|Mon, Mar 10, 2014 05:13 PM
July 10, 2013 | 10:02 AM
Did you know that Harrison County, Ind., has the oldest county fair continuously held in the same location in Indiana? The tradition leading to the annual Harrison County Fair began with an agricultural meeting held on Jan. 26, 1839, in Elizabeth.
The group continued to meet sporadically during the next dozen years and, by 1851, had adopted the name which it still goes by today, the Harrison County Agricultural Society.
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On Jan. 7, 1860, the group met at the Harrison County Court House to organize the first Harrison County Fair. The following officers were elected: president, Edward W. Aydelotte; vice president, Pleasant Bean; secretary, David Jordan; and treasurer, Eli Wright. A director was also elected from each of the county's 13 townships. (Scott Township was later dissolved, leaving the county with 12 townships.)
The guiding motto used by these first officers was "Out of debt, and keep that way!"
These men had numerous projects to complete before the first fair scheduled for September 1860.
On March 16 of that year, the Society purchased the Ben and Sarah Aydelotte property, which is still part of the fairgrounds today. A premium list was formulated, and construction of a race track, buildings, fences, seats and other improvements went down to the wire.
The first Harrison County Fair took place at the fairgrounds in Corydon from Sept. 11 through 14 in 1860.
One of the main themes that drove the early fairs was that it provided an opportunity for farmers and residents of all 13 townships to get together, exhibit their livestock and produce and learn from each other. Everybody looked forward to the fair all year, and families pulled together to get the farm chores done so they could attend. The first fair was enough of a success that the fair board immediately began planning for the second fair, set for Sept. 10 through 12, 1861, and the fair has continued to this day in the same location, although the time of year has fluctuated.
Entertainment at the early fairs included horse and mule racing, side shows, animal shows and displays of produce and merchandise. Much of this changed with the advent of motor-power engines and vehicles. In fact, in 1896, in a precursor of things to come, a train wreck was actually staged as a fair attraction. Other motorized attractions which evolved from the advent of the automobile include daredevil shows, demolition derbies, motocross and tractor and truck pulls. Today's motto seems to be "If it doesn't have a motor and wheels, people won't pay to see it!"
In addition to carnival rides and attractions and paid entertainment, many of today's fair events are staged by volunteers. Harrison County 4-H, Extension Homemakers, Farm Bureau, FFA and other local organizations and businesses help keep the fair going strong.
Fair queen competitions were held off and on through the years, with the modern era beginning in 1959. Each summer, local girls vie for the opportunity to reign as Miss Harrison County and compete at the Indiana State Fair.
The most historic building at the Harrison County Fairgrounds is the Homecomers Hall. This barn was built in 1909 for the fair's 50-year anniversary and is now more than 100 years old.
The grandstand, which is attached to Homecomers Hall, was constructed in July 1961, after a fire destroyed the old one in February of that year. It was once part of the retired Parkway Ball Park in Louisville, where that city's minor league baseball team played its home games.
This year's Harrison County Fair is scheduled for July 14 through 20.
See you at the fair!
Karen Schwartz, president of the Historical Society of Harrison County, serves on the legacy group of the Harrison County Committee for the Indiana Bicentennial. In preparation of Indiana's bicentennial in 2016, she is providing a monthly column — focusing on a person, place or event from Harrison County's history — that gives insight to our history. She said the columns should serve as an introduction and/or summary of a topic but are not intended to include all known facts and information. To suggest a topic, contact Schwartz at 736-2373 or 738-2828, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by regular mail at 5850 Devil's Elbow Road NW, Corydon, IN 47112.