"You'll never die happy until you go to the Jacktown Fair" is a saying which dates back over 138 years when the oldest continuous fair in the county was held for the first time on Wednesday and Thursday, October 3 and 4, 1866.
The Jacktown Fair was organized on July 6, 1866. The Richhill Agricultural Horticultural and Mechanical Society was organized by residents of what was then known as Jacksonville, today's Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania.
Many homesteads were established in this area in the early 1860's. There was a need for a formal meeting, not only for recreation but to compare work habits and products. A fair seemed to be the answer. The Jacktown Fair is unique. It is a holdover from the horse and buggy days when every community had its fairgrounds and set aside certain days each summer to enable farmers and housewives to bring their prize samples of produce, handiwork and livestock, plus new farming ideas and equipment to share with their neighbors.
It is held on the fairgrounds in western Greene County, barely three miles east of West Virginia. In Greene County, it is reached by Route 21 from Waynesburg, 20 miles to the west. Fairs were common throughout the 19th Century but only on a community basis. Because the community known today as Wind Ridge was largely isolated from the heavier populated areas to the east due to poor road conditions, the settlers of the western part of the county relied upon themselves to provide their own social activities.
An account of the first fair describes the community as having a bandstand, boot maker, canner, grocery, milliner, dressmaker, jewelry store, photographer and squire.
Patrons came in wagons, equipped with food for picnics and prepared to stay the entire day for the fair. The first fair also had a concession stand, lemonade, and peppermint candy. Prizes were offered for draft horses, trotting, pacing and walking horses, working oxen, cattle, sheep, swine, poultry and farm equipment.
The fair was not exclusively for animals, however. The "Floral (Women's) Hall" was well stocked with coats, linen goods, 'fancy' work, preserves, boots, shoes, vegetables, molasses, brooms, and dozens of floral entries as well as baked goods, meats and many other home products.
Although a fair of this size was a big financial undertaking in those days just after the close of the Civil War, especially with the premiums totalling $1,178.75 in addition to the expense of buying the grounds, laying out the race track and erecting the necessary buildings, it must have been a success. The fair has not missed a year, the ladies of the community continued the annual event during the Second World War and a picnic style fair was held during the great depression. Plans are underway in 2008 for the 143th fair.
A unique feature of the grounds is the oval track which disappears from sight of the grandstand because the oval literally circles the hill-top on which the fairgrounds are located.
Although never a part of the fair proper, Horse Traders Alley became a tradition from the very first fair until the practice of buying and selling horses, mules, and other animals simply died in the late 1950's. The first Trader's Alley was held in Wind Ridge in a vacant lot across from the Presbyterian Church. Because of the drinking and carrying on, the townspeople had it moved out of town. The story has been told many times of the unknown man that brought a dead horse to Trader's Alley and he propped it up against a building and sold it.
The first few fairs were 'Day Time Only', then oil and gas lights were hung in trees as there was little activity at night. In 1927, the Fairboard realized they needed to carry the Fair over into the nights and started investigating a lighting system. At this time there were only two homes in Wind Ridge that had installed a Delco System. This type of system was bought from a large estate in the Claysville area and work was immediately started on building a block power house. It consisted of a two-cylinder upright engine standing about nine feet high and heavy flywheels, and had a capacity load of 400 RPM. After three days of working day and night the lighting system would not work. It was then they called a local mechanic and asked for help. The natural gas supply to the engine had to be changed and the ignition voltage had to be modified. The plant was started using compressed air to turn the engine over and people came from miles away to see the lighted Fairgrounds. In 1929, West Penn Power lit the grounds and the fair was a 3-day and night event. The 100th fair, in 1965 was the first 5-day exhibit.
The early Fair goers enjoyed horse racing, balloon ascension and parachute jumping. On the last day of the fair, a brass band played as the premium livestock was promenaded around the track. Popular now with the present generation are horse and tractor pulls and the annual demolition derby.
Over the years, some modern conveniences have been added, including running water and restrooms, but it still maintains the rustic look of yesteryear with most of the work being done by volunteers and the community pulling together to hold the annual Jacktown Fair.
Thursday, Oct 28, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Saturday, Nov 13, 2021 at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time
Tuesday, Oct 26, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time
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