History of the Hancock County Fair - June 2014

2014-06-01

 

June in Hancock County means its county fair time. Who doesn't like the sights, sounds and smells of the county fair? We're very fortunate here in Hancock County to have an extensive history of county fairs. Our county fair is so popular in fact that we are considering moving it to a larger site. Some might think that is a crazy idea but history shows that moving the county fair isn't that unusual. So let's have some fun going to the fair!!!

2014-06-02

The county fair in Hancock County has historically been a very popular event. Of the 196,480 acres in the county, 94.8%, or 186,190 acres was farmland as of 1890. Most farms at that time varied in size from three acres to 500 or more. The census of 1910 showed that there were 2,154 farms in the county, of which one-third included 50 to 100 acres each. In a ten year period from 1900 to 1910 the farming lands in the county increased nearly 100% in value. The biggest problem that our farmers faced at this time was being able to clear enough of the forest to properly get sufficient air to the soil below as Hancock County was a heavily wooded area.

As you can see producing crops and raising animals was a major part of our communities' daily life. So it was only natural that animal shows and fairs would be held.

These early agricultural possibilities were recognized at an early day and efforts were made to develop them. In 1835 the following entry was made in the records of the board of county commissioners of Hancock County:

"Ordered that the sheriff cause to be put up in each township three notices that there will be held at the court house in Greenfield, on the third Saturday of June, 1835, a meeting of the citizens of the county for the purpose of organizing a county agricultural society."

There is no history of the results of this meeting.

The first agricultural association of which we have any definite history was organized in the county in 1856, for the purpose of holding county fairs. The first county fair was held during the summer of 1856 at the east end of town, on the north side of the National Road. A. T. Hart was the first president.

In 1857 it was moved to the south side of the railroad, east of Brandywine Creek, on land belonging to Samuel Milroy.

By 1860 the group did not have any definite business organization. They had very little capital stock and did not own the ground on which the fairs were held. In 1860 the proprietors reorganized and formed a society of stockholders, dividing the stock into shares of $10 each. The named was then changed to the Agricultural Society. Even though the named changed the fair did not. The first meeting of the new society was conducted in November 1860. Robert E. Barnett was President; John Hinchman, John P. Banks was Vice-President, James L. Mason was Secretary and John H. White was Treasurer. The society purchased Samuel Milroy's eight acre property for $500. Floral Hall was built a short time later.

Judging from newspaper articles, the fairs at that time were pretty much the same way they are ran today. Animals, grains, fruits and all sorts of products were exhibited, for the best of which premiums were offered. There were side shows, balloon ascensions and just about anything else that would be an attraction.

A report of the 1867 fair offered a very successful fair. Almost double the number of tickets were reported sold and one thousand entries were reported in the different classes. The Daily Reporter gave this report: "Those fond of sight-seeing can be accommodated in almost any line from a double horse to a hoe-down by the sable sons of Africa."

The following officers were elected in 1874: Wesley Addison, president; NP Howard, vice-president; William Mitchell, secretary; John J. Walker, treasurer; Burd Lacey, director eastern district; John H. White, director middle district; John Steele, director western district; John Hinchman, county at large; Joseph Baldwin, county at large. These men managed the fair for a number of years.

Over time the fair began to have financial troubles. The society flourished until then but debt, jealousy and lack of enterprise caused its demise. A fire destroyed Floral Hall in 1871. It was never rebuilt. The last county fair at this site was held in the summer of 1879.

In 1883, an effort was made to reorganize the association by issuing one hundred and fifty shares of stock, at $25 each. The stock was distributed in each township. No person was to have more than four shares. The effort at this time failed. On December 5, 1885, there was a meeting of people interested in the promotion of another fair, and the following directors were elected: Blue River, Frank Tyner; Brandywine, Coleman Pope; Brown, Dr. R.D. Hanna; Buck Creek, George Parker; Vernon, Harvey Caldwell; Greenfield, J. Ward Walker; Eph Marsh and H.B. Thayer; Center, Marion Steele; Green Dr. William Justice; Jackson, K.T. White; Sugar Creek, Anton Schildmeier Jr. The association was organized as a joint stock company with a capital stock of $12, 500.

2014-06-03

Unknown youth showing his cattle

On December 21, 1885, Boyd's Grove, current location of the Hancock Regional Hospital, was selected as the fair grounds. The race track was prepared during 1886, and the first fair opened on August 24, 1886. In 1903 this association also began to have financial troubles. William A. Hough was appointed to clean up the mess. The fair discontinued again and the property was sold to George T. Randall. Mr. Randall platted the ground as "Randall Place" in Greenfield.

