Tuesday, August 7, 2012

First Erie County Fair Held in Buffalo Courthouse

  The Ladies were a bit reluctant to attend the first Erie County Fair in 1841, so officials announced: "Constables will be on grounds to preserve order and the visits of the ladies will be welcomed to the exhibition."
Old Courthouse Where The First Annual Erie County Fair 
was Held in 1841 at Lafayette Square. Cleared Away 1876
  Thus reassured, the ladies tied on there bonnets, and sallied forth. They even attended the plowing matches, one of the main attractions of early fairs, and it was reported "more than 2,000 people gathered in carriages and on horseback. A great many ladies, lured by delicious weather and the interest of the occasion, graced the attendance, adding interest and brilliancy to the scene." Even in those days the ladies did not like to miss any of the fun.
  The Erie County Agricultural Society had been formed in 1819, Dr. Cyranius Chapin, President. The first large gathering of livestock in the Village of Buffalo was at the first county fair, held in Buffalo in the autumn of 1820 before Erie County was divided from Niagara County in 1821.  The gathering may have been the occasion of some transactions in livestock.  This was at Main St. at the Terrace. Dr. Cyrenius Chapin caused twenty head of cattle and sheep to be driven in from one of his five farms; and another farmer, "rather against his will," selected forty of his best sheep and sent them in to the fair, but it did not become an annual event till 1841. On Wednesday, October 6, 1841 a fair was held in Buffalo's old Courthouse. This was a white pillared building that stood on the present site of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. 
Dr. Ebenezer Johnson's Estate on Delaware Ave. where 
Fair was Held in 1842
   Exhibits of needlework, fruit, flowers and vegetables were arranged on tables in the grand jury rooms, and behind the courthouse were the livestock and farm machinery. Among the premiums awarded were a first of $10 to Stephen Osborn of Clarence for the finest stallion; Lewis F. Allen of Black Rock received $6 for the best full-blooded bull.
  The following year the fair was held on Tuesday October 11, on the grounds of the Dr. Ebenezer Johnson Estate on Delaware Ave. at Johnson Park. Premiums up to $400 were awarded and a few of them were; Best Stallion, Philip Enders, "Belport", Amherst $6; Best Durham Bull -- Cha's Sweetapple, Colden, $6; sheep--Best fine wooled buck--Levi Pratt, Aurora, $3; swine--Best boar royal-V.Gould, Hamburg, $5.
  That year, premium crop Indian Corn yielded 57 bushels to the acre: oats, 67 bushels, and barley, 42 bushels. There was also a fine display of Honey, apples, squashes, fowls, flowers--and the cheeses entered by H. Arnold and Truman Austin of Hamburg "were truly magnificent." Fine Patchwork quilts, rag rugs and samplers were among the household articles exhibited. One enterprising husband and wife team exhibited silk of homemade manufacture.  Matthew Conklin of Clarence won $3 for the best silk cocoons and $2 for the best 20 skeins of silk. His wife was awarded a diploma for "one pair of superior silk stockings." 
  Crowds at the early fairs, really turned out to watch the plowing matches and marvel at the powerful horses pulling with all their might. First the ground was measured off and staked. Each contestant was allotted a quarter of an acre, and the time allowed was one hour and fifteen minutes. In 1842, a beautifully matched chestnut team, belonging to Peter Curtiss of Buffalo, worked the hardest, plowed the deepest and finished in 51 minutes, winning the first premium of $10. A team belonging to J. Frick finished second in 54 minutes, but did not plow so deep. There was only one ox team entered, a team of young red oxen belonging to Henry Johnson of Lancaster. There was no competition, but the oxen plowed the ground in 47 minutes, so were awarded second premium of $7.  
   In 1873 it was announced in the paper, the annual Exhibition and Fair of the Erie County Agricultural Society will be held on the grounds of the Society at Hamburgh on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Commencing September 30th.  A liberal and comprehensive premium list is offered which cannot fail to draw out a good exhibition.  The grounds of the Society which are among the most beautiful and picturesque in the State, have been put in capital order.  The half mile track will be in first rate condition.  In addition to the liberal Society premiums for speed, a special purse of $100 is offered by C.J. Hamlin, Esq., to be trotted for by horses six years old or under, raised in the county, and whose sires are kept in the county for stock purposes.
   A refreshment saloon will be kept on the grounds during the fair by Daniel Prindle.  The opening of the Buffalo & Jamestown Railroad has added greatly to the facilities for reaching the grounds.  Special trains will be run during each day of the fair.

    By 1850 however, it was thought wise to find a country location for the fair, so that year it was held in Aurora. In 1851, it was in Lancaster, in 1852 in East Hamburg, 1853 in Cold Spring, 1854 in Aurora again. In 1855 the first admission fee, 12 1/2 cents, was charged. Then for nine years the fair was held near the Indian Church in West Seneca, and an omnibus left Exchange street every half hour for the fair grounds. In 1866 and 1867 the location was changed to Springville. In 1868 the site was moved to  Hamburg where it has been held ever since.