Since 1851, the annual county fair in Meigs County has been an event emphasizing farm, family and fun.
The first fair of the Meigs County Agricultural Society was held on Wednesday, October 22, 1851 in Middleport, Ohio. Officers elected for the following year were: Stephen Titus, president; Whittamore Reed, vice president; Samuel Halliday, corresponding secretary; Isaac M. Gilmore, recording secretary; Oren Branch, treasurer; Stillman Larkin, Mil Guthrie, W. Sherwood, Thomas Radford, Silas Strong, managers. According to the Meigs County Telegraph, this was an importer era in the history of farming for the county. Categories for judging were horses, cattle, hogs, sheep, crops, and manufactured articles. Domestic arts entries included butter, cheese, honey, carpet, blankets, coverlets, socks, and fancy needlework.
The second annual fair was held at the Rock-Spring hotel on September 30, 1852. Officers elected on the fairgrounds on the day of the fair were: Stephen Titus, president; Abner Stout, vice president; Oren Branch, treasurer; Samuel Halliday, corresponding secretary; Isaac M. Gilmore, recording secretary; S.C. Larkins, W. Sherwood, Thomas Radford, Silas Strong, Cyrus Grant, managers. Categories were added for judging including fruit, flowers, poultry, garden vegetables and plowing.
The third annual fair was held at Middleport. The same officers were elected with Josiah Simpson, R. Bradford, and J.F. Brown replacing Thomas Radford, Silas Strong, and Cyrus Grant as managers. Fancy articles was a new category for judging.
The fourth annual fair was held on September 28-29, 1854 at Chester. A female equestrian riding match was a new addition for the fair.
The fifth annual fair was held on September 26-27, 1855 at the fairgrounds near Pomeroy. Admission was 10 cents and member tickets were one dollar.
In 1858, fairgoers enjoyed a concert ball and fireworks along with an exhibit of two lots of marble. The description of the marble from the Meigs County Telegraph stated, “They were universally admired, and more perfect specimens of workmanship anywhere would have been difficult to procure.”
Following the 1859 fair, the intention of the managers was to either enlarge the grounds the coming year, or move the locality.
Evidently the grounds were not enlarged, for the tenth annual fair was held in Racine on September 19-20, 1860. Officers for the next term were: W.B. Strong, president; J.R. Ellis, vice president; O. Branch, treasurer; Dr. J.R. Philson, recording secretary; I. Paine, corresponding secretary; J.J. Combs, William Foster, Thomas Fesler, G.B. Forrest, P. Fisher, directors; Samuel Titus, Chief Marshal; George Stivers, assistant to the marshal.
Because of the excited state of the country during the Civil War Years, no fair was held in 1861 to 1863. Although no local newspapers are available for 1863 and 1864, it must be assumed the fair was again postponed in 1863 and 1864. During the Civil War years, Meigs County had experienced two separate raids from Confederate Brigadier General Albert Gallatin Jenkins in 1862 and Confederate General John Hunt Morgan in 1863. The only Civil War battle fought in Ohio was in Meigs County at the Battle of Buffington Island with Union forces and Morgan’s Raiders in the Portland area of the county. Morgan’s Raiders were on part of what is now the fairgrounds today as they were on their way through the county.
In 1865, the fair was held once again. Racing had been added to the fair program and was a highlight of the annual event.
The first part of the Rocksprings Fairgrounds was purchased in 1868 from Leonard and Jane Carelton. It consisted of 10 and 1/4 acres. A second tract was secured from the Salisbury School Board in 1859.
A newspaper account of the fair described events and apparently a lot of dust at the fair in 1885. The account stated, “The whistle of the steam thresher, the ringing of the judge’s bell, the rattle of the drum corps, and music of the Rutland Band made things lively. The dust was dreadful. The society must have lost thousands of dollars of real estate which people carried away on their clothing.”
In 1889, the race track was englarged from a one-third mile track to one-half mile.
On December 24, 1899 an additional 98 rods more or less was deed to the Agricultural Society by Jane Carelton.
In 1890, the amphitheater was built following in time for the fair held in September. The amphitheater is more commonly known as the Grandstand and has been fixture and symbol of the not only the fair, but Meigs County. Description at the time, “It easily seats one thousand persons and commands an entire view of the race course. A back view of the grand stand is as attractive as the front. It consists of hash stalls whose counters bristle with ham sandwiches, ginger bread, and birch beer.”
In 1893, the 40th annual fair was celebrated and held September 5-8.
Numbers were listed as being down the following year in 1894 as extreme drought gripped the area. Dust was an issue.
By 1895 the Agricultural Society was experiencing financial issues. The issues apparently stemmed from the fact the society had been making improvements to the fairgrounds. Due to the the financial issues, no fair was held in 1895 or 1896. The financial issues would come back as issue for the society.
In 1889, the fair claimed to have had a record breaking attendance of more than 10,000.
Things appeared to have changed for the Agricultural Society by 1900. According to the Tribune/Telegraph, the fair was hailed as a grand success, morally, socially, and financially.
In 1901, a baby show was held and hailed as the event of the day.
By 1907, the the fair had a record noting year for admission. Paid admission was recorded as 9,230 in attendance. Attendance had not been that high since 1889.
While the 1914 fair was a big success with more than 10,000 attending, the financial issues continued for the Meigs County Agricultural Society. The financial troubles of 1895 were in litigation. The original amount of debt was between $13,000 to $15,000. A judgement, however, was rendered for $30,000. Due to the judgement, no fairs were held in 1915-1917.