During this time the county fair did not take place. But that did not stop the community from producing worthy animals. Youth participated in various judging competition through groups like the Hancock County Farm Bureau. In 1923 Junior Livestock Judging began with 10 boys being judged on horses, beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine and sheep.

2014-06-04

The 4-H Calf Club on parade on the track of the Boyds’ Grove property during a 4-H Fair late 1920’s.

Warren O'Hara became a county extension agent in 1926. One big achievement that O'Hara is credited for is the organization of the County Fair. A new board was organized with George Teal, president; Robert Vandenbark, vice-president; L.E. Garriott, Secretary; Lawrence A. Wood, Treasurer. The first fair directors were mostly from Center Township. They were W.F. Thomas, Edward Custer, George Morehead, Almond Wicker, Oscar Lyman, John Hinchman and Noble Elsbury. In addition was Harvey Cushman from Vernon Township and Hola Willis from Blue River. The fair of 1926 listed exhibits of 9 beef cattle, 7 bred dairy heifers, 18 lambs, 46 pigs, 24 girls sewing exhibits and other miscellaneous exhibits.

2014-06-05

Horace Edwards shows of his cattle at the 1926 County Fair.

But even with this new start up it was hard for the county fair to take the grand stage that they had in previous years due to the depression. People just didn't have extra money to spend on entertainment.

During this time the county fair continued but it had a different look. They were limited to just club showings.

It would be 1932 before the fairs could operate again as the public events we know them today. The funds to reorganize the fair and permit its rebirth came from a county appropriation engineered by the Hancock County Council in the amount of $1,300 in that year. That year's chairman was A.J. Wichard with Secretary John Hinchman, who would later figure as the seller of the land where the 4-H Fair is now located on Apple Streets. Participating in that year's fair was the Lamb Club headed by Harvey Cushman, the Calf Club headed by Robert Vandenbark, the Pig Club headed by George Teal and the Girl's Club headed by Mrs. Elton Jessup.

2014-06-06

From left to right are Jim Gunn, Gerald Lantz and Wilbur Lants during the 1937 4-H Lamb Contest.

This fair would continue until 1940. At that time the fair was discontinued due to the war and it reverted back to merely Club showings again.

During this time those involved in the fair had to time to consider the possible future of a county fair. The previous county fairs eventually all ended due to funding, lack of property and other various reasons. A more permanent system had to be established.

A committee was organized of Harvey Cushman, Darold Fleming, Isaac Pope, S.R. Boring and Raymond Lantz. This group recommended the purchase of the acres where the old fair had been held, the Boyd's Grove property. Then after a favorable poll of the county the next year, the land was purchased, 12.9 acres of it for $5,000. A deal was worked out whereby Jesse Walker agreed to keep up the grounds if he could be permitted to graze two of his cattle on it and he also agreed to paint the building that would soon be erected.

On August 12th and 13th, 1942 the fair started again. The fair was bigger and better. There were concession booths, rides, four stunt acts, a pet and hobby parade, a dress review and other musical and side show entertainment. As well as the 4-H Club events.

The Hancock County 4-H Agricultural Association, Inc. was established on August 7, 1945. They are a non-stock, non-profit sharing organization who's responsible for securing adequate finances for the 4-H programs and various phases of the 4-H county fair. The Ag Association would continue to manage the county fair. Keith Elsbury was President, John Thomas, Vice-President, Elaine Edwards, Secretary and Glen Boyd was Treasurer. Also active in the group was Norman Cook, Mrs. Ed Kleiman, Mrs. Russel Cushman, Earl Downen and Shirley Lakin.

When this property was purchased the only thing on it was the old horse track and a fairly new grandstand. They soon tore down the grandstand and filled in the race track. In 1947 a 40' x 80' livestock building was built. The contractors were Ora Vaughn and Francis Knott. R.E.M.C. did all the wiring free of charge.

After the Pat O'Hara era Elmo Chatham took over the reins of the county extension agent. The 1949 fair logged 7,500 people in attendance. Under Chatham tenure the fair continued to grow until it was busting at the seams. By late 1954 it was apparent that the fairgrounds would have to be established somewhere else.

During the time of 1949 to 1953 the Hancock County Fair recorded the most lambs shown at any fair in the state. Hancock County won the Kroger Grocery Trophy on that account. 4-H club members, the ones in the fair competition, grew in numbers drastically. There were 489 competitors register in 1949. The 1953 fair became the largest ever and included a parade, amateur contest, mass concert of county bands, horse pulling contest, tractor rodeo, two nights of professional entertainment, a gold medal beef show, Guernsey show and the largest number ever of 4-H exhibits.

