This year, Madison County will be celebrating the 170th birthday of the Madison County Fair. In ever-increasing numbers, the "County Fair" is disappearing from the rural scene, and we in Madison County are lucky to have ours, a "Fair" that is one of the longest-running fairs in New York state.
With that in mind, the Madison County Fair Board is eagerly facilitating a memorable occasion, so we thought we could start our journey to the Fair, which will be on July 9, 10, 11 and 12 this year, by giving you a bit of its history:
In the 1830s, agriculture was indeed the main occupation of the rural scene in what had become Madison County in 1806. Small gatherings of people started meeting to celebrate their achievements and to show off their stock, beginning to form societies across the center of New York state. These gatherings called "Fairs" started in Madison County in 1839 when the Brookfield area held such a "Fair," and this is the fair that is still operating today.
By 1841, New York state passed a resolution to give $8,500 to the counties to promote agriculture. Madison County's share of this was $120. It is in this year that the first formal county agricultural society was formed. The first officers were J.D. Ledyard of Cazenovia, president, with Elijah Morse of Eaton and J. Dunbar of Hamilton as the vice presidents. The recording secretary was A. Sloan of Eaton and Uriah Leland of Eaton was treasurer.
During the next several years, agricultural fairs were held in different locations in the county.
This first organization was well-received and led to the creation of a number of other agricultural societies, including the Brookfield Agricultural Society, which joined and which have kept this fair alive throughout all of these years.
According to Emogene Craine, who did an extensive study of the fair for articles she wrote, "The Fair was held in 1839 on land south of the Old Brookfield Academy, where all the exhibits were placed." She also wrote that, "Although the local paper, 'The Courier,' was not published until 1875 and official Fair records previous to 1907 were lost or destroyed when the secretary moved, it has been possible to trace highlights by means of old premium lists, diaries and scrapbooks."
In future articles, we will be bringing tidbits of the Fair's history to you accompanied with present plans and highlights for this year's celebration at the Madison County Fair. We on the Madison County Fair Board hope to make this 170th Fair a great celebration of not only Madison County's long standing agricultural heritage, but also a celebration of history, rural traditions, education and, best of all, Americana at its best.
Mary Messere, also known as "Back Street Mary," is Madison County historian and a member of the Madison County Fair Board of Directors.