History of the Fair
The Broome County Fair has a rich history that goes back a hundred and fifty years. The earliest fairs celebrated cultures of another time and had some attractions that could not possibly be offered today. Different times gave rise to different ideas. What you see on the fairgrounds today came, not all at once, but in bits and pieces. One step at a time buildings were erected, improvements were made, and new policies were put in place that made the Broome County Fair what it is today.
The Broome County Agricultural Society was incorporated in 1858. In 1871, the Broome County Agricultural Society Board convened to make arrangements for the first of many fairs that would celebrate the agricultural bounty of Broome County. The officers and directors of the fair could be identified by badges, while superintendents wore white bands on their hats and the fair Marshall, riding on horseback, wore a red sash while keeping order on the fairgrounds.
For the first three years, the Fair was held at the Johnson Fairgrounds (its current location) on route 11. For the next ten years, however, the Fair was held in Binghamton, though Whitney Point residents during this time refused to accept this Fair as a true Broome County Fair. Reincorporated and reorganized in 1891, the fair returned to its Whitney Point location, where it has been held annually since, except for the four historic summers of World War II, 1942-1945, when no fair was held.
Attractions at the fair have varied widely, reflecting the evolving history of our country. In the first year of the fair, the Honorable O. C. Crocker of Binghamton brought to the Fair a deer, after which hounds were allowed to chase around the racetrack as one of the Fair's leading attractions. Nothing is known of what kept the deer from running off into the woods or what happened when the hounds caught it. The event was not renewed in subsequent years. A party of residents of Page Brook visited the first fair in a two-wheel cart drawn by 12 pair of oxen, themselves providing an attraction to rival many of those they had come to see. In 1908 a Balloonist was hired to make three ascensions with a parachute. In 1915 a barn-storming airplane came to Whitney Point and made arrangements with the fair officials to take passengers for short flights. One of these was the well-known opera singer, Miss Julia Allen. During the flight the plane hit an air pocket and crashed; fortunately, neither the pilot nor Miss Allen were injured.
In the 1930s public weddings were featured at the Fair. The couples were given $100 and flowers and a minister were provided. A wedding would not take place again on the fairgrounds until 1996. In 1934 the Fair opened with a baseball game pitting the Brooklyn Royal Giants, the leading professional colored team versus the nationally famous House of David. Grover Cleveland Alexander, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and one of baseball's greatest pitchers, pitched for the bearded House of David. This event attracted a very large crowd. Captain Fox and his Rough Riders, a group of state policemen on horses, were an attraction at some of our Fairs. This group was internationally known. In 1989 a controversial act brought protesters and gawkers alike. The Time Rivers Diving Mule Act had caught the attention of the Broome County Humane Society. The act went on as scheduled, receiving national attention in USA Today and in other papers.
For several years, truck pulls, tractor pulls, draft horse shows, demolition derbies and horse races have been the main attractions. Appearances by named entertainers seem to draw fewer people, though over the years we have had several well-known personalities: Barbara Mandrell, Clay Hart, Myron Floren, Louise Mandrell, Crystal Gayle, Grandpa Jones, Kenny Price, Kitty Wells, Denise Lor, SnookyLansen, Ronnie Prophet and the Blue Ridge Quartet, among others.
A number of improvements to the Fairgrounds have been made over the years. In 1898 six horse stalls were added to the previous six; in 1899 suitable "water closets" were installed; in 1904 horse stables damaged by snow were replaced; in 1906 Floral Hall and New Floral Halls were topped with galvanized iron roofing; in 1912 stalls were built under the Grandstand for big exhibition horses; in 1913 a fence and a platform were placed between the Grandstand and the track; in 1916 the Grandstand roof collapsed and was rebuilt; in 1929 a cattle barn was built; and in 1958 a pole barn was built.
A new age brought more modern facilities: in 1966 a new horse barn was built; in 1970 new toilets; in 1972 permanent fences were placed at the north and south ends of the grounds; in 1973 a 4-H show ring was built; in 1974 the toilet facilities were enlarged; in 1975 a new judges stand was built; in 1977 the Upper Lisle Grange Building was moved to the grounds; in 1982 windows and a porch were added to the flower building; in 1985 renovation of the office building was completed; in 1986 the Beer Building was built and a race secretary’s office was added to the Driscoll Barn; in 1987 the old Grange Building was torn down and a new steel building, Franklin Exhibit Hall was erected in its place; in 1990 a ticket booth was placed at the main gate; in 1991 a new ticket office was built at the north gate while the old office was remodeled as a first aid building; in 1994 the partially collapsed roof of the Franklin Building was replaced and a new metal building, the Entertainment Building, was erected; in 1995 a new Judges Stand, metal bleachers to seat 1300 people, and a new First Aid Building were built; in 1996 the bathrooms were expanded and made handicap-accessible; and in 2008 the Oz Pendell Building was erected.
Important changes have also come in the way the Fair is run. In 1909 the lease agreement of the Fairgrounds from Mr. Kellogg at $350 a year came to an end as the land was purchased for $100 an acre for a total of 31 acres. In 1916, the Midway was larger than ever due to the fact that street carnivals in several cities had been abandoned because of a paralysis epidemic. The attractions that year were a high wire act, a comedy act, and an aerial act. The Fair began to include nighttime attractions in 1929. In 1946, after years of suspension in compliance with the war effort, it was decided that the next fair would be held for five days, Tuesday through Saturday. In 1968 advertising was purchased on WNBF-TV. In 1981 Gillette Shows brought their carnival to the Fair. They have been a regular attraction of the Broome County Fair ever since. In 1982 the first Special Kids Day was created to bring children with special needs and their support staff, 1,000 people in all, to the fair. Since then, yearly Special Kid’s Day attendees have grown in number to nearly 3,000.
What the future holds for the fair is sparkling in the mind’s eye of generations to come. Each year brings innovations and improvements, while the culture of the fair grows to reflect an evolving world. As agriculture adopts more modern tools while embracing the traditions of its history, farming families learn to enjoy new types of entertainment to supplement the tried and true pastimes that we have all come to love. The Broome County Fair will be there every step of the way, innovating, improving, and enduring.