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There was a Fulton County fair, long ago

September 1, 2008
By PETER BETZ, For The Leader-Herald

The opening days of September 1889 witnessed many interesting happenings. Locally, the FJ&G Board of Directors announced that sewers would be constructed at Sacandaga Park the following spring, a decision The Daily Leader applauded by remarking, "This will be good news to the hundreds of cottagers and the action of the directors is praiseworthy."

Also, "Aaron Ward of Gloversville, a member of Company K, 115th Regiment, has been granted a pension of $4 per month for rheumatism."

On the farther scene, there was a landslide in Mexico, a dock strike in London, two ships collided in New York, and Jack the Ripper struck again on the 11th. Albany experienced a major fire in McArdle's rag factory, ignited by - you guessed it - a pile of rags, during which "Carrie Swartz, who weighed over 200 pounds, jumped from the roof and fell through the roof of an outhouse."

The most progressive local announcement was that the new Gloversville Electric Co. would furnish "70 or more arc electric lights to burn every night from sunset to midnight for the period of two years at the rate of $60 per light per year."

In local sports, the Leader ran a very critical story about local baseball under the headline, "Very Base Ball."

To quote, "The clubs were called the 'Citizens' of Johnstown and the 'Annexes' of Gloversville, while in fact Johnstown had just one citizen and Gloversville two. The balance were from out of town."

The editor was disgusted and concluded that, "The details of the game are hardly worth mentioning," so he didn't.

More exciting was the arrest of Charles Crawford, for burglarizing a glove shop.

Stolen goods were found in his room and "when Chief MacDonald attempted to arrest him, he ran. The Chief fired several shots after him, two of which took effect, one in the ribs and the other in the back of the neck. Crawford was taken to Police headquarters. His injuries are not serious and he does not suffer much from them."

Surprisingly, the Daily Leader printed nothing about local Labor Day activities, if there were any, beyond the enjoyment by workers of a day off, and trips for many to Sacandaga Park via the FJ&G.

But another local event was about to occupy the spirits of our 19th century citizens.

It was County Fair time, the 52nd Fulton County Fair, running Sept. 9 through 12.

The first countywide fair occurred in 1837, although we have random bits of information about earlier, smaller fairs that took place on the Court House grounds shortly after 1800.

Several days before the fair opened on the 6th, the newspaper announced that, "Professors Bready and Bready of Cleveland, Ohio, will make balloon ascensions from the grounds with a daring parachute jump when at a height of several thousand feet". There would of course be daily horse races - a very popular sport in those times - for purses averaging $250 to $400 per race, serious money back then.

Horses were entered from places including Albany, Schoharie, Glens Falls, Hoosick Falls, Cooperstown, and even western Connecticut.

To picture a 19th century county fair in our modern minds, we must sweep away notions of all the amusement rides, tractor pulls, thrill shows, stalls of foods vendors and musical entertainments we experience today.

Much activity centered around either horse racing or agricultural displays, and competition for 'premiums' (prizes): it was all about who brought the finest bull, the biggest cucumber, the fastest horse, or the most perfect chicken.

Then as now, agricultural implements of all sorts - but no John Deere tractors - were displayed for farmers to critically examine and perhaps invest in, using their own money, of course, since massive government credit was in the distant future.

No doubt many people awoke on Monday, Sept. 9, with attending the fair on their minds.

The Leader set the scene, observing that, "The omnibuses, street cars and railroad trains did a thriving business, and at the fairground, all was bustle and hurry. The fair has opened auspiciously, and it promises to be both profitable and entertaining. Floral Hall, when all the exhibits are in, will be full to overflowing."

And so it must have overflowed, for this large exhibit hall held much more than just displays of flowers, canned fruits and vegetables.

It was also the main exhibit hall for commercial goods, and the newspaper reporter touted many area merchants as enthusiastically as if he was paid to do so.

Among merchants singled out for special notice (and free advertising) were the following. "Rogers and Everest show a splendid lot of carpets and rugs which draw the attention of everybody.

D.S. Thompson, the wide-awake dry goods man, is on hand with a handsome line of dress novelties, etc. W.H. Kibbe of Johnstown shows his photographs.

George Main, the florist, has a handsome display of flowers. J.R. Newman and Sons, Gloversville clothiers, are on hand with a very pretty layout of suits, overcoats and boy's garments.

"Collamer of Johnstown displays a big line of oil stoves. Yanney, the textile manufacturer of Ephratah, is showing some fine woolens and flannels."

It is interesting to notice that modern technology already had a foot in the door, because "W.E. Aitken, the tea and coffee man, runs a coffee mill by a little electric motor of one-eighth horsepower."

Lest we forget, the 1880s began the decades in which pianos and organs occupied the place of pride in middle class American parlors, an era when music 'professors' made passable livings inflicting piano lessons on reluctant children of proud, often tone-deaf, parents.

The competition to sell these fairly expensive goods must have been steep, for at our fair that year, there were at least five dealers displaying organs and pianos, three local dealers, plus one from Schenectady and another from Albany.

Refreshments were not provided by a multitude of concessionaires as they are today but by only one, the ladies of the Johnstown Methodist Episcopal Church.

There also was "J.A. Furbeck, the candyman, who makes miles of taffy and does a thriving business."

There were amusements of sorts, but not like today's. Bicycle dealers provided two 'riding galleries' so customers could try out their bikes.

There was a wheel of fortune that "provides a great temptation to the boys who like to take chances."

While there is no doubt that judging livestock, plants and craft exhibits were a major activity, all this received little newspaper recognition.

Few people outside the proud growers were interested in who brought the largest squash or the reddest apple. Most newspaper space was devoted to the almost constant horseracing.

Not more than 25 minutes elapsed between races.

They started at 10 a.m. and went on until mid afternoon all four days.

It was a different century, a different world.

No one imagined that, only ten years later, the $500 parlor piano would be rivaled by the twenty dollar Edison Standard Phonograph that anyone could make music with without lessons, nor could they know that, far from Fulton County, a German tinkerer named Benz was working the bugs out of a noisy little engine, powered by a useless bi-product of oil, called gasoline.



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