HISTORY OF THE FAIR
One of the major events in Lycoming County each year is the annual Lycoming County Fair, held in mid-July. The fairgrounds is located in the borough of Hughesville in the southeastern part of the county. The fair traces it’s history from 1870 and in 2011 celebrated its 141th anniversary.
The organization actually had its origin in 1868, three years after the end of the Civil War. Ten local persons met and organized the Muncy Valley Farmer’s Club for the purpose of discussing agricultural topics. Dr. George Hill was chosen to be president. Two years later in 1870, the club decided to hold its first exhibition in which area people could exhibit their livestock, grains, fruits, vegetables, canned goods and handicrafts. Early maps indicate the first exhibition was held on grounds of the Hughesville Trotting Park located at the southern end of the borough. It was a successful event.
In 1873 a small newspaper became a feature of the annual exhibition. Named the “Canusarago Daily Herald,” it was printed the six days of the exhibition, Monday through Saturday and featured events, programs, activities, premium winners and other interesting happenings of the exhibition, as well as news of the nearby area. “The Herald” was the first newspaper to be printed in Hughesville and a subscription for the six issues cost $25.00.
The Muncy Valley Farmers’ Club continued to grow in its membership and its annual exhibition continued to grow and be successful. With a membership of nearly 200 by 1875, a charter of incorporation was drawn up. Dues were set at $.50 per year.
Despite the continued growth and success of the agricultural exhibition in Hughesville, stiff competition for hosting a county was developing in Williamsport. By the late 1800’s fairs had been held in two locations in Williamsport; one in the Vallamont section and the other in Memorial Park near the site of Bowman Field Baseball Stadium. Both fairs enjoyed success for a few years. Interest and support for the fair in Hughesville prevailed and eventually Hughesville was chosen to be the permanent site for the Lycoming County Fair, sometime in the early 1900’s.
An interesting note is apparently the association did not own the land on which the annual exhibition was held. The first indication of the actual purchase of land, the result of extensive research by a local lawyer, was in 1915. Court records show that by 1930, some 50 acres of land had been deeded to the Lycoming County Fair Association.
The 1920’s brought continued growth for the fair with dramatic increases in attendance. This was due in part to the economic “good times” of the “roaring twenties.” The popularity of the automobile and the paving of highways encouraged people to travel and enjoy their leisure time. Another factor that promoted attendance was the Williamsport and North Branch Railroad. Headquartered in Hughesville, the railroad ran special “fair excursions” for the benefit of fairgoers.
The 1920’s saw the beginning of a special feature that was to be a regular part of the fair through the 20’s, 30’s and the 40’s. Following World War II, automobile racing on the 1/2 mile dirt track drew large crowds. Known as “big cars.” At that time, the races were sanctioned by the AAA. During these years many of the biggest names in American Auto Racing appeared at Hughesville. The field often included Indianapolis 500 veterans. Among the biggest were Ted Horn, Tommy Hinnershitz, Jimmy Bryan, Johnny Parsons, Le Wallard, and Joie Chitwood.
Another special edition to the fairgrounds during this time period was an airplane landing field. Construction of hangers and a 1700 ft. runway was completed. The official opening and dedication took place on September 3 – 5, 1930. The Hughesville Airport was considered an important refueling stop on a direct route between New York City and Cleveland, Ohio. In 1934, state and federal monies made improvements to the facility. The US Postal Service declared a special “air mail day” on May 19, 1938 to honor the Hughesville Fairgrounds Airport. On May 14, 1929, Amelia Earhart of Trans Atlanic Flight Fame, made an emergency landing in her plane at the landing field on the Hughesville Fairgrounds. Earhart had intentions of landing at Bellefonte for refueling but lost her way. She noticed then landing field in the middle of the fairgrounds and took advantage of it.
The Lycoming County Fair was curtailed starting in 1942 due to restrictions and demands of World War II.
Tragedy struck the fairgrounds during the early morning hours of September 4, 1944. During a severe thunderstorm a large exhibition building was hit by lighting. Within minutes the wooden structure was destroyed.
The years following World War II brought several changes in operation and the airport was soon abandoned. Very little use of the airport was made after the war. Soon the hangers were removed and the area was used for a variety of purposes, including a parking area for fair patrons. A decision was made to end automobile racing during the 50’s. Factors included safety concerns, noise and dust issues effecting nearby homes. The date for the fair was changed during the 50’s from its beginning (usually in September or October) to mid-July. It was also extended to a ten day fair.
From that time to the present, the members of the association have worked tirelessly to enlarge the fair with more, better programs and activities as well as improving the physical facilities in order to make the fair more appealing and attractive. Among the improvements and additions: construction of a new entertainment stage, booking of “big” name entertainment, addition of Sunday vesper service (1954), replacement of several exhibition buildings, two restrooms with showers, horticulture and grange building, Red Cross building, two craft and commercial buildings. Paving of midway, purchase of 35 acres of additional land. Promotion of outstanding harness racing. Demolition derbies, automobile thrill shows, and tractor pulls. Adding more exhibits and enlarging of office facility. Plus fireworks. Proof of this worth occurred at the 123rd fair in 1993 when an all-time attendance record was set. Over 141,000 people attended that year.
The fairgrounds have not been idle at other times of year. Other activities: farm and heritage antique machinery show, automobile shows, rodeos, circus, horse shows, music festivals, tractor pulls, motorcycle races, and Hughesville Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2002. For 134 years the Lycoming County Fair, often referred to as ‘the “Hughesville Fair”‘ has been a success story. Many people have worked for years for the county fair – officials, directors, employees, exhibitors and concessionaires.
The association is actively involved in the following organizations: PA State Association of County Fairs, Outdoor Amusement Business, PA State Showmen’s Association, International Fairs and Expositions, Williamsport Lycoming Chamber of Commerce and Susquehanna Valley Visitors Bureau.