Lewis County Fair History
Lewis County Fair History
"Throughout the history of the Lewis County Fair, there is a vivid reflection of people.......hard-working, fun-loving, home-loving people. In fact, for many years their fair assumed all the characteristics of an 'old home week'. All the year long these families looked forward to those azure autumn days when they'd be together with friends and neighbors at the County Fair. ....[the] County Fair was where the "good times" were---and still are---for the warm, friendly people of Lewis County." "Fairs U.S.A.", Dorothy Littlehale; Image Digest, Inc. Ithaca, NY 1970.
And so begins the history of the Lewis County Fair.
In the words of Dr. Franklin P. Hough, Lewis County historian.....
"The first county fair was held at the Lowville Academy then occupying the site of the Presbyterian church, on the third and fourth days of October, 1821. The morning of the third day was remarkably pleasant. The members of the society convened in the morning at the inn of Jared House, where the badge of the society, a cockade of wheat heads, was affixed to their hats. In the meantime, the cattle on exhibition were driven to the pens, on grounds now occupied by the Methodist church and its yard, and after the appointment of the viewing committees, the society proceeded to examine the stock......A calf raised by Mr. Charles Bush weighed 607 pounds, at six months old; nine pigs, likewise raised by Mr. Bush, weighed on an average of 221 pounds each at six months......"
The "Good Old Days"
"Lewis County's first Judge, the Honorable Silas Stow also held the distinction of being the Fair's first president. An authoritative speaker, he paid far-sighted tribute to the farming communities of Lewis County, when he progressively envisioned those elements of agricultural changes evident to him. He planted the roots of determination firmly, with a keen eye to the improvement of those agricultural environs essential to the needs of the county.
His oratory added inspirational dignity to the local agricultural aims of the people, and were prophetic of an excellence that was yet to come. In his first speech at that fair, Judge Stow called agriculture "an art at once the most important, the most necessary and the most honorable to men. It is the source of every comfort... the basis of every other art....." He praised the county's oats, barley, peas, potatoes, maple sugar, but felt that horses and cattle could be improved. He vehemently declared, " the degraded character of our cheese.......is a deep disgrace to our county and calls aloud for a change." The change was a distinct one .
There soon came a time in the 1900's when there were just as many cheese factories devoted to improving the quality of Lewis County's cheese as there were schools to improve the minds of the young. The "Big Cheese" became a well-known trademark of Lewis County by 1926, because of a six ton cheese made in West Martinsburg. This superlative of foods was escorted by the Lowville Band not only at the Lewis County Fair, but at the State Fair in Syracuse. In 1916, a five ton cheese was also produced at the West Martinsburg cheese factory to make its way to the World's Fair in New York City. Needless to say, Judge Stow stimulated 'great' change in the cheese producing "deep disgrace" of Lewis County!
After 1821, fairs were held in many different locations due to the discontinuance of the State appropriation of funds. In this period, Lewis County's Fairs were essentially devoted to the improvement of horses and cattle. Between 1841 and 1855 fairs were held annually in Lowville, Martinsburg, Denmark, Constableville, or wherever grounds were available. In 1857 available land was acquired and purchased west of the village of Turin with another fair ground purchase southeast of Lowville in 1859.
Between 1855 and 1871 Fairs were held alternately at the Turin and Lowville sites. After 1871, Lowville became the permanent site upon the purchase of 15 acres of land in January 1876 from the Bostwick Estate at the northeast end of the village. This site became known as Forest Park. ....the property dealings were negotiated with D.C. West at the cost of $3,150.00. Additional expenses for fencing, building, insurance, and preparing the ground for use brought the total outlay to $7,467.50........
"Just a hundred Junes have danced with faces pink as morn, Down across the happy hills, like Pan with silver horn, Pastures clothed with flocks and herds, the valley brimmed with corn, While Father Time goes on Marching. So a hundred autumns crowned with red and russet leaves, To the County Fair have brought their wreath of splendid sheaves, Thanking God for work to do, and all that work achieves, While Father Time goes on marching." by Miss Alice E. Allen of Lowville.
Many were the firsts of the early 20th century. Many groups began at that time and many grew more important in size and activity. The 4-H club, which began in Lewis County in the early 1920's, took part in the fair for the first time in 1931. Since those early years, membership has increased considerably, as have the goals and exhibition of cultural projects displayed by the young people. Grange booths were originated in the 1920's and the FFA started their display booths in the 1930's. In 1957 the Grange held its own centennial with floats and pageantry bespeaking the organization's historical background.