What is a Fair?
This sketch, by folk artist Lewis Miller, is his first hand account of the public fairs in York, Pennsylvania; that he witnessed as a youth. Miller was born in 1796. Lewis attended these fairs until he was 20-years old, at which time the fairs in York were discontinued for a number of years. Lewis Miller chronicles below his sketch, “Yearly Market or Public Fair, Held in the Borough of York, June 9th, 1801, the had privilege of a stated yearly market. In 1816, the prohibited the holding of fairs within the Borough of York, and declared such holding a common nuisance.”
There are several types of fairs. The online Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary lists four definitions for the noun Fair. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.
In this post I’ll concentrate on the first two definitions:
Per the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary; “Fair—a public event, usually held outside, where goods and sometimes farm animals are shown and sold and where there is often food and entertainment.” The sketch by Lewis Miller appears to represent this type of fair; no farm animals are seen in the drawing.
Per the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary; “County/State Fair—a county/state fair is one where farm animals and products from that region are shown to compete for prizes and there is food and entertainment.” This type of fair is often called an agricultural fair.
Using these definitions, here are three early fairs and three early agricultural fairs:
Early Fairs (They all began as a Fair, however two became Agricultural Fairs)
1738—The Fredericksburg Agricultural Fair in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This fair was established in 1738 when the Virginia House of Burgess authorized, and directed, that “fairs should be held in Fredericksburg twice a year for the sale of cattle, provisions, goods, wares, and all kinds of merchandise.” Their web site claims they are oldest fair in the United States.
1762—Hardwick Community Fair in Hardwick, Massachusetts. This fair was organized in 1762 and their web site claims they are oldest fair in the United States.
1765—York Fair in York, Pennsylvania. In 1765, Thomas Penn granted a charter for two fairs to be held yearly on High Street, “for buying and selling goods, wares, merchandize and cattle.” Their web site claims to be America’s first fair.
Early Agricultural Fairs
1765—Hants County Exhibition in Windsor, Nova Scotia. Established in 1765, their web site claims they are oldest continuously run agricultural fair in North America.
1810—Berkshire County Fair in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Generally recognized as the first Agricultural fair in the United States; it was first held October 1, 1810, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The first year it was known as the Berkshire Cattle Show; after which it was organized as the Berkshire Agricultural Society the following year, from which some historians claim 1811 is the founding year. Pittsfield is in the process of erecting a marker noting, “Site of The First Agricultural Fair in America 1810.”
1817—Jefferson County Fair in Watertown, New York. Established by the Jefferson County Agricultural Society in 1817; their web site claims they are the longest consecutively running fair in the USA.
According to Wayne C. Neely, in his 1935 book entitled “The Agricultural Fair,” before 1840 the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated there were only forty agricultural societies in the United States, however by 1858 there were 912 reported societies, with the vast majority formed after 1851. The York County Agricultural Society, which operates the York Fair, was one of those societies, which formed at that time, doing so in 1853.
Related York Fair posts include:
- Early Fairs in Pennsylvania
- Cliff Satterthwaite artwork drawn at YORK FAIR
- Bingo Banned at YORK FAIR; Cliff Satterthwaite explains his Artwork
- The Mighty Atom entertained at the YORK FAIR for over Five Decades
- Numbers Game at the YORK FAIR
- 75 Years Ago, Joe Bury sells Four and a Half TONS of Hamburgers at the York Fair
- Animals Run Wild at YORK FAIR
- Birds Eye View of Original York Fairgrounds Site
- York Fair Grounds Particulars from 1877
- The Great Potato Chip Battle; Martin’s versus Utz
- Freedom Train within the York Fairgrounds
- College Football Games were played on the York Fairgrounds during the York Fair