Editor’s Note: With the Gallia Junior Fair having opened Monday, the Gallipolis Daily Tribune decided to take a step back in time to share some area fair history from the perspective of a writer in the early 60s. What follows is his article published in the Tribune, July 30, 1963.
GALLIPOLIS — Fairs have been a part of the Gallia County scene for a great many years going back to shortly after the Civil War. The annals of these fairs are recorded in the news columns of the day and they tell of many exciting events that in early days were used as a rallying point for the youthful veterans of the war just closed.
In the early part of the latter half of the 19th century, grounds were secured for the Gallia County Agricultural Society in the east end of Gallipolis, at what is now the site of the Gallipolis Terminal and they extended in part as far southward as Lincoln Ave, in some areas and from what is now Eastern Ave, to the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad tracks.
Over a period of several decades, permanent buildings were erected in the enclosure. There is only one structure still remaining and it has been converted into an apple warehouse. It originally was the grandstand that fronted on the best half mile track in southeastern Ohio. Other buildings erected on the grounds included Floran Hall which stood in the center of the front part of the grounds and was to a large degree the focal point of exhibits of canned goods, needlework and other handicraft of the county. Over towards the upper end of the grounds were the horse barns where the race horses were housed during the days of the fair. Along the high board fence that enclosed the grounds on the south side were stalls and pens that housed the exhibits of livestock.
These early fairs were marked in the beginning by balloon ascensions, and later other sustaining troupes of performers were presented as drawing cards. There was the famous Myria Peek of bareback fame and eventually the acts included flights of early airplanes and in the racing an early novelty was the motorcycle races with the driver known as Virginia Creeper being a stellar attraction. At one time there was a race between a plane and an auto, and even with a race horse. The great promoter of some of these events was the late P.T. Wall, who made it so well known that special trains were brought in from all directions with fair throngs. Other names to be remembered with the fair were the late Judge Ross White, Wav McCormick, A.C. Safford and Ed Mills.
After the demise of the old fair organization, the county was without a fair of any type until some semblance of an exposition was started under the name of a fall festival. The prime mever (believed to be a misspelling of mover) in that promotion was the late John McNealy, local manager of the Columbus and Southern Ohio Electric Co. The event was held on the blocked off Second Ave. at the Public Square starting around 1930. It expanded and was shifted to the river front. With the retirement of Mr. McNealy, the festival was dropped and another period of absence of such events continued until the vocational agriculture instructors of the extension service thought of the idea of a junior fair. The first such was held in the building of the Ohio implement Co. on Pine St. It was such an unqualified success that it was held on the river front in 1951, and in 1952 it was moved to the airport and was held there until 1956, when it was moved to its present ground donated by Evans Grocery Co.