A short history of the fair

By Frederick F. Keith (circa. 1943-44)

Like a chicken trying to burst its shell, we can but contemplate the first Caledonia Fair in 1833 since the 30th exhibition of the current series is denied us by war restrictions.Meager records exist of that event, but few speak loudly of civic cooperation. In the old book of minutes dating back to 1803 when this area was still Southampton, written with a quill pen is this entry: “Resolved, that the town defray the expense of advertising in their public newspaper and cards, the Caledonia Fair, twice a year.” No bill for that expense was recorded in 1834, so details of the event are left to the imagination. But it is interesting to note that “the inhabitants of Caledonia” were on their toes for this annual town meeting just one hundred and ten years ago, for they met at nine o’clock in the morning at Pomeroy Stone’s house or tavern. The emphasis is left on the fact that advertising had come into its own at that early day.

The Caledonia fairs of today are not so fortunate as to have their advertising paid by vote of the “inhabitants.” The next agriculture fair was organized in 1858 and held for three years according to our late townsman, Foster Walker, in his record dated 1924.

This fair in 1858 was held on the west side of Center Street just south of the Erie tracks; in 1859, on East Avenue opposite the present Grand Avenue corner; and in 1860 on the lot now occupied by St. Columba cemetery.

The Civil War spelled the doom of this effort but it was quite successful, he said. William Hamilton, James McNab and James Espie were officers and stock was issued. Mr. Wellman, secretary in 1923, received an inquiry from a New York man as to the value of three shares of stock he owned!

“People’s Fair” in 1881 has never before been recorded yet it had a half mile race track. The name and date are preserved to us on a penny post card addressed to Donald N. McDougal, brother of George W. McDougal, under the date 1881, notifying him of his appointment as “superintendent of the hall” as the tent, providing shelter for the perishable goods was called. This fair was held on the Sinclair farm just south of Black Street and facing Lime Rock Road. It was held two seasons and William McVean, a school teacher, was president. Mr. McDougal and the venerable and blind George McVean who lived with him, recall vividly the rod wide lane and cattle pens fenced with rails. A proposal to charge admission was voted down. Large crowds attended.

A premium list was printed by the Era Printery, (R. A. Peck), and issued for the “First Annual Caledonia Agricultural Fair and Live Stock Show” held Thursday and Friday, September 24 and 25, 1914. Foster W. Walker, Livingston County Treasurer (1869-1903) was president; Rev. G. 0. Miller and J. W. Howk, vice presidents; William J. Williams, treasurer; and Mrs. A. B. Johnson, secretary. There were no races. This and the 1915 fair were held in the lot opposite the state fish hatchery, North Street.

In 1915 the name “Tri County Fair” was adopted. D. H. McIntyre was president. W. H. Pease and Hon. H. F. Remington, vice presidents. F. J. OBrien was press representative. In 1916 F. M. Derrick, a piano dealer, was president and race secretary although no race program was published.

The name of A. Minor Wellman appears with that of J. C. Mitchell as vice presidents and L. D. Haslip as race secretary in 1917. “Racing open to the World.” The 1918 is book absent from the files, but the 1919 book states $5,000 paid in premiums in 1918. Mr. Derrick was president for his third term; Mr. William Henderson, assistant; Thomas Skivington, father of Ray, treasurer; and C. A. Place, vice president. In 1920 Foster Walker was returned to the presidency where he remained ten years with Mr. Wellman as secretary. During this period the fair advanced to a prominent position among Western New York fairs. Many buildings were erected and the race track was improved to attract a high class of horse talent. The shifting of the date to early August also permitted owners of faster horses to try out the field before going to state fairs.

W. L. Tickner was race secretary in 1928-1929 after which Frank J. O’Brien took over the job and completed thirteen years … a number which in this case has spelled good luck and brought distinction to the fair.

The unexpected death of president Foster W. Walker only three days prior to the fair opening in 1928 called forth expressions of gratitude for his long service to the fair and grief over the loss. The minutes record that he had been called “Father of the Fair.” Charles A. Place was chosen to fill the vacancy and served for seven years, followed by Frank B. Boothe, a long-time director who continued his unstinted contribution until Mayor Harrison M. Brown was prevailed upon to add the job to his busy string in 1941.

Numerous names of men and women are found on the lists of directors and each department deserves mention. Many have passed on, but newcomers to Caledonia may like to know “Who’s Who.” One notable name has appeared in every catalogue from 1914-1942, and would have been in 1943 if printed. That is John C. Mitchell, a veteran farmer of Caledonia and York, prominent in several enterprises. Others include:

William Henderson who dates back to 1915 when he was treasurer. Wilbur C. Place held the same office in 1921, 1922, and 1923.

