Spirit of community always shines through
By Jasmine Rogers
The Marietta Times
Its size had fluctuated, it has added attractions and dropped others, moved and built-on. But through the nearly 200-year history of the Washington County Fair, the spirit of the community event has remained the same.
“It’s always been about promoting agriculture,” said Fair Board Secretary Richard Henthorn.
Of course that focus has broadened over the years. This year’s fair-which starts Saturday-will include whirling amusement rides, dozens of vendors, live entertainment and much more. The original fair-traced back to the early 19th century-was much more pared down, explained former fair board member Ron Graham, who served on the board from approximately 1964 to 1985.
“The first fair, they did it right there on Second Street. They just brought the cattle in and tied them up on the side the road,” he laughed.
According to a 1938 article in The Marietta Times, the Washington County Agricultural and Mechanical Association was formed in 1819 by many prominent Marietta settlers. Fairs were held for a number of years after that, but the first mention of a fair is in 1826. At that fair, prizes were given for the largest crops. One prize was a $10 plow.
Also notable of some of the earlier fairs is that they were a combined effort with Wood County, W.Va., said Henthorn.
A separate advertisement in the same 1938 issue of The Marietta Times attributes the fair’s start date to 1850.
But no fairs were held between 1861 and 1865, during the Civil War.
Regardless of specifics, the fair has long maintained its distinction of being the second oldest county fair in the state, said Henthorn.
The fair possibly moved from downtown locations, such as Second and Putnam streets and Muskingum Park, in 1857 when William R. Putnam donated the original land for the current Washington County Fairgrounds.
The parade was added in the mid-1960s but hit its peak during Marietta’s bicentennial celebration, Graham recalled.
“The local people and businesses bought so many floats (for the city’s celebration). We’re talking big, impressive, commercial floats. They had so much money in those floats, they wanted to use them again. That was the biggest parade we ever had. I think we had like nine bands that year,” he said.
The tradition of holding the parade on Labor Day weekend pre-dates Graham’s memory but was at least in practice by the publication of the 1936 article. At that time, the fair was a three-day affair, starting Labor Day and continuing until Wednesday.
The fair eventually enveloped the weekend, becoming a five-day event. However, sometime in the 1970s, the fair board decided to make the fair shorter again.
“We decided to squeeze it together and have four bigger days rather than five spread out,” said Graham.
Other long-time aspects of the fair have been the involvement of youth and a dedicated team of volunteers.
“There’s so many people that volunteer and so many donations that make it work,” said Henthorn of the fair today.
Ever evolving, this year’s fair will feature a new building. The rabbit and poultry barn, which burned down last year, has been rebuilt and will officially open to the public when the fair opens Saturday.
The fair kicks off Saturday morning. The annual fair parade will lead a procession from Ohio Street to the fairgrounds.
Some daily attractions include the Pampered Pets Petting Farm, Granpa Cratchet puppet show and Great Lakes Timber Show.
A truck and tractor pull will take over the grandstand Saturday night at 6 p.m. On Sunday, the Broken Horn Rodeo will host the Washington County World Championship Rodeo. The event will feature bare bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, bull riding, team roping and girls barrel racing, according to the fair’s website.
The animal sales start Monday at 5 p.m. with the small animal sale and continue Tuesday with the large animal sale at 6 p.m.
Fairgoers will recognize the stunt cars in Monday’s big evening attraction from television.
The Northeast Ohio Dukes Hazzard County Stunt Show will feature the famous Dodge Charger driven by Bo and Duke Hazzard, as well as several other cars from the Dukes of Hazzard and actor Byron Cherry who played Coy Hazzard.
The fair ends Tuesday with the Demolition Derby being the last big event. The fair will also feature midway rides from noon to 11 p.m. on Saturday and Monday, 1 to 11 p.m. Sunday and 4 to 11 p.m. Tuesday.