Historically Speaking: Excitement at the fair
The biggest highlight of the summer months was the Oneida County Fair. For children, plans were made the winter before as we planned and worked on exhibits either individually or together with our classes in the district rural school.
There was in intense spirit of competition between us-secrets as to our craft projects were hard to keep. We did not have a 4-H group in our area, but we worked on several school projects, and these were entered under the name of our school.
The Oneida County Fairgrounds were located off Coon Street on the east side if the city (where the former Precision Twist Drill facility is now located)-this area was also the home of the Oneida County Airport-and this location was used for stock car races, air shows and circuses each year. There were several large white exhibit buildings for 4-H, school exhibits, crafts, fresh flowers, fresh vegetables, bakery, and canning displays. How happy we were to see our projects and displays tastefully arranged and able to be viewed by fair-goers. We had high hopes for a blue ribbon, but mainly we were please to see our work exhibited.
The school projects stirred up a lot of competition within each school and between the schools in the county. Rural school students were inventive and unique in preparing their entries. There were birdhouses, plaques, wooden toys and furniture, crocheted and knitted pieces, embroidery work, quilts and bedspreads, dresses, blouses and shirts created by seamstresses.
I especially remember several pictures that were drawn by classmates at our school, and I had a poster that won a prize; and one of our second graders had drawn a still-life picture and won first prize!
Ears of corn, large pumpkins, and huge heads of cabbage, carrots, squash, bright red tomatoes and onions gave a festive look to the counters and shelves. Beautifully canned pickles and pickled beets, peas and carrots, berries of every kind, peaches, crab apples and pears made a colorful display.
There were farm animal exhibit buildings at the far end of the fairgrounds that no one missed in their rounds of the exhibits. There were rabbits of all kinds, pigs, calves, cows, horses, goats, chickens, geese and ducks, with their owners grooming and tending to them until judging time. I did not have any animals entered, but I did enjoy this part of the fair. Competition was great among the owners and their hopes were high to receive a blue ribbon. The rabbits fascinated me-there were so many different breeds and colors; they were so cuddly and would flip their long ears back and forth, as though they were showing off.
Then there was the old wooden grandstand which faced an open area that was used for races, horse shows and large displays of the winners in the animal categories. Other shows, in other times during the year were featured in this area. One year I remember a donkey baseball game, and there were talent shows in connection with the fair (featuring school children grades one though eighth grades.) Stock car races were the rage even back in those days. They were held at the fairgrounds many a summer night and were well attended.
The grand stand had a lower level, and this is where the churches had their food stands. You could buy popcorn, cotton candy, caramel corn and an entire meal for a reasonable price. The grandstand became very rickety in its later years, and was finally torn down and the fair was held elsewhere.
It was great at fair time each summer to meet our school friends and make new friends from other schools! The whole family attended, as there was something of interest for all. Parents liked to see the food, gardening and animal exhibits and they were proud to see their children’s exhibits on display. Our father bought us one souvenir at the fair each year, and that item was cherished.
The smell of popcorn and cotton candy still brings back memories of special times at the Oneida County Fair and the old fairgrounds.