A. G. Baker was secretary in 1933.

Jame F. Ball, secretary 1934.

Daniel H. McIntyre, a director for many years, lives elsewhere.

Peter Carmichael has been a wheel horse in many capacities since 1920.

Frank and H. W. Kingsbury faithful workers since 1917.

Arthur Johnson has represented Black Street since 1920.

G. H. Cullings, the present secretary, is credited with introducing a budget system and putting fiscal affairs of the association in sound condition. The unpredictability of the weather during fair week has always exacted a stronger sway than all the advertising the Scotsmen could wholly overcome.

In the year 1943 the name “Tri County” fair was changed to Caledonia Fair, Incorporated. A strong effort to graft the words “Genesee County” into the title found unanimous favor, but legal complications prevented its conclusion.

We are missing the noise and excitement this week and the voices of kin, swine and poultry: the gaudy raucous midway; the glitter and precision of the free acts; the pride of 4H ribbon winners; the fun of watching plain human nature on a lark; are we worse off for the change or, would the spirit of the fair serve to relieve for us the war pressure? Will 1944 bring back to us the events of this fair week in eclipse and particularly, our boys to help enjoy them. Caledonia Advertiser, 1943

This advertisement is bound in Volume II of the Genesee Farmers and Gardeners Journal, published in Rochester by L. Tucker Co. and edited by N. Goodsell:

1832, November 3rd, Second Tuesday in November, Caledonia Fair selling, buying and exchanging of stock and manufacturer goods. Farmers, mechanics, manufacturers, hog drovers, butcher drovers, peddlers and auctioneers, etc., etc., expected.

The first fair was held in 1833.

Another Perspective

By Mrs. A. B. Johnson, Historian, 1924

In the research for history of fairs in Livingston County, we find several attempts to sustain such an organization in Geneseo and Avon but to no avail excepting for a short period of years.

The earliest fair recorded for Livingston County has been found to have existed, as by the following advertisement in the Albany Gazette of July 15, 1793, named “The Williamsburg Fair and Genesee Races”, which states that “an animal fair for the sale and purchase of cattle, horses, and sheep would be held at Williamsburg, commencing Monday, September 23, 1793. It was remarked by early settlers that sporting men from Albany, N.Y. and Philadelphia and Baltimore attended these races for years, but the enterprise was finally abandoned. Williamsburg was and early settlement between what is now the village of Geneseo and Mount Morris. Now no trace of a village is left.

From an old file of Moore’s Rural New Yorker, published in Rochester, N.Y., 1854, we note that Le Roy, Genesee County, N.Y., held a “town fair” in September, 1854, which had been held for several successive years. The president was C. K. Ward, a prominent farmer of the town. Among cattle mentioned was a display of working oxen and steers, while very few horses were shown. N. B. Keeney was an exhibitor of superior coarse wooled sheep. The display of implements was limited at that date. C. R. Brinckerhoff and Co. of Batavia exhibited plows and cornplanters and corn cultivators. “Seymour’s Grain Drill” was shown by the agent Mr. Gillett. Evening exhibitions or lectures were held with addresses and discussions were a part of the programs. In adjoining towns, “Pavilion and Covington” a fair was held at the former place of which in 1854, J. W. Duguid was president; here too the display of working horses and oxen and steers were mentioned as very good. Durhams then were a prominent breed of cattle, Wm. Ward and J. S. Walkher exhibitors. Colonel Hannum’s Leicester and South Down sheep, and J. S. Walker’s merinos were made note of.

New York State Fair in 1854 was held in New York City; here also among attractions were a string of working oxen of ten yoke owned by O & G. Sheldon of Sennett, Cayuga Co., N.Y.

At Chenango County Fair in 1854 the Hon. Horace Greeley spoke on “farming”.

In 1858 a fair was organized in Caledonia and held in the McDonald lot (now Keisler lot) west of the old Methodist Church, Center Street. In 1859 it was held in James Shaw’s lot where F. W. Walker’s house not stands on East Avenue. The third one was held in 1860 in the lot now St. Columba’s cemetery, then owned by the Dean family. Then in 1861 the Civil War coming on, it was discontinued. Wm. Hamilton, D. E. Cameron, and James McNab (who owned the James Espie farm at that time) were among the persons interested. The exhibitions were quite successful. A Stock Company was formed; stock issued at $50 per share and it was just recently a person wrote to Caledonia asking if that stock was of any value now — he held three shares.

