Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, was formally established in March 1849 from parts of Beaver and Mercer Counties. It wasn’t long before the Lawrence County Agricultural Society decided to organize its own county fair. A site was purchased south of Mahoningtown to lay out a fairgrounds area. The first-ever “New Castle Fair,” mainly featuring animal exhibits and horse racing, was held on October 19-20, 1852. Organizers built on their success and the fair continued to grow in the coming decades.
At some point the fair was relocated to a 32-acre site in the North Hill District, in the area along Winter Avenue just west of Highland Avenue. The old fairgrounds near Mahoningtown remained in use as a popular horse racing track. The fair was held on the North Hill for a number of years until overcrowding resulted in the fair association looking for a new home beginning in 1899. In late 1901 two sites were being strongly considered, the former Archie Davis farm in Union Township and the Cochran farm in Neshannock Township, but no move was apparently ever made. The fair continued to operate at the same location, but ran into financial difficulties and was closed down in about 1905.
Meanwhile, back in early 1903, another group of investors formed the Pulaski Fair Association, with the intention of establishing a county fair in Pulaski Township. The 40-acre M. I. Buchanan farm, just to the north of the village of Pulaski, was soon purchased and built up. Access from New Castle was made possible via several railroads that had passenger stations in Pulaski and a few small steamers that plowed the Shenango River. The first “Pulaski Fair” was held from September 29-October 1, 1903, but afterwards was usually held in late August and/or early September.
The Fair Grounds Land Company, with an office in the Lawrence Savings & Trust Building in downtown New Castle, was chartered in August 1907 to sell off the old North Hill fairgrounds property, now dubbed the “Kenmar” plot. The company sold off vacant lots and also constructed and sold homes as well. The largest homes built on this site were the two Hoyt mansions, designed by local architect Frank H. Foulk, erected along Winter Avenue in about 1915.
It seems the Pulaski Fair Association was concerned about the perception of the Pulaski Fair, now in a more remote location, being viewed as a strictly local venture. An editorial in the New Castle News of Wednesday, September 25, 1907, explains, “We are pleased to note that The News speaks of the Pulaski fair as the Lawrence county fair. For such it is, and we would like everyone in the county to consider it their fair, and help make it the best.”
Apparently there was an effort in 1907 by the New Castle Trotting Association to establish a county fair at the race track (old fairgrounds) near Mahoningtown. Sixteen stockholders of the association, led by Mahoningtown businessman D. H. Cochran, met in late 1907 and discussed preliminary plans. The New Castle News of November 6, 1907, had this to say, “New Castle people have not had an opportunity for many years to patronize a fair. The old grounds at Kenmar and at Tubetown were abandoned years ago and the only chances given residents of this city to attend such exhibitions have been at Pulaski and Stoneboro. It is not the intention of the promoters to enter into competition with the Pulaski fair.” It appears nothing ever came of this initiative. In fact the old fairgrounds property in Mahoningtown was later sold in 1922, and became the site of a new sewage disposal plant in 1926.
In early 1919 the New Castle Agricultural Association, made up of a group of local businessman and farmers, signaled their intention to start a new county fair. They soon purchased the 162-acre Robert McAfee property across from the Neshannock Presbyterian Church in Hickory Township. McAfee, a wealthy horse breeder, was the former Secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 1905-1915. This large property was also the site of the old Locust Grove Stock Farm, once owned by the wealthy businessman Charles E. Clark.
The property was built up with a oval race track and a host of large barns and exhibit buildings. The first “New Castle Fair” was held in August 1920, and was a resounding success with its horse races, cattle exhibits, acrobatic performances, midway rides, carnival games, and refreshment stands. Taxis and other vehicles were utilized to haul many residents of New Castle out to the fairgrounds.
It was during a short period, from 1920-1923, that the county actually had two fairs. Attendance figures reveal that in 1921 almost 37,000 people attended the New Castle Fair in Hickory Township, while only 15,000 people attended the Pulaski Fair. In early 1924 the officials of the Pulaski Fair, facing mounting losses and declining attendance, decided to shut down their operations. They kept the oval track open for horse racing, but sold off the remaining portions of the fairgrounds. The Pulaski Fair, which ran from 1903-1923, came to an end.
The New Castle Fair flourished during the Roaring Twenties, but went into a sharp decline with the onset of the Great Depression. In 1930 the New Castle Agricultural Association sold off a large portion of the fairgