FAIR HILL — It’s summertime, and the living is easy, or so the old song goes. In Cecil County the days (and nights) are hot and sultry, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for the Cecil County Fair.
While we may come to expect the sights and sounds of the fair in July, when the Cecil County Agricultural Society Fair was established in 1880 after several false starts it was actually held in October.
As early as 1875, citizens of the county attempted to organize an agricultural society of our own; many of our farmers were members of the Oxford (Pa.) Agricultural Society. In late March 1875, as reported by the Cecil Whig, “Pursuant to the call by a number of the leading farmers of the county published last week, a meeting of those in favor of forming a County Association was held in the office of the School Commissioners, at Elkton, on Tuesday last.” A Board of Managers was elected at this meeting, where they signed a constitution, established committees, and elected officers before agreeing to meet again on the second Tuesday in April in Elkton.
While this was a promising start, no mention could be found of that April meeting, but in the May 15, 1875 edition of the Whig, it is noted that the Oxford Press reported on an arbor day held for the Oxford Agricultural Society, with five of the finest trees donated by George Balderston, of Colora. The writer closes with a somewhat plaintive question: “Wonder when our Agricultural Society will be strong enough to own a fair ground?”
The answer would be, not for some time yet. No further articles regarding our Agricultural Society appear in the Whig until April 15, 1876, when a brief mention of a meeting reports that bylaws were approved and committees were formed for each district in order to solicit subscriptions. Another 18 months would pass before something newsworthy would occur: “We are pleased to be able to announce that a start towards the establishment of an agricultural society, with its accompanying exhibitions, has been made in the county.” The Cecil Farmers Club, a separate organization, were to have a show of farm stock and produce. The item concludes, “We trust that from this effort will spring a regular county organization.”
But it was not to be. It isn’t clear why this early agricultural society seemed to fizzle out before it really got started. A writer for the Whig lamented in the June 7, 1879, issue, “The adjoining counties each have flourishing agricultural societies. Why can’t Cecil have one?”
No answer was forthcoming, yet little did that individual know his wishes would be granted in a year’s time.
Formal meetings of the new Agricultural Society began on June 9, 1880. By July 3, the Cecil Democrat reported that at the latest meeting possible venues for a fair were discussed, and they included the “Gilpin Lot,” near Gilpin’s Bridge, “... and a lot owned by Dr. R. C. Mackall on Landing Lane, south of Little Elk.” By July 31, the society had decided on the “large field of Aaron G. Tuite, adjacent to the railroad, being favorably considered by the committee, they were instructed to arrange for leasing or purchasing it …” Proposals for building the grandstand were solicited in the newspapers in late August, and at the same time ads began appearing for the fair, to be held Oct. 13, 14, and 15. From such a slow start, things were now fairly whizzing along.
Special excursion trains for the fair were to be run to bring attendees within short walking distance of the fairgrounds, and public interest was whipped up by items like the following:
“A gentleman closely connected with the Agricultural Society, and a lover of good trotters, urged his thorough-bred to such great speed on the race course one day this week that his coat tail was slit to the collar by the current created.”
A report on the success of our first fair appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of the Cecil Democrat. An entire page is devoted to the goings-on of the three-day entertainment. The correspondent waxes rhapsodic, writing:
“The thought, care and labor of the Directors and the honest work of their employees, seconded by the prompt support of the farmers and ladies of the county and outside exhibitors, have made the First Annual Fair of the Cecil County Agricultural Society all that its projectors could have hoped for.”
That first fair was to continue for 20 years before finally succumbing to economics, no longer raising enough money to remain profitable. How lucky we are that our citizens cared enough to resurrect the fair, going strong now for 65 consecutive years.