History of the Jay County Fair
On June 1, 1853, a society was legally formed to organize the Jay County Fair, and the directive was sent to the president of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture.
The first fair was held in October 4-5, 1853 in the area between Main and Water Streets and Pleasant and Middle Streets. The area had a small race track for running races with participants being both young men and women. The rest of the area was filled with farm machinery, agriculture products, and livestock. The financial matters of this very first fair reported income of $95.27 which was the same amount of expenditures, breaking even.
During the 1860’s there were wasn’t a single fair that was held.
It wasn’t until 1872 that the fair was held at its current location on October 2-4.
In 1883, the first building to be built on the grounds was contracted to Harkins Ashley. $575 and 8 years later in 1891, Floral Hall was completed. The magnificent new building had a circular stairway in the center of the first floor surrounded by exhibits, flower stands, and tubs containing pumps spraying water upwards. The second floor could also be reached by a side stairway, that is still there today, and was filled beautiful flowers and displays by merchants from around the county. It was described to be a beautiful building on the outside and a sight to behold on the inside.
The Republican and Commercial Review newspapers wrote on October 7, 1891 that, “This Jay County Fair was the largest in Eastern Indiana with 38,000 people in attendance. Thursday, alone, saw over 20,000 attending.” The mode of travel at the time was by train, interurban, horse and buggy, spring wagons, and by foot.
In 1949, there was no fair as Jay County was one of the hardest hit places with a polio outbreak. Since then, there has never been another year where the fair was not held.
In 1977 the Optimists constructed their building on the grounds.
In 1979 Cumberland Valley Shows became the midway entertainment.
In 1982, the 110th fair, discussion sparked about the deteriorating condition of Floral Hall. There was a difference of opinion between the Fair Board and the Historical Society on whether or not it could be saved. It was then that the plan to “Save the Round House” was created. It was the county’s goal to restore this building. Louck & Sons were contracted to do the framework and straightening of the building -- raising and straightening it as best as it could be done. Tom and Lowell Zimmerman did the restoration and electrical work on the inside.
In October of 1983, Floral Hall was listed on the national register of Historic places after the work to restore it to its original beauty was completed.
In 1987, Tina Schwieterman won Miss Jay County Fair Queen. She then went on to win Miss Indiana State Fair that same summer.
In 1993, the fair was held from August 9-14. It was this year that the county’s political parties started a very popular tradition that still holds today, Republican Day on Wednesday and Democrat Day on Thursday.
In 1995, the fair was held from August 7-12 and it had a new look. Some reliable workers were the driving force in keeping the fair going in Jay County, and it was becoming known as one of the finest county fairs in the country.
Over the course of the years, there have been several big headliners that have performed in front of the grandstands during fair week. Some of those people include: Jeannie C. Riley (‘76), Mel Tillis (‘81), Marty Robbins and Brenda Lee (‘82), Jerry Reed (‘83), Atlanta (‘84 & ‘85), Loretta Lynn (‘88), John Michael Montgomery and Lorrie Morgan (‘94), Kathy Mattea and Joe Diffie (‘95), Doug Stone and Sawyer Brown (‘96), and Hunter Hayes (‘13). All of these performers have brought great shows and several were sold out concerts.