Butler County Fair cancellation: Event will miss first summer since 1851

Light trails are visible from the rides in action at the Butler County Fair Monday, July 22, 2019 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The Butler County Fair won’t be held this summer for the first time in its nearly 170-year history, but a plan is the works that could allow area youth to still participate in its agricultural aspects.

The fair’s board met virtually Tuesday evening, voting unanimously to cancel this year’s installment, which was set to run July 26 to Aug. 1.

“The biggest reason (for canceling the fair) is health and safety,” Doug Turner, president of the Butler County Fair Board, told the Journal-News Wednesday. “(Also), we cannot have our rides there because the governor has not reinstated the ride inspectors.

“We decided we would cancel the fair as we all know it and come back to try and do a junior fair show so the kids can still show their animals is what we’re trying to put together now.”

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Such an event, if approved, would occur in the last week of July and highlight the 4-H special interest projects and livestock of Junior Fair participants ages 8 through 18, Turner said. While it may have some food vendors, it would not include “the carnival side of the fair,” including rides, games, open class or grandstand shows, he said.

“Nothing is etched in stone,” Turner said. “We’re going to reach out to the associations for each individual breed and get some guidance from them to see if we can come up with an efficient and healthy way for us to pull this off.

“It’s a work in progress.”

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The fair was first held in 1851. Planning for this year’s event, which was set to run July 26 to Aug. 1, were the Butler County Agricultural Society Board of Directors, its support staff and the Butler County office of the Ohio State University Extension.

This is the first time in the fair’s 169-year history that the event has been canceled, Turner said. Its history actually stretches even further back, to Oct. 13-14, 1836, when the Butler County Agricultural Society held its first gathering around courthouse square in Hamilton, according to local historian Roger Miller.

“That first fair was a far cry from the fair of today,” Miller said. “A few wagons displayed the newest farm implements, while there were small displays of produce and livestock.”

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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.

The Butler County Fair, a major happening on the region’s event calendar, attracts between 80,000 to 100,000 visitors each year and generates approximately $900,000 in revenue, Turner said.

Canceling it creates a large financial burden for the fair board because it generates much of the money required for the fairgrounds to maintain its daily business, including the employment of two full-time office staffers, both of whom have been laid off, he said. It also affects the employment of between six and 10 part-timers who typically start working June 1 to help put on the event.

“We’ve got a whole other year before we’re going to have a fair so it’s gonna be number crunching for us to figure out how we’re going to keep the lights on and the water on and move forward,” Turner said.

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Its cancellation this year is “a huge loss” for the local community, according to Mark Hecquet, executive director of the Butler County Visitors Bureau.

“The Butler County Fair is a much-anticipated, recreational activity for thousands of visitors and residents who attend the events, participate in competitions, and enjoy all of the activities the Fair has to offer,” Hecquet said.

The fair also provides “a truly a unique opportunity” to participate in and learn about the heritage of the local agricultural community, he said.

“Certainly, this cancellation and the loss of the thousands of visitors, will have a significant impact on businesses and our travel economy who rely on the Fair for increased traffic during the summer,” Hecquet said. “Nearby restaurants, on-site vendors, entertainers, and agricultural participants will all feel the loss of the fair this year.”

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The 2020 Ohio State Fair, which originally was slated to run from July 29 to August 9 in Columbus, was canceled last week due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus. The very first planned state fair was canceled in September 1849 due to an outbreak of Asiatic cholera.

The decision to cancel the 2020 Butler County Fair was “very disheartening,” Turner said.

“It’s weighed heavy on everyone’s minds,” he said. “There’s been a lot of sleepless night and this decision was not made lightly. It’s been very stressful, and still is.

“It’s gonna hurt bad, but we can’t do it and follow the health guidelines and the financial guidelines that have to be followed.”

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