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Yates County Fair - Once Attracted Carrie Nation and Billy Sunday

Would you believe that Carrie Nation, Billy Sunday and Bob Ingersoll all were in Yates County - not at the same time - but were here in person!

One of the oldest and earliest of fairs in the Empire State is the annual Yates County Fair. It was at these events that notables made personal appearances. To be sure, cattle, trotters, prize animals - the dairy cows, pigs, dogs and, of course, prize pickles, vegetables, flowers, needlework and fashions are the "reason" for the annual fair;
but who can deny that a "personality" can be a mighty fine attraction.

Back in 1901, Carrie Nation waved her dry-honed hatchet and a Bible at the Fair. Selling souvenirs, she attracted 4,000 persons. Evangelist Billy Sunday pounded palm on fist and certainly saved a few people from perdition at the 1931 Fair. Then there was Yates County's own native, Dresden-born Robert Ingersoll, a renowned orator who spoke before large crowds at the Fair.

The State Agricultural Society was founded in 1831. Local interest was aroused and a group of men began promoting exhibitions of agricultural and horticultural products in 1839. Residents of Yates County became interested in the project and on March 4,1840, they met at the American Hotel, Penn Yan, on the site where the Newberry store was located. An Agricultural Society was formed and officers elected. John Hatmaker became the first president. Other officers were John Spicer of Barrington, Samuel Wise of Benton, Elisha Doubleday of Italy, Uriah Hanford of Jerusalem, Daniel B. Lindsey of Middlesex, Henry P. Sartwell of Milo, Henry Husted of Potter and Henry Spence of Starkey who were vice-presidents. Darius A. Ogden of Milo was secretary and Eben Smith, also of Milo, was treasurer. The town of Torrey had not been formed when the County Agricultural Society was formed.

Three months later, at a meeting in the Court House, it was decided to hold a Fair and cattle show later in the year. A committee was appointed to draw up a premium list for the following year. Prize money reached a total of $141. Of that, $25 was withheld as the officers had stipulated their right to take such action in cases where exhibits did not measure up to certain standards.

The first fair was held on the grounds of the Court House, with many exhibits shown inside. This remained the site of the fair for ten years and then for two years, it was held in Dundee. The Society decided to incorporate and on January 13, 1855, the Society officially incorporated. Nelson Thompson presided and Edward R. Randall was elected secretary.

Records in the County Clerk's office show that the Society acquired three acres of land on Pine Street, now Keuka Street. The purchase was made on October 1, 1855. This parcel of land was seven rods back from Pine Street with a lane leading from it to the street. On May 13 it was sold with Dudley W. Dox as president signing the deed. On September 25, 1871, the Society purchased approximately 18 acres on Lake Street from Elizabeth Kimble.

To attract the younger generation, a fast half-mile track was laid out. The grandstand was erected by the Penn Yan Driving Park Association, a local organization which had a lease-hold interest in the grounds. Admission was charged to enter the fairgrounds in 1853. The Fair poster announced a ploughing race "open to the World", Uriah Hanford was marshal, the Hon. Daniel Morris delivered the address.

In 1899, a silver cup was presented by the United States Casualty Company to be awarded to the winner in a championship bicycle race. It was open to amateurs residing in Yates, Ontario, Schuyler, Steuben and Wayne Counties.

Did you know there is (or was) a song, "The Penn Yan Quickstep"? It was played at the Fair in 1899. That year the catalog also listed a race between an automobile and a horse. "Come and see the horseless carriage of the future" promised the poster. The Penn Yan merchants offered a registered Berkshire pig and a boy's bicycle, a go-cart and cash as the Baby Show prizes in 1903.

As the village grew around the fairgrounds, officers voted to sell the old grounds in 1952; they were purchased by Harry Sutherland who has developed it into a shopping center known as Lake Street Plaza. The fair then held its annual exhibitions on the field next to the Penn Yan Airport until 1960 when the Fair Board purchased property on the Penn Yan - Dundee State Road.


Yates County History Center
107 Chapel Street, Penn Yan, NY 14527
Phone 315.536.7318 | Fax 315.536.0976
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Thursday, January 25, 2018 | Copyright © 2018