Kosciusko County Fairs

by Edwin C. "Toby" Aborn

"Once upon a Time," -or shall we say, "Way back when," as an introductory phrase? The first phrase is suggestive of the tales of childhood-fairy queens, laughing flowers, Prince Charmings, etc., while the latter expression perhaps more appropriately tends to portray realism in relation to matters associated with historical recitals concerning events of recent decades. Accordingly, we'll begin with "Way back when."

Kosciusko County Fairs
In view of the fact that there appears to be a division of sentiment concerning the question of holding the annual county fair on the streets of Warsaw, a brief history of the origin and subsequent career of Kosciusko county fairs may not be altogether inappropirate.

The Kosciusko County Agricultural Society was organized June 2, 1855 with the following officers: President, David Rippey; vice president, M. A. Bierce, S. Hoppus and John Makemson; secretary, George Moon; treasurer, Samuel H. Chipman. This organization was for the purpose of inaugurating county fairs and it was decided to hold a fair the following year. The first fair was held in the courthouse and courtyard in Warsaw in the fall of 1856, and was not only well attended, but exhibited an unusual degree of skill in many departments of agriculture and housewifery, and was a financial success.

A committee appointed to consider the purchase of fair grounds reported in favor of a tract of six acres owned by A. T. S. Kist, immediately south of the Tippecanoe river bridge in the northwest part of town. (Note -The old bridge was removed in 1903 when the course of the Tippecanoe river was changed by construction of the canal a couple miles north of the city which took the river away from Warsaw. It is now generally conceded that this change in the river's course was a serious mistake.) These grounds were purchased, fenced, cleared and temporary buildings erected and were occupied as fair grounds until the year 1861, when it was decided that more room was needed. The society, therefore, proceeded to negotiate for ten acres in a tract located in what is now East Warsaw, owned by Abner Baker. The purchase of the new tract was made on May 18, 1861. The new grounds were cleared, fenced and substantial buildings erected. The first fair was held on the new grounds October 2, 3 and 4, 1861. The event was remarkably well attended and citizens of the county generally displayed much interest. It proved a financial success. The first officers of the society in its new location were: President, James Wooden; vice presidents, W. J. Elliott, H. S. Davis, H. I. Stevens; secretary, William B. Funk; treasurer, M. J. Long; directors, P. L. Runyan, Sr., A. D. Pittenger, J. G. Long, S. Murdock, W. McGrew, T. G. Berst, J. D. Heighway, Adam Simmons.

The first race track constructed was only one-third of a mile circuit. In 1874 it was the opinion of members of the society that the grounds were not large enough to accommodate a race track of sufficient dimensions to attract fast horses from a distance, consequently a new tract was advocated, and the society purchased five acres of adjoining land from Dr. Jacob Boss. A new race track measuring a half-mile circuit was then constructed. The tract then consisted of approximately 15 to 20 acres and comprised the area now bounded on the north by Center Street, on the east by what is now Bronson street, on the west by Scott street, and on the south by the right-of-way of the Pennsylvania railroad.

Juvenile Resourcefulness.
The grounds were enclosed by a tight board fence about eight feet in height. The main entrance gate opened on Center Street at the point where is now located Maple avenue, near which point were also located the grandstand, or amphitheater, and the judges stand. Right here let it be recorded that the high board fence at aforesaid was regarded as an awful barrier against pleasure and enjoyment by many small boys of the community who were thereby unable to indulge in daily attendance at the fair on account of the inability to dig up the necessary price of admission. In fact that fence appeared to be the bane of their sweet young lives. After a short time, however with customary juvenile resource in cases of extreme emergency, and organization was perfected and acrobatic rehearsals conducted. Sufficient skills was developed whereby one of the more sturdy lads would hold another on his shoulders, then one of the smaller boys would crawl up the backs of the other two and easily drop over the fence. He would then tie a stout rope around a nearby tree and throw the loose end over the fence to his comrades. The larger boys were thus enabled to climb "hand-over-hand" to the top of the fence and drop down inside the grounds. Another scheme successfully employed by the boys to provide mass free admission was to form a "syndicate," skirmish sufficient junk to bring pennies and nickels to the amount of 50 cents, the price of a three-day juvenile ticket. One lad would purchase a ticket, enter the grounds at the gate, then proceed to the fence near the railroad where were assembled his comrades, push the ticket through a crack in the fence to another member of the gang, who in turn would repeat the performance, and so on until the entire crew had obtained admission to the great Kosciusko county fair for the price of one ticket. True, the management had watchmen stationed at various locations to prevent illegal entrance, but the kids cleverly countering by watching the watchmen. If the writer's memory serves him right, it was one of the few old-timers yet on earth who was instrumental in putting the "War" in Warsaw, Al Cuffel, whose master mind conceived the methods to secure free admission.

