The Hartford Independent Agricultural Society, better known as the Hartford Fair, is in its 158th year serving 4-H Club members and fair-goers from Licking County and portions of two neighboring counties, Delaware and Knox.
The Hartford Fair was organized in the fall of 1858 under the name The Hartford Fair Society. The first fair was held in 1858 on land leased by Taber Sharp.
Agriculture has been stressed through the years, along with the promotion of 4-H and youth activities. The Licking County Junior Fair was added to the program in 1938. Since then, the majority of growth of the fair has been about youth organizations and centered on their activities.
The Hartford Fair has one of the largest Junior Fair programs in the State of Ohio; and today’s 4-H Clubs include urban as well as farm youth. In 1948 Licking County had the first 4-H Band, organized by Lenora McLeish.
Agricultural products have always been a significant element of the fair, especially to please older generations; and antique farm machinery displays have been a large part of the Hartford Fair, while local machinery dealers display their latest equipment to showcase new technology.
The early days of The Hartford Independent Fair were difficult and money was scarce when the fair was being organized. Because of the Civil War, no buildings were erected until 1868. The top priority was for an eating-house, where meals were served for 25 cents.
In 1883, the first amphitheater was built to seat five hundred people. The builder was given the use and profit of the amphitheater for five years instead of pay to erect the structure. The next building was a sheep barn built in 1901. Buildings have come and gone over the years, and now the grounds have over 40 buildings. The fairgrounds itself has grown from the original 25 acres to over 200 acres.
Many buildings have been erected on the grounds over the past forty years. The most recent being the Babcock Building, Ramsey 4-H Center, Kohlman Dairy Feeder Wing to Wright Arena, the Jay Baird Sheep Arena, and the Natural Resource Area.
There are three dormitories for young exhibitors to reside in during the fair, enabling them to care for their livestock projects. A dorm was built in 1958 to house the boys, and another added for the girls in 1968. The 4-H Band built a dorm for their members in 1973. These three dormitories annually house approximately 500 4-H exhibitors.
In the beginning, people came into town on a train and had to be transported to the fairgrounds by horse and buggy. With the popularity of the automobile, hitching posts were removed and replaced with parking lots. The installation of electricity on the grounds brought the night fair.
A museum has been built which displays antique pieces of machinery as well as the old-time household items. A country church was uprooted and moved on to the fairgrounds and is still used today for services and as a social gathering place for senior citizens, where they can rest during the fair.
Since its beginnings, The Hartford Fair has been known as a family reunion, a place for families to congregate once each year for picnics and to catch up on the past year. It has also been a family affair for the directors that have served on the fair board. There are many instances that a father has been followed on the fair board by his son filling his position as the director. Two present directors are third-generation board members.
The 158th Hartford Fair opens Sunday, August 7, and continues through Saturday, August 13.
For additional information go to < hartfordfair.com >.
Reporter Lenny C. Lepola can be reached at 614-266-6093