Scenes from the Butler County Fair Wednesday, July 24 in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

With 169 years behind it, Butler County Fair looks to modernize

As some of the longest-running events in the state, county fairs like the event that just finished on Saturday in Butler County are constantly balancing tradition with the need to attract audiences with new features, which will continue into next year, officials said.

The 169th version of the Butler County Fair wrapped on Saturday with the high-flying action of the Cincinnati Circus. Stormy weather on Monday was replaced with sun and more moderate temperatures for the rest of the week, which saw better attendance with grandstand events like a monster truck show and demolition derby.

Fair Board President Doug Turner said plans are already underway for the 170th fair next year. The main idea for the fair is to recognize its historical past, while balancing the need for new attractions and facilities.

RELATED: Clear skies and pies give a midweek boost to the Butler County Fair

“For the most part, we stay true to the tradition with 99.9 percent of what we’re doing,” said Turner. “But we’re trying to modernize.”

For example, Turner said officials will be adding to the back of the event center with drywall and finishing the floors. Next year, with help from the Board of Commissioners, the parking lot will be paved.

While traditional events like the demolition derby and rodeo have continued at the fair, the emergence of new events like the monster truck show and the Cincinnati Flying Circus add variety.

“We’ve got some concessionaires that have been here 50 years,” said Turner, adding that the Triple Treat Shows has been involved for 50 years as well.

HISTORIC PHOTOS: Views of the Butler County Fair in old black-and-white images

The fair plans on applying for grant money from the Ohio State Fair Commissioners, a program recently announced. According to Howard Call, Executive Director of the Ohio Fair Manager’s Association, the grant will go into effect this fall and up to $500,000 will be available to each of Ohio’s county fairs, an amount that would have to be matched.

That grant money would likely be used to do some work on the grandstands, which is beginning to show signs of its age. Turner said that it is not an immediate concern, but that seats are getting worn, paint is chipping, and there is a slight deterioration of concrete.

“It’s a long-term project that we are tackling now,” Turner said about the grandstand that has stood since 1913.

“It’s not that there is any structural damage or it’s not safe or anything like that, it just needs prettied up.”

The grandstands are symbolic of the fair’s need to modernize while still having respect for its long history, an idea that other county fairs, including the Warren County Fair which ended on July 20, are grappling with.

Gene Steiner, President of the Warren County Agricultural Society Board of Directors, said that the basis for all fairs is to provide agricultural education, but that revenue is certainly still needed to maintain the fairgrounds.

“The dynamic of our population has changed a lot over the past 15 years,” said Steiner, who is also a renowned auctioneer. “We are trying to include our new neighbors.”

In 2016, the fair announced that it would be tearing down its grandstand of 70 years, replacing it with an event center. Steiner hopes that the new events center will increase traffic for the other 51 weeks of the year. In 2018, the fairgrounds were in operation for 38 weekends, which Steiner believes the remaining weekends could be filled with the addition.

MORE: Warren County Fair to host another year without event center

“It’s a busy place,” said Steiner. “We average about 300,000 people (per year) and about 500,000 when you include the fair.”

The fair’s main attractions are the rodeo and the junior fair livestock show, which includes market animals and horses. Steiner said the community also gets behind the junior fair auction, who are very supportive of the children.

The Warren County fairgrounds, located at 665 N. Broadway Street in Lebanon, are in operation for the entire year, hosting events like Ohio Valley Classic motorcycle races and the country applefest in late September.

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