This week's Scioto County Fair, truly a county fair as it isn't even in a city or village at all, brought back some memories for me.
I remember several earlier fairs, and those which made the biggest impressions were not the biggest fairs.
In the deepest memories are those fairs which were billed as the “fair and homecoming,” and that's just what they were intended to be.
These fairs took place on the streets, with sheds built for exhibits such as livestock, poultry and pets. There were no fairgrounds, no fine show arena, and no admission price.
Streets were blocked to traffic and every street in the fair area became a midway.
Money was short in those days, and dimes had to be used to the greatest advantage. I enjoyed fair food and I still recall the delicious taste of a fish sandwich which I managed to buy that first time I went to the fair, and I always patronized the same locally operated booth each year.
I recall some of the sing-song chatter by the men and women who operated concessions, and I remember some of the sideshows which were regulars on the circuits. (By the time I grew up, someone had cleaned up the quality of the shows, and those girlie shows which were forbidden by edict and money in early days had been banned.)
Some of those early educational shows never would have met with approval today. Still, some of the costumes worn by today's fairgoers would have attracted more attention then than the girlie shows got.
Schools probably played a bigger role in those days, with all sorts of contests, from spelling bees, adding matches and other academic events, to the field meets in which youngsters of all ages were given open invitations to compete.
The courthouse square, around which the fair centered, offered seating in the shade of many huge trees, and many a fine friendship developed during the fair and homecoming days.
Merchants around the square and on nearby streets never complained that traffic was blocked. In fact, they approved the plan with pleasure, recognizing that people in cars make few purchases, but that walking people can enter stores to look and buy.
Business of all types boomed during those fair days, when everybody took time out to go to the fair. Crops were not needing cultivation nor harvest, so the lull permitted ample time for the fair and visiting with homecoming people. The people responsible for the fairs visited other fairs in other areas, and sure enough, they got the idea of moving the fair away from the community and into open territory.
Admitting their error in later years, the operators said attendance and income both suffered until many years later. It just wasn't the same when there was no place to go except the midway, nothing to do except the things offered by the fair people, and no shopping except from fair vendors. Needless to say, businessmen withdrew support for many years, and it was not until every family boasted a car or two and roads were topped with a hard surface that everybody began to accept the country fair as the county fair. The homecoming soon was dropped, but it disappeared in fact well before it disappeared from the fair publicity. It will be many years before the new trees provide enough shade for comfort, and time has taken that woman who prepared the best fish sandwiches ever sold at any fair.
Now, after having seen some of today's huge county fairs such as ours, and having seen the Ohio State Fair several years, I wonder how I'd react should I find a rerun of those early and impressive fairs which fill my memories. Come to think of it, who do you know who has outstanding memories of some of the more recent, big fairs? I suppose I was more easily impressed and the fairs offered a greater contrast to my everyday life of the time.
Today's fairs still have “something for everybody,” but sometimes it takes more time than I have to find what they have for me. On the other hand, those old-fashioned fairs might be more than I could take today.
Published Aug. 12, 1977, in the Portsmouth Daily Times by longtime area newspaperman, Everette E. Parker.