In 1918, the fair resumed and billed as being bigger and better than ever. Events included a baby show and a ladies’ hitching contest. Admission was 50 cents for adults and children under 10 were free.
A beauty contest was a new feature of the 1928 fair was a beauty contest. The winner was known as “Miss Meigs County”. Products for the farm, trained animal act, five big acrobatic acts, dog show, fox chase, fine racing and special quartette were among the entertainments and attractions. The quartette was broadcast on WSAZ.
Troubles continued financially, however. The 1940 fair was held on September 4. By November, another suit was filed. The suit in the Meigs County Court of Common Pleas called for the dissolving of the Agricultural Society. The September 1941 order by the Court of Appeals of Meigs County dissolved the Meigs County Agricultural Society. F.H. O’Brien was appointed trustee for the creditors and members of the society. In 1941, a petition was filed with the court by creditors, but the matter was settled otherwise.
In 1939, however, a new society was organized. A two-day fair was held at the Pythian Park in Middleport. That event was sponsored by a new Meigs County Agricultural Society on October 2-3, 1941.
War again interrupted the fair with no fair held in 1942, but 4-H projects were judged.
An exhibit of 4-H project judging did take place in 1943. While the date youth began exhibiting at the Meigs County Fair has been lost to time, the Junior Fair has its origins at this time with 1942 and 1943. The exhibition was held at the gymnasium of the Pomeroy Junior High School. Those exhibiting included 4-H, Grange, and Farm Bureau. Livestock was exhibited with ten head tied to a row of posts on the old practice field behind the high school. In 1944, the same procedure was used.
The fair returned to Rocksprings in 1945 and has been held there annually since.
In 1952, the fair noted the 89th annual fair and the 10th annual Junior Fair. A Junior Fair Board consisted of representatives from various youth organizations.
In 1963, the 100th Meigs County Fair was held and celebrated. Among the activities were a fair parade with 45 entries and a presentation by the Big Bend Minstrels under the direction of Bob Hoeflich. Officers were: Fred Leifheit, president; Bill Downie, vice president; Charles Radford, treasurer; Frank H. Johnston, secretary. Directors were Charles Williams, Don L. Betzing, Robert L. Jones, Wallace Bradford, Hiram Slawter, Rex Shenefield, Harold Carnahan, Roy Holter, L. E. Hoffman, and Hugh Custer. Charles E. Blakeslee was ex officio.
The beef barn was added in July 1964.
During the following decades improvement continued to the fairgrounds. The event continued to grow with improvements including new horse barns, cattle barns, hill stage, fencing, commercial and Junior Fair buildings. During most of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, Wallace Bradford, William Downie, and William Radford served as president of the society.
In 1988, a Rocksprings area log cabin and smokehouse from the 1820s was moved to the fairgrounds.
In 1993, Dan Smith was named president. Virgil Windon was president in 1995. Dan Smith was re-elected in 1996.
Edward Holter was elected president in 2000 and 2001 with Ken Buckley as vice president and Robert Calaway as treasurer. Debbie Watson was hired as secretary. Directors were William Buckley, Jennings Beegle, Howard Ervin, Jr., Roger Spencer, Leonard Koenig, Michael Parker, Karen Werry, David Watson, Brian Windon, and Brent Rose. Harold Kneen was ex officio. Joann Calaway served as the Junior Fair Coordinator.
Other additions to the grounds include the rabbit and poultry barn and sheep barn.
Improvements to the fairgrounds have continued since 2000 including the 2005 construction of the Thompson-Roush Building. The building is used for flower shows, antique tractors, Grange, and Kiddie Tractor Pull. It is also utilized for other events and storage in the winter.
The Ridenour Family Livestock Arena was built in 2012. It replaced the old show and sales ring.
In 2013, the announcers stand was built at the pull track.
In 2017, Ohio Valley Bank Dairy Barn with Roy and Pat Holter’s Porch was built.
In 2018, the Meigs County Fair was the first fair to hold a Kids Day that also focused on drug and alcohol prevention and mental health. It continues to be held annually with the cooperation of organizations to present a positive message for youth. Kids Day had been held before at the Meigs County Fair with toys and electronics being given away, but this was a change in the format bringing in agencies and law enforcement to help bring a positive message to young people. The effort has been recognized at the state level and has since been implemented at other fairs in the state.
In 2019, the Rutland Bottle Gas Domestic Arts Building was constructed for domestic arts and horticulture exhibits. Previously, domestic arts, horticulture, photography, painting were held in the Coon Hunters Building. Those exhibits were moved to the new Rutland Bottle Gas Domestic Arts Building with the Coon Hunters Building being used for Meigs County EMS.
In 2020, the fair still happened despite the pandemic known as Covid-19. It was limited to a junior fair only with many health code restrictions in place. Regular exhibits were greatly limited. Livestock was still shown in the Ridenour Family Livestock Arena with the annual sale still being held. Old booths and buildings were torn down in 2020.
The event returned for a full fair for 2021. The William Coy Pavillion was dedicated in 2021 also. It is a picnic shelter for those enjoying fair food.
In 2023, just in time for the 160th annual fair, the announcer stand was replaced at the Grand Stand. Also in 2023, an addition of a kitchen and restrooms were added to the Rutland Bottle Gas Domestic Arts Building. Extensive upgrades to electric have been going on for decades throughout the fairgrounds.
The fair is the largest event happening in the county drawing more than 20,000 each year.