Lecture to examine history of Burgettstown fair

BURGETTSTOWN – Just in time for fair season, the Fort Vance Historical Society will give a presentation on the Burgettstown Agriculture Fair at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Burgettstown Community Library located at 2 Kerr St.

Special guest speaker and prominent local historian Kathryn Slasor will speak about the Burgettstown fair, which was one of the area’s most popular fairs from 1856 to 1939.

The fair was a project of the Union Agricultural Association, based in Burgettstown. It was organized by Thomas Vance, W.P. Vance and John B. Phillips, who agreed the area needed a venue at which to display livestock. The first fair was held on what is now Shady Avenue, later being moved to where Sutherland Lumber Co. now stands.

The fair grounds included several structures, such as grandstands, livestock barns, a floral hall, a mechanics hall and a horse-racing track. The fair drew thousands each year, many coming by Pittsburgh and Steubenville Railroad to the crowded Burgettstown depot and so many coming by car that entire fields became impromptu parking lots and buggies and cars choked Main Street. Originally held for two days, the fair was later expanded to four due to popular demand. It was estimated that around 5,000 people attended the annual fair each year.

Many of the fair’s officers came from the surrounding areas, including Hanover, Robinson, Smith, Cross Creek, Independence, Jefferson and Mount Pleasant townships. Such was the fair’s popularity and influence that representatives were sent from Chartiers, Canton, North Strabane and Cecil townships in Washington County and from Beaver and Allegheny counties in Pennsylvania and Hancock and Brooke counties in West Virginia.

One of the fair’s biggest draws was horse racing, and one of Washington County’s most prominent racing families lost a member to an accident incurred at the Burgettstown fair. Alden Miller was injured Sept. 12, 1936, and died of those injuries Sept. 16, 1936. Horse racing wasn’t the only thing offered at the fair – just like today’s fairs, Burgettstown had a floral hall, where residents exhibited canned goods, flowers, vegetables and crafts; a midway, with games and a merry-go-round and Ferris wheel; livestock judging; crop and farm animal displays; and fireworks.

The committees judged a variety of livestock, including horses, mules, cattle, sheep and poultry; crops including grain, fruits, roots and vegetables; and flowers, including dahlias, cut flowers, bouquets, floral arrangements, cactuses and green-house plants.

Hand-crafted farming implements such as wagons, sleighs, thrashers, churns, plows, harrows and horse shoes; leather work, including harnesses, saddles and boots; along with home goods such as butter, cheese, molasses, honey, ham and soap were judged and put on display. Cooking competitions included cakes, breads, preserves and jellies. In addition to the every day, the fair also allowed local residents to be recognized for their artistic talents, with competitions for painters, photographers, quilters, seamstresses, embroiderers and basket weavers.

While other fairs in the area faltered during the Great Depression – including the nearby Florence Mutual Agricultural Association Fair – the Burgettstown fair survived without an anticipated drop in attendance, although the board lowered the admission prices in consideration of the financial hardships farmers faced. During the early 1930s, the Burgettstown fair was advertised as the “oldest and best fair in Western Pennsylvania” with the theme “Meet Me at the Burgettstown Fair.” Despite surviving the worst of the Great Depression, the fair was dissolved in 1939.

Admission to the lecture is free; advance registration is preferred. Those who have fair memorabilia are asked to bring it to the event.

For information or to register, call (724) 947-9780.