History of The Hartford Independent Fair
The Hartford Independent Agricultural Society, or better known as the “Hartford Fair” is located in the Northwest corner of Licking County. It is a unique fair in comparison to other Ohio fairs. It incorporates directors from Licking County and two neighboring counties, Delaware and Knox. Because Licking County does not have a County fair, the Junior Fair includes exhibitors from all of Licking Co. and portions of Delaware and Knox Counties.
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. The only townships represented at that time were Hartford and Monroe in Licking County and Hilliar in Knox County and Trenton in Delaware County. By 1871 there were ten townships represented, with the annexation of Milford Township in Knox Co; Harlem & Berkshire townships in Delaware; and Liberty, Bennington and Burlington townships in Licking County. St. Albans and Jersey were added from Licking County in 1908 as well as Miller in Knox Co. and Porter from Delaware Co.
This made a total of fourteen townships represented with a director elected from each with the exception of Hartford Twp. which had two directors. This fifteen-member fair board continued until 1970 when five directors were added At-Large from the remaining townships in Licking County, not already represented, making the total number of directors twenty. Ten years later, in 1980, two more At-Large directors were appointed along with one more each from Hartford and Monroe Townships. The list of directors totaled twenty-four. In 2012, three additional directors were added to the Board making the total 27″.
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. From that time the majority of the growth of this fair has been with youth organizations and centered around their activities. We are proud of having one of the largest Junior Fair programs in the State. The 4-H Clubs are increasing to include the urban as well as the farm youth. In 1948 Licking County had the first 4-H Band. It was organized by Lenora McLeish and is housed on the grounds the entire week performing at various events each day.
Agricultural products were intended to please the older generation. Farm machinery displays have been a large part of the fair. The local machinery dealers are still displaying their equipment to showcase new technology.
Shade trees have been one of the trademarks of our fairgrounds. Back in 1895 there are records where the board had planted an abundance of trees. Of course, the shade was needed when the only transportation was the horse and buggy. The board has done an excellent job of keeping the trees replaced when they are damaged or die.
These times were difficult and money was scarce when the fair was being organized. The Civil War took place during these early years. There were no buildings erected until 1868. The top priority seemed to be for an “eating house”! They served meals for 25¢. In 1883 the first amphitheater was built. The specifications state that it was to seat five hundred people. The builder was given the use and profit of the amphitheater for five years instead of paying him to erect the structure. The next building was a sheep barn built in 1901. The buildings have come and gone over the years and now the grounds have over 40 buildings. The land that displays the annual event has grown from the original 25 acres to 183 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, Kohman Dairy Feeder Wing attached to Grubb Arena, Jay Baird Sheep Arena and the Natural Resource Area. In 2009, at the request of the William Wright family, Wright Arena was renamed Grubb Arena.
There are three dormitories for the young exhibitors to reside in during the fair and to also allow 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 five hundred 4-H exhibitors. The first day of June in 1980 a tornado ripped through our fairgrounds. The sheep barn and a residence were completely destroyed and the 4-H Band dormitory was severely damaged. Repairs were needed immediately in order to be ready for the fair that was only two months away. The surrounding communities pitched in tirelessly and everything was ready for the 1980 Hartford Fair.
Racing was one of the first attractions at our fair. One of the events at this fair was a foot race between William Lane and Maggie McComb. Maggie was the winner to the disgruntlement of the men. Horse racing was also held at the 1858 fair with a record time of 2:38.5. There was a Free-For-All Trot in which some of the horses were driven and the remainder ridden. This area has been popular with some well-known horses running on the track.
In the beginning, people that came into town on the train had to be transported to the grounds 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 the antique pieces of machinery as well as the “old-time” household items of the years past. It includes news clippings of events in the area to remind the visitors of the “way it was.” A country church was moved on to the fairgrounds and is still used today for services, weddings and a social gathering place for the senior citizens to rest during the fair. Former Director, Willis Fravel, provided the funds to build the museum and move the church to the fairgrounds.
Since the very existence of The Hartford Fair it has been known as a “family reunion”. This is the place for families to congregate once a year for picnics and catch up on the past year. It has also been a family affair for the directors that have served on the 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.
Dedication has been a strong point with the directors of the Hartford Fair. Many of them have served long terms on the Board of Directors. There were two that retired after serving fifty years each, namely Kenneth Berger (1944-94) and Henry Williams (1948-98). One fourth of the present board has served twenty-five years or more as a director. The secretaries for the board have also served several years at a time. The longest tenure was forty years held by William “Bill” Arter (1951-91), who was elected as a director of the Ohio Fair Managers Executive Committee in 1979 and elected as President of the association in 1990 for a two year term. John McDavid, immediate past Secretary/Manager, served for 17 years and as Ohio Fair Managers District 6 director for 13 years. Rodney Arter is the current Ohio Fair Manager District 6 Director.
Present Board of Directors:
- Rodney Arter
- Sam Barb
- Mack Buckenberger
- Chip Carpenter
- Larry Cooperrider
- Brad Debolt
- Darl Evans
- Dick Fisher
- Michael Graham
- James Heimerl
- Matt Hoover
- Edward Hoskinson
- Larry Hughes (Secretary / Manager)
- Bill Jacks
- Steve Jagger
- Kody McInturff
- Jared McLaughlin
- Mike Mooney
- Joe Moore
- Dan Small
- Roger Smith
- Ronald Thompson
- Alisha Tilley
- Ian Van Kirk
- Adam Wampler
- Wayne Wright