A HISTORICAL REVIEW OF THE WARREN COUNTY FAIR
ORIGINALLLY WRITTEN BY
BERNIE WINGERT, RETIRED WARREN COUNTY EXTENSION AGENT
This review is not guaranteed to be one hundred percent accurate and therefore should probably not be called a history. It is rather a collection of stories written during the years from 1967 to the present. Many of the happenings have already become somewhat clouded, but the actual growth of the fairgrounds is a story worth writing down. Thanks to good record keeping by the county fair board, dates of construction have been provided.
This then is the story of the present Warren County Fair located at Pittsfield, PA. First a prelude is in order.
There have been other fairs in this county to be sure. Old newspapers on file in the library reveal some interesting tales concerning several of them.
The first Agricultural Show in the county was a one day event in 1850 at Sugar Grove. There appeared to be no formal organization. The following year the "Warren County Agricultural Society" was formed, and nineteen annual fairs were held. There were three fairs missing during the Civil War years, and in 1871 the Society died from lack of interest and support.
By 1874 the "Union Agricultural Society of Warren County" was formed in Sugar Grove, and that group operated a fair for the next thirteen years.. It came to a halt because the County Fair in Warren, composed of a new bunch of upstarts, proved to be too much competition.
In 1884 the Warren County Agricultural Fair Association was formed by the combination of the Warren Board of Trade and the Warren Farmers Club. The spearhead was a fellow named George Orr, who, according to the journal, was a zealous leader and businessman. There was $1,500 subscribed by businessmen of the borough to get the thing rolling. For five years they leased the spacious grounds across the river where the general hospital now stands. It was called Irvine Bottoms then. The rental amounted to $200 a year, and the toll bridge owners got $150 for the week to make free access to the grounds.
According to the "Warren Mail" work started June 14, 1884. Grounds were tilled, the race course graded, sheds and fencing were built, and the fair was held September 9, 10, 11, and 12. It was a grand success with over 1,000 entries and $3,000 taken in at the gate.
Sometime later the Warren Fair moved to new grounds at Conewango Avenue Extension and remained there until 1928. So there have actually been four countywide organizations calling themselves county fairs. One was formed in 1851, another in 1874, still another in 1884. The fourth fair is of more recent vintage.
The Youngsville Community Fair had its beginning in 1931 at the high school with home economics exhibits being displayed in the old Currie Buildig. The agricultural students exhibited in the gymnasium of the high school.
By 1935 everything was moved again to Island Park where the fair stayed for some time. Twenty years later only nine dairy animals were exhibited and no 4-H projects. The following year the Warren County Extension Service committed the resources of its office and the countywide 4-H program toward revitalizing this one remaining fair in Warren County. The fair became a well organized dairy show in northwestern Pennsylvania. Competitive exhibits and commercial exhibitors increased in number.
In 1967 the relocation highway bypassing Youngsville went through the grounds and a new location was needed once again. A reorganized board purchased approximately 100 acres of the Charles Takats farm near Pittsfield to rebuild.
That year a well was drilled and a pump house contracted. A county fairgrounds was again under development. Fields were mowed, bulldozing and ditch digging occurred in random locations. Temporary fences and water lines snaked across the grounds. Electric wires were strung and tents were erected.
A farm field was transformed into a busy jumble of sprawling tents, which protected dresses, cows, pickles, horses, food booths, popcorn stands and baked goods. The 4-H exhibits outnumbered the open class exhibitors in almost all categories. In 1968 the first commercial building was erected and the fairgrounds again looked much like a canvass refugee camp during the third week in August, but the fair was growing.
In 1969 the first permanent restroom facilities were constructed. The horseshoe pits designed for big league competition were also built. The pits were enlarged in 1972 and fenced in 1974. All volunteer work was done by the horseshoe people on their facility.
Fast and furious construction followed for the next few years, most of it being completed by volunteers. The major work follows:
Large Horse Show Ring and Announcers Stand – 1970
Red Domestic Exhibit Building – 1971
Dairy Cattle Barn – 1971
Second Dairy Cattle Barn – 1972
4-H Center – 1972
Pomona Grange Building – 1973
Main Office – 1973
Poultry Barn – 1973
4-H Saddle Horse Barn – 1974
Draft Horse Barn – 1974
Double Width Cattle Barn – 1975
Cornplanter Entertainment Pavilion - 1976
Second Water Well – 1976
Williams Memorial Entertainment Pavilion – 1978
Blue Domestic Exhibit Building – 1978
Barton Run road (leading to grounds) was paved – 1978
Yellow Commercial Exhibit Building – 1979
Perimeter of the Grounds fencing – 1979
Emergency Medical Technicians – 1980
4-H Livestock Complex, Second Horse Practice Ring, Sheep Wing, Swine and Beef
Cattle Wing – 1980-1983
Milking Parlor and Milk House – 1984
Main Gate Ticket House – 1982
Dressing Room Addition to Cornplanter Pavilion – 1983
Livestock Washrack and Shower Rooms and Third Water Well – 1983
Drainage Ditching – 1982, 1983, 1984, and 1988
Motor Sports Arena – 1984
Ticket Booth at Second Gate – 1984
Dairy Cattle Barn – 1984
Oxen and Draft Animal Barn – 1984
Major Drainage for Parking lots – 1987
And the story goes on…
We crowned our first Warren County Fair Queen in 1987, and that continues to be a Monday night tradition at the fair.