In the fall of 1880 and again in 1881 an attempt was made to revive an interest in a town f air, the same being held on the premises of Duncan Sinclair, a resident of Black Street, about five miles southwest of Caledonia Village on a lot corner of Black Street and David Leathersich Jr. Road. Quite a collection of farm products were exhibited, a trotting track was improvised and made into pretty good shape for horse racing; young ladies gave exhibitions of horseback riding. But the fair was given up for lack of interest. Duncan Sinclair was foremost in starting this project of a fair as he was personally interested in raising trotting stock at that time.

Nothing more was done towards an Agricultural Fair again, it appears, until after Caledonia Grange No. 870 was organized in 1899, and soon after every fall an indoor exhibition of farm products was held in the hall and increased interest. was the result. William Hamilton, an influential citizen and member of the Grange remarked that he foresaw a permanent Agricultural Fair issuing from these small Grange exhibits, and his prophecy proved true, for soon after, early in the year 1914, this Grange began to talk of the feasibility of an outdoor fair. The Worthy Master, Donald H. McIntyre, Foster W. Walker, Wm. J. Maxwell, John C. Mitchell, Fred G. Smith, W. H. Stone, Frank Leathersich, A. B. Johnson, A. L. DeNoon, Robert McKay, D. J. Sinclair, Frank Booth, John McNaughton, Mac Campbell, A. W. Roberts, A. W. Rulifson, John McCorkindale, Arthur E. Johnson, Benj. H. Johnson, and others, all members of the Grange, with lady members included among whom we may mention, Mrs. D. J. Sinclair, Mrs. W. J. Maxwell, Mrs. Fred G. Smith, Mrs. Elsie Leathersich, Mrs. Lyman Root, Mrs. Robert McKay, Mrs. Frank B. Smith, Mrs. A. B. Johnson, Claribel and Anna DeNoon, who were foremost in the effort. It was soon decided and thought advisable to invite the Village and town officials and Town Board of Trade to cooperate with the Grange in the enterprise. Land was rented of Hugh J. Cameron opposite the State Fish Hatchery near the B. R. & P. RR station, Mumford and tents of suitable size were rented for the exhibits. Foster W. Walker, Ex-Co. Treasurer and a member of the Grange #870 was made President, Rev. G. C. Miller, Vice-President, Judson W. Howk, 2nd Vice-President, Mrs. A. B. Johnson, Secretary, Anna L. DeNoon Asst. Secy., Wm. J. Williams, Treasurer. Superintendents of different departments appointed; printed catalogues circulated. In fact, the entire grange membership lent a helping hand in making the fair a success, as did also all leading businessmen of the town and vicinity. This first attempt, Sept. 24 and 25, 1914, proved successful far beyond expectations and was again held in 1915 on the same grounds.

In 1916 an organization was formed and chartered as one of -the New York State County Fairs, name, “Caledonia Tri-County Fair,” as at this point three counties join, Livingston, Monroe and Genesee. Suitable grounds on the “Leicester Road”, 24 acres, were purchased of A. B. Johnson and J. C. Mitchell, formerly the late John D. McColl Farm, (more land was added later) a stock company formed, a Grand Stand and a half mile race track made; the grounds and buildings lighted by electricity, horse barns, cattle and sheep and hog pens built. “Woman’s Work and Floral Hall” and a “Junior project Building” erected besides offices and a substantial iron fencing and gates at front.

Among the officers who have officiated as follows: Presidents, F. W. Walker, D. E. McIntyre, F. K. Derrick, and again F. W. Walker. Vice Presidents, Rev. G. O. Miller, Judson W. Howk, Charles A. Place, John C. Mitchell. Secretaries, Mrs. A. B. Johnson, Wm. J. Williams, Harrington W. Johnson, A. Minor Wellman. Treasurers, Wm. J. Williams, Warren H. Pease, Wilbur C. Place, A. Minor Wellman (Secy. and Treas.), L. D. Haslip, Race Secy. Directors and Executive Committee have been added to, among the Directors were R. J. Aull, Russell Beckwith, P. R. Carmichael, L. D. Haslip, Wm. Henderson, Arthur E. Johnson, H. W. Kingsbury, D. H. McIntyre, S. J. Macy, J. C. Mitchell, C. A. Place, W. C. Place, F. W. Walker, A. M. Wellman, Donald Woodward.

Executive Committee, F. W. Walker, Wm. Henderson, C. A. Place, A. M. Wellman, P. R. Carmichael.

Superintendents and assistants have not been changed very much since the first were appointed.

During the now four days of the fair, evening entertainments have been given.

Besides gate and exhibitors’ fees, liberal donations and loans. $4,000 have been received from the state each year.