Ohio County Fair Time
Fairs bring out the best in everybody. In the fall of each year, the annual Ohio County, Kentucky County Fair, always held in Hartford, was a respite from hard, hot work of summer, when everyone gathered for a few days of fun and to show their prized projects and animals...even coon dogs. Those who took part in the friendly competitions proudly brought handpicked, polished produce…their tastiest jams and jellies…their creative crafts…and well-groomed animals.
I wish I had asked my grandmother whether or not they ever entered animals or food in the fair competitions, but I didn’t. Those folks who came just to look around at the local fair were rewarded with sights, sounds and scents that couldn’t be found anywhere else…while enjoying some great outdoor eating, and meeting and seeing relatives and friends from all over. Everyone loved the horse races there. Men had fox hounds and all kinds of homemade inventions for sale.
Rural folks gathered from all nearby counties to celebrate the end of summer at the Ohio County fair.
Here is a portion of one advertisement I read about in an old newspaper:
I once interviewed my grandmother, Eva (Smith) Cox 1889-1988 about attending the annual Ohio County Fair. She told me the following:
Grandmother: Oh, that was when I was about sixteen years old. Or seventeen, at that time. And my daddy wanted to go to the fair, and he wanted me to go with him. And I didn’t much want to, because I could have gone with my boyfriend in his buggy. My sisters, Della went, and Ella went. But he wanted me to go to the fair and he wanted me to go with him. Well, I couldn’t hardly say what I wanted to do. I hated to refuse him, and I did finally tell him I would go.
And I thought, well, he will just drive along real slow, but I was mistaken. I thought all the other buggies…you know in that day and time, roads were dusty and I thought everybody would get ahead of us and we would just eat that dust all the way. But he got started…and I’m telling you, he made that horse just get up and go, and we got ahead of all of them. (Laughing) And I was so glad, oh goodness. And we got there ahead of the whole bunch.
Grandmother: Oh, yes, we never missed the fair. (Laughing) Get up before daylight to get to go. To Hartford. But that was a treat. And it taken a long time to go.
What did you do at the fair?
Grandmother: Oh, I don’t know…ride the ferris wheel and everything that they do now. And cold drinks and eats. We just all had a good time. Meet up with everybody we knew.
Another time, after I married, Newton and I went to the fair. Went in a road wagon, too. Just a regular wagon, with seats. You have seen them. Just a wagon. And boy that was a trip. We really got the dust!
Another ad dated August 28, 1908, from The Hartford Republican said:
The above courtesy of Janice Brown.
One of my cousins told me that her grandmother, Finis Swain Leach, had a brother called Uncle Sip who raised trotting horses. My cousin, Marguerite Leach, remembered watching them race at the Ohio County Fair. The horses pulled a sulky while racing.
“Uncle Sip” was Perciful Aurthine Swain (1853 – 1951), and my guess is that horse racing, and sulky racing, at the Ohio County fair was most probably seen from the early 1870’s till the early 1920’s or 1930's. This type of horse racing is commonly called “Harness Racing.”
Harness racing was also a significant part of Louisville's early racing history with a number of tracks in existence. One of the most prominent was Greeneland, a racecourse for trotters that was built just east of Churchill Downs in 1868.
Here are two images of harness racing (not from Ohio County):
Apparently, looking at the image below, pneumatic tires were first used in harness racing as early as 1893.