Assisting Mr. Chatham during this time was J.J. Robinson, D.R. Kasten, Frank Webster, J.L. Brentlinger, Pearson Miller, P.E. Branson and John Gentry. Elmo Chatham would leave this post in 1953 to enter the insurance business.

The county had many of the finest lamb producers and dominated the Hoosier Market Lamb Show during this period. One example was John Foster who exhibited the grand champions, the 1st place pen of 3, the 1st place pen of 5 and the 1st place pen of ten in the 1950 show.

During this time the county was also strong into milk production. In February 1950 the county engaged in a county Dairy Caravan with 450 people in attendance. Out of this meeting emerged the Dairy Herd Improvement Association, a group dedicated to improving milk cattle herds.

These years saw row crop interest growing too, and soil conservation was also a top priority. The Soil and Water Conservation Service was established in 1954.

Much credit can be given for the location of the current fair grounds to Clifford Fields. Clifford is known for serving as Mayor of the City of Greenfield. He also at this time was an implement dealer and part owner of Dill-Fields Implements, which was located at 222 South Franklin Street. Most people today would remember this building as being home to Bob's Auction House and in 2013 the building was razed so that improvements could be made to Franklin Street.

In the summer of 1954 Clifford paid a visit to retired Judge John Hinchman to discuss the possibilities of selling the land he owned along Apple St. Judge Hinchman later decided to sale the property. The 1954 fair, which was held on August 9-13, surpassed the 1953 fair in turnout. 4-H membership reached 840. This fair became a showcase as to why the fairgrounds needed to be moved.

Pressure mounted for a new site with more room as some very stiff opposition was also developing This caused the need for a December 13 meeting of the 4-H Ag Association to avoid tempers breaking into fisticuffs. Elmo Chatham came back into play as he visited the State Board of Accounts to ensure the group could do it, and how, and bringing in Purdue advisors to help plan the landscaping. The board voted to give $500 to Judge Hinchman to hold the ground.

The site was eventually purchased for $10,000 for the twenty seven acres. They also added $5,000 more for water, lights, and sanitary improvements. The association began a fund drive to begin raising the money. Within the first ten days $12,000 was brought in, and by March 3rd $14,700 was raised.

2014-06-07

Current Hancock County 4-H grounds

The ground was cleared, a 30' x 50' stage was built, and a 23' x 22' pole building was also built. The first fair held at the new fairgrounds was in the summer of 1955. Peck amusements set up their Tilt-a-Whirl and Ferris wheel. Hershel Hardin along with Bert Boyd were the managers of the fair. With the new facilities the attendance for the 1955 fair was 40,000. The new board for this time would become Paul Sparks, President; Hershel Hardin, Vice-President; Thelma Newton, Loren Matlock and Charles Heller were secretaries and Clifford Fields, Treasurer.


I have a huge attachment to the current fairgrounds property. My grandparents, Virgil and Izora Roland, were ground keepers for many years. They lived in the mobile home that is still located on the far south end of the property beside the National Guard Armory property. As a kid I would follow my grandpa around watching him make repairs, paint and clean things in preparation of the fair. I loved sitting on the front steps watching all the rides being assembled. I remember walking around with a poker stick after fair week and helping pick up trash. During the fair my grandparents could always be found sitting in a small booth on the north end of the commercial building. I still have some of their fair pennants that they use to wear and a wooden ruler that my grandpa had with his name on it. Good memories!!


Since being at this site the 4-H fair has continued to grow to the point where we are again discussing moving to a new site. History continues!!!


This year the county fair will be back and better than ever with all sorts of entertainment following in the tradition of our county fairs. 4-H today has changed in that you don't have to be a farmer to be involved. They offer many types of activities and projects. Each year more and more youth in our community get involved. This is one of the leading reasons that the discussion of moving the fairgrounds again is taking place....they need more space! This is good news.


Today the fairground property is more than just a home for the fair. Events like auctions, trade shows and other events are held there on a weekly basis. The fairground property has become more of a convention site.


So this summer get out and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of our county fair. It doesn't get any better than partaking in some fresh donuts, pizza and ears of corn. Go get a brain freeze on some homemade ice cream, or drinking a nice old fashion cream soda while listening to some great entertainment in the Pioneer building. It's also fun to check out all of the projects that the kids in the community worked so hard on, and to check out all the fine animals and ride some rides as well. There's nothing more that says summer than visiting our county fair. This year fair takes place June 20-27, 2014. Enjoy!!

 

Greg Roland

Sources:
A History of Hancock County in the Twentieth Century by Dorothy June Williams and Thomas E.Q. Williams.
Binford History of Hancock County
Richmond History of Hancock County
Images of American Hancock County by Joseph L. Skvarenina
Greenfield Daily Reporter

More Greenfield History