A Vindicator editorial from April 1, 1949, heralded the opening of the 103rd Canfield Fair thusly:
“Certainly the fair will continue to be fun, for one of its purposes is to help people laugh and be gay and enjoy themselves. On the Canfield midway for the next five days, city and country people alike will find entertainment to suit their tastes, from the ice and vaudeville shows to horse races. That is the magic of the fair, a mixture of farm and fun to brighten the day of all who attend.”
Though this year’s 173rd edition of Ohio’s largest county fair will be missing the vaudeville shows of yore, there will be plenty of thrills to go around. Most importantly, that same magic that surrounded the fair 70 years ago continues to amuse and amaze the hundreds of thousands who pass through the gates each and every year.
We’re confident that same magical mix of farm and fun will permeate the fairgrounds Wednesday through Labor Day Sept. 2. We wish all involved in its yearlong planning unbridled success.
The roots of the Canfield Fair run deep indeed. They can be traced to one Elisha Whittlesey, a local and national attorney and military hero who served under Gen. William Henry Harrison in the War of 1812 and represented the Mahoning Valley in the U.S. Congress. He also served as first comptroller of the U.S. Treasury under Presidents Zachary Taylor and Abraham Lincoln.
But perhaps his most enduring contribution to Mahoning County lore was his role as a founding father of the inimitable Canfield Fair.
In 1846, Atty. Whittlesey helped to organize the Mahoning Agricultural Society. His address that year at the historic Canfield Congregational Church titled “Competitive Exhibitions as a Means of Awakening More Active Interest in All Industrial Pursuits” sparked the decision to organize the first Canfield Fair.
One hundred seventy-three years later, that same Canfield Fair continues to reawaken interest in the industry of agriculture throughout our region.
From those austere beginnings, the fair steadily grew in size and stature, hitting attendance milestones of 500,000 in the 1970s. Today, it ranks as the third-largest county fair in the United States, covers 353 acres and features 60 buildings, including a 6,500-seat grandstand that has attracted entertainers as diverse as Bob Hope, Dolly Parton, The Beach Boys, The Goo Goo Dolls and John Mellencamp.
‘MILES OF SMILES’ THIS YEAR
This year’s fair, which opens at 8 a.m. Wednesday and runs through 11 p.m. Labor Day, carries the theme “Miles of Smiles.” Under that banner, we’re confident Ohio’s largest county fair will experience yet another successful and enriching six-day run.
Among some events of note at this year’s exposition :
On Aug. 28 and Aug. 30, Continuing Health Care Solutions will sponsor senior days that will include a complimentary cooling station and senior lounge.
An inaugural wiener dog race was will take place Aug. 31 in the grandstand.
Giveaway of a 50-inch TV with no purchase necessary.
The second Ohio Championship Mule Racing event will be Sept. 2 at 12:30 p.m.
Grandstand performance by Pentatonix, an acapella group, Sept. 1.
Comedian Gabriel Iglesias will bring his Beyond the Fluffy World Tour to the grandstand 8 p.m. Sept. 2.
This year’s fair week also places a blue-ribbon premium on the future. All systems are now go for a new 81,000-square-foot Junior Fair Coliseum and Event Center, designed to make the annual event something to crow about even more beginning next year.
Opening ceremonies will take place at that site, and an official groundbreaking will take place later in September.
PARAMOUNT ROLE OF FARMING
As we ponder the past, present and future of the fair, however, some of its prime assets transcend time. Just as in 1846 the Canfield Fair in 2019 remains at its core a celebration of the important role agriculture plays in Mahoning County. As tens of thousands of fairgoers stroll the midways, they have ample opportunities to appreciate local farmers. At Canfield Fair time – and all the time through the year – 21st century farmers continue to provide nutritious food for our tables and vital fuel for our local economy.
So as we visit this year’s exposition and treat ourselves to all of its joyful amusements and tantalizing food fare, we would do well to remember that where it’s been, where it’s now and where it’s going remain deeply embedded in Mahoning County’s rich agrarian roots.