By Robin Mayes, Farm Educator
Don’t get me wrong … I love summer as much as the next Ohioan, but when the mornings are cooler and the cicadas begin singing, I begin to get a bit anxious for fall and I even start looking forward to the coming cozy days of winter.
Many things symbolize the coming of autumn: the kids heading back to school, preserving the garden harvest, picking warm, sweet red raspberries, and of course, the fields of corn becoming dry and colorful leaves beginning to litter the ground. One of the surest indicators of fall here in Delaware County, though, is the fair!
An autumn tradition for more than 100 years, The Delaware County Fair has been offering local families a display of the best in agricultural produce and livestock. Games, rides and music have long been a large part of the event, as well.
When I was a young farm kid, both the Ohio State Fair and the county fair were highlights I looked forward to each year. Unlike 4-H kids who got to spend numerous days on the fairgrounds, my family only went for one day to each fair. Of course, we kids were expected to walk through almost every agricultural display before we could head over to the midway that day. Although I was excited about the thrill of the rides, it was really no chore for me to go through the livestock barns. I loved seeing so many breeds in one place!
Throughout the months leading up to the fair, Mom would save up any 50-cent pieces she received as change. She had a large bank that was shaped like a Kennedy half-dollar in which she would deposit those coins. There were always enough for our fair admission and for a few rides and games, as well.
The night before we were to head to the fair, Mom would fry chicken and make a big bowl of potato salad and a pie that we would enjoy under a big tree on the fairgrounds at lunchtime.
Watching the horse shows in the big coliseum on the Delaware County Fairgrounds were always the best part of the fair for me! To this day, I lament the fact that horse shows are no longer held in that building. To sit that close to the horses and see them canter around in the sand and sawdust was such a thrill!
When my kids were young, we owned a music store and provided sound equipment for various acts on stages around the fairgrounds. I was also working for a local newspaper and the fair provided numerous human-interest stories. Thus, we were on the fairgrounds from the opening moments until they began tearing down the rides and dropping the tent poles to move on to the next city.
Over the years we met a lot of interesting folks at the Delaware County Fair including numerous musicians and other artists like a talented illusionist and a puppeteer. The most memorable fair friendship for all of us, though, was with the family that brought Dondi the Elephant. Following the afternoon performance, the family invited us into their living quarters.
Having tea in a beautifully decorated sitting room in a semi-trailer with an elephant watching over the proceedings is not soon forgotten! Today, elephants are no longer working for their living like Dondi did, but she seemed to be pretty content traveling the country with her little family.
The introduction of the All Horse Parade in the early ‘90’s added a fair tradition that has lived on long after we ceased attending the fair as a young family. We still often manage to gather together for the event where we can admire the beautiful horses and rigs. My grandkids have even got to wave out at us from one of the carriages! Many Delaware families who live along the route host big Horse Parade parties and cook-outs each year.
Working with the parks has once again required me to spend many hours on the fairgrounds before, during, and after, fair week. I have to say, I enjoy it almost as much as I did as a kid.
Today, the blaring midway and the running of the Little Brown Jug take a lot of the focus away from the agricultural exhibits, but they are still there if you are willing to wander away from the din. Spend a little time in the livestock barns, the county’s conservation area and in our Preservation Parks area near the Arts and Crafts Building and you will get a glimpse of what county fairs were created for.