The fair moved into the communications era in 1989 with its first Media Luncheon for the local radio stations, newspapers and other media staff. Now several local stations attend the event and broadcast live at the fair throughout the week.
Also that year, the fair instituted the "Pay one Price" admission, which includes most shows and midway rides in the price of admission at the gate.
The year 1989 also brought improvements to the Motor Sports Arena, with the addition of the announcers stand. Since then, we’ve added new bleachers, a pit building, safety wall, and new food booths to handle the crowds, especially during our Grand American Sanctioned Tractor Pull.
New computer programs in 1991 made it easier and quicker to enter exhibits and pick up prize checks. With all of this growth, the fair needed more parking lots! So the Anderson property across from the fairgrounds was purchased in 1992 for just that. A new access road to the fairgrounds was also created that year.
Volunteers were busy in 1993 building a new dairy barn named after the grounds’ long-time caretaker, Veigh Barnett; and again in 1996 for a new EMT building called the Band-Aid Barn. Since 1994, the fair has paved much of the grounds, making it very handicap accessible.
In 2003, we began planning for a new fair office. The old office had served its purpose, but just was not set up in the technical world as is now necessary. In June we held a "Summer Sizzle" at the track, a tractor/truck pull similar to our Friday night event during fair week. More concrete work was completed finishing the sidewalks down in the carnival area. Work on the sewage system began in the fall.
Two thousand four and five brought improvements to the Show Ring. These changes were made in memory of Mr. Walter Sweeney, who had entered horses for many years at the fair by his family. Plans for the new office were done by the Warren County Career Center. A new computer was purchased for entries. This system was a great improvement to our tracking and reporting system for annual reports. Also, all tickets for shows in pavilion and track are now able to be printed and tracked on our computer system.
The Marge Tydus Memorial Award began in 2004. Money was donated by her family to honor the adult and the youth who won the most ribbons in the still exhibit categories. This is a continuing award.
In November of 2004, the fair office was torn down. Plans were completed for the new office, and construction of the new office would begin after Jan. 2005. The foundations were completed in April, and the new office was delivered in May. Inside work continued during the summer, with the office officially opening at the fair in August. A ribbon cutting ceremony was held on August 9, 2005, which coincided with the 75th anniversary of the fair. Special events and contests were held all during fair week in honor of the 75th anniversary. The cattle walkway was also completed in the barn area. Improvements were made on food booths and barns. The Endowment Fund also began in 2005, allowing folks to honor loved ones with a donation to the fair. Plaques in honor or in memory of these people were placed in the fair office lobby. This is also an ongoing project.
A new parking lot was added inside the Barton Run gate in 2006. This increased the number of handicapped parking spaces and created a van and bus unloading area. This year was also the beginning of a new carnival at the fair. Bates Brothers Amusements provided rides for all ages. During 2007, new restrooms and showers were completed in the area just outside of the track fence. The Shaddock Property, next to the fairgrounds, was purchased and the house torn down. Walkways were added to the carnival area. The Woodsmen’s Competition was a popular new event added to the fair schedule on Thursday night. Rodney Atkins, country singer, provided a sell-out show on Tuesday night (only the second time in fair history, Box Car Willy being the first). Our computer systems were upgraded, using RAC software.
In 2008, our food booths were upgraded and much work was done on ticket booths. For the first time, premium books were published by our local Warren Times Observer.
Renovations continued on the Cornplanter Pavilion Food Booth in 2009. The Motor Sports Arena celebrated it’s 25th year at the fair. The Friday night Tractor Pull and Stockcar Football on Saturday night continue to be track favorites. Other events held at the track are the garden tractor pull, antique tractor pull, firemen’s water battle, and the farm tractor pull.
2010 has a number of accomplishments. A new entry for carnival equipment was finished in the spring. Blacktop on the main thoroughfare has been replaced. Most lighting at the fair has been replaced with newer, more energy efficient lighting. Renovations of the food booth at the Cornplanter pavilion continued also with a new hood ventilation system installed and some remodeling done.
On the evening of February 8, 2011, disaster struck. The winter had extremely heavy snowfall and unusually large amounts of rainfall. Between 8 and 9 o’clock on that night, a portion of the Cornplanter Pavilion roof collapsed. A second portion collapsed on February 13th. The months following the collapse were very busy for fair directors. The campers and boats in the building had to be removed, the building torn down, and plans for rebuilding completed. Replacement of the Cornplanter Pavilion began in May, and was completed in time for the 2011 fair. The new building is a metal freespan building and was named the First Niagara Pavilion, thanks to a generous donation from First Niagara Bank. The building officially opened for the 2011 fair, but extras, such as dressing rooms and other frills were not be completed for this year’s fair. A temporary food booth, named the Cornplanter Café, was finished for the fair. All of this work was completed with the help of many, many volunteers. Fair visitors were impressed with the new beautiful building and its wonderful seating capacity. There isn’t a bad seat in the house.
In addition to the pavilion, a bridge and the addition of a number of primitive campsites across the road from the fairgrounds was completed and used for the 2011 fair. The campgrounds was named "The Island Campgrounds," at the suggestion of Mr. and Mrs. Urno Gustafson. Mrs. Gustafson’s father always called that area "the island" because of its location. The farm was Mrs. Gustafson’s childhood home, and it was purchased by the fair board in the early 1990’s. The bridge was named the Dave Harrington Memorial Bridge. Dave was president of the fair board for many years, and it had always been his dream to have a bridge built in that area. Unfortunately, Dave passed away just weeks before the bridge became a reality. Dave’s family and the Gustafsons were present for the official ribbon cutting of the bridge and the campgrounds on Sunday, August 7th, before the fair opened.
2012 was again a busy year. Intense plans were underway for a beautiful food booth to be located in front of the First Niagara Pavilion. Kessell Company built a food booth, named the "Cornplanter Cafe." The cafe overlooks the fairgrounds, and is of concrete structure with a steel superstructure and steel roof. It contains a food preparation area, freezer and storage areas. It is ADA compliant with handicap accessible serving windows. Once again, with the help of endless and tireless volunteers, the building was completed by the time the fair opened.
Another project completed before the fair was the numbering and sealing of the bleachers in the pavilion. What a beautiful job! We have an outstanding facility of which we can be proud.
Still a third project was a walkway at the new campground area. Another amazing feat! A continuing project deals with upgrading electrical service. This is an ongoing project, but definitely a necessary one.
Much painting was completed, flowers planted, and an inviting fairgrounds greeted visitors when they came to the 2012 fair.
In 2013 a new roof was put on the Livestock Pavilion, picnic tables were painted by many volunteers and a lot of other painting and repairs were done. The Warren County Fair Facebook page had been started in 2012 and was very active throughout the 2013 season. Entertainment this year was Easton Corbin, Marty Stuart, Danny Paisley Bluegrass band and Sterling Pallaro Elvis Tribute. In June was the first annual Rumble at the Fairgrounds Cruise-in.
A new building was bought in 2014 to provide the entertainment committee an office and to better serve the entertainers that came to our fair. There was lots of painting, planting of flowers and sprucing up the fairgrounds. Our first ever Facebook contest had over 300 participants trying to win tickets to the Tyler Farr Concert. Also, entertaining in the Niagara Pavilion was Lorrie Morgan, Joe Diffie, and Ron Carrington and Touch of Gold.
2015 was the Warren County Fair's 85th Anniversary. A lot of improvement continued on the fairgrounds. New bleachers seats were put on at the track. Also, at the track new light poles and lighting were installed which provided much more light during track activities. The old bleacher seats were re-purposed by planning, sanding and staining the seat boards and enclosing the sides and front of the Niagara Pavilion stage. Also installed on the front of the stage was a sign naming the stage the "Cornplanter Stage." The fair bought 2 acres of property behind the domestic buildings. Trees were removed, dirt leveled off on some of the property and fenced off to make a cart path for handicapped golf carts and emergency vehicles. By 2016 decisions will be made as to the full use of the property.
The headliner in the Niagara Pavilion were the Swon Brothers. Other entertainers were the Bellamy Brothers, Cassadee Pope and Confederate Railroad.
Entry day for the still exhibits in the domestic buildings was changed from Monday to Sunday and judging was held on Monday of fair week.
At the 2015 Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs convention the Warren County Fair won third place for their "Creative Fair Idea" in the Communications Competition. The Warren County Fair's Creative Fair Idea was their Duct Tape Art for Kids held on Wednesday of fair week. Around 30 children attended the program and made either a bracelet, a belt or a picture frame out of duct tape.
In 2016 the drainage ditch from the campground to near the Fair Museum was replaced as well as painting and sprucing up the fairgrounds. During the fair it rained most every day and was very hot and humid with temperatures in the 90's. The headline entertainer in the First Niagara Pavilion was Colin Raye. Other entertainers were Home Free, Little Texas and Thorn Haven. Leah Curtis was crowned 2016 Warren County Fair Queen.
2017 saw many changes on the fair grounds. A permanent roof was put over the bleachers at the Elwood National Forge Show Ring, The motorsports arena was named Northwest Motorsports Arena. The show ring was named Elwood National Forge Show Ring. New roofs were put on the Fair Museum and on the food booth at the Northwest Motorsports Arena. The pavilion name was changed to KeyBank Pavilion. Entertainers for 2017 was Neal McCoy, Pam Tillis and Terry Lee Goffee (Johnny Cash Tribute). Maddie Hultman was named Warren County Fair Queen.
TO BE CONTINUED as the fair continues to grow and excel.
The amazing story of the Warren County Fair will go on for years to come, thanks to hundreds of dedicated volunteers.