The new half-mile race track was considered one of the best in the central west and many horses of note in the speed world encircled this track on various occasions. The Kosciusko county fair attracted great crowds from this and adjoining counties. Lengthy processions of farm wagons and other horse-drawn vehicles made their tedious way over dusty (often muddy) country roads into Warsaw to view the exhibits and participate in the agricultural fiesta.

The Old Stone Landmark

At a location near the center of the old fair grounds stood an immense stone, said to be one of the largest rocks of the "niggerhead" variety in the central west. This ponderous specimen served for many years as the weight for the pulling contests to determine the strength of what were considered the county's strongest teams of horses. The exact tonnage has long since been forgotten, but the team moving this rock the greatest distance was declared winner of the contest. This annual event created much interest among farmers and stock breeders. Many persons are at a loss to know what became of this old stone which for many years was regarded as a landmark. For quite a long period of time after the old fair grounds had been abandoned as such and platted as an addition, the historic old stone continued to rest unmolested at the location which it had for so many years occupied, notwithstanding that Market street and Maple avenue intersected very near its resting place. However, when those thoroughfares were paved in the year 1925, during the process of excavation for the pavement the embankment gave way beneath the huge stone causing it to tumble into the excavation. The paving contractor and city authorities concluded the task of hoisting the big rock from the excavation would not justify the expense, so the historic old "Hoosier monolith" was allowed to remain and now lies buried beneath the asphalt pavement at the southwest corner of Market street and Maple avenue.

Transformation and Retrospection
Recently the writer, well seated on the curb at Center street and Maple avenue, awaiting arrival of an up-town bus and incidentally viewing the surrounding landscape, a retrospective panorama gradually unfolded, bringing reminiscences from the banking fires of memory. The tract which once comprised the old fair grounds is now traversed by paved streets. More than 50 attractive residences are located on the site, in addition to a half dozen store buildings and a church. Only a portion of the south east corner of the tract is yet vacant.

A large pond which might truthfully be termed a miniature lake, long since drained out, covered a goodly portion of the east side of the grounds. Water lilies grew in profusion. Boys attending school in a little round frame schoolhouse nearby would push with poles flimsily-constructed rafts over the pond and gather lilies for their schoolgirl sweethearts. This school was a private institution conducted by Miss Florence Frasier, daughter of the late George W. Frasier, a prominent Warsaw attorney of those days.

It is comforting to know that since the planting of the old fair grounds many of those who have purchased lots and built homes thereon have wisely preserved a number of the sturdy hickory trees and spreading oaks which in earlier years afforded shade and shelter for the multitude, most of whom are now in attendance at the assembly in the Great Beyond.

With the collapse of the Kosciusko County Agricultural Society in 1885 no fairs were held in the county for a number of years. However in the year 1906, a few public spirited citizens conceived the idea of inaugurating a free street fair, to be conducted in part on the carnival plan. Among the originators of the free street fair idea were: President, Charles Ker; vice president, Capt. C. W. Scott; secretary, W. S. Rogers; directors, Ben Phillipson and Conrad Schade; manager of amusements, Gordon Rutter.

Warsaw Daily Times Tuesday January 6, 1942

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