grandstand that remains as the center section of the present one was the first of its kind in the United States. It is constructed entirely of concrete. The Butler County Fairgrounds then became a focal point for Thoroughbred and harness racing.

The completion of a new office in 1920 continued the movement from wooden to more permanent structures. Over the next thirty years, additional improvements were made, such as the construction of a larger hall for floral and produce exhibits, as well as barns for hogs and cattle. In 1955, an agreement was reached with the Hamilton Racing Association, Inc. The Racing Association could use the fairgrounds for the purpose of conducting a series of race meets. They had to be conducted under the laws of the Ohio State Racing Commission and the United States Trotting Association. Known as the Hamilton Raceway, participants and spectators from around the nation came to Hamilton for the races. This agreement lasted until 1976, when the association moved to the Warren County Fairgrounds. During the next several decades, a new secretary’s office was constructed in addition to new buildings for goats, sheep, cattle, and youth activities.

Today the Butler County Agricultural Society and its annual fair remain excellent examples of the strength of agriculture in southwestern Ohio. Every year, the fair continues to expand and prosper, even today with another new building. Attendance for recent fairs has ranged between 90,000 and 100,000 people for the weeklong event. Butler County has a Junior Fair program with more than 1,400 members, which is important to the fair’s success.

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