Tomorrow is the final day of the 2013 Lorain County Fair, the second largest of Ohio’s eighty-seven county fairs. Every year since 1846, local farmers have come together to show off the results of their labors and educate the public about raising livestock and crops.
My initial intention for this post was to describe the founding of the town of Wellington. But this morning as I was at the library doing research, I came across the following announcement on the front page of one of the earliest editions we still have of the local newspaper, The Wellington Enterprise. It reads as follows: “The annual Fair of Lorain County Agricultural Society will be held at their new Fair Grounds in Elyria, on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of next week…The officers of the Society have spared no pains to fit up their grounds in the best manner…Let us all turn out and make the first fair on the new grounds a decided success.” That was published in September 1867, nearly a century and a half ago, when the Lorain County Fair was already more than two decades old.
I was immediately reminded of the most recent The Wellington Enterprise, still published once a week. The front page proclaimed, “It’s time to go to the fair!” and informed readers that the event is in its 168th year and welcomes roughly 100,000 visitors annually. My family has been among them every day.
I am by no means an expert in fair history, so I did a bit of digging and found a brief sketch of the fair’s past in a Chamber of Commerce publication. Beginning in 1855, Wellington held its own annual fair, separate from the county fair. That first local fair was held on the Turner West farm in Huntington, Ohio, five miles south of town and crucial to Wellington’s cheese industry (more on that in later posts). Two years later, the Huntington fair was moved into Wellington, on land now occupied by McCormick Middle School on the east side of South Main Street. A fair was held on that site until 1869, when a lease was signed with the town trustees to relocate the event to what we now refer to as the Wellington Fairgrounds, in the town’s south-western quadrant.
A windstorm destroyed every building on the Fairgrounds, except for a single barn, in 1909. All the structures were eventually rebuilt and in 1941, it was decided to merge the (Elyria) Lorain County Fair with the local Wellington fair. In the years following the merger, as visitation grew, the event was lengthened to a full week while the site and its facilities expanded.
Many of the 100,000 people who came to Wellington this week will have no personal experience of an agricultural life. And perhaps that has become the chief attraction, in a way. I don’t know exactly what it was like to attend a Lorain County Fair in Elyria in 1846, or a local Wellington fair in 1855. I suspect the differences with today’s experience outnumber the similarities. But there is an undeniable sense of pride in the local residents about that unbroken thread of connection to an earlier time. We may not all be farmers, but we were once, and we gather together for one week each year to walk our children through barns full of cows and sheep and goats, to celebrate in a small way the then that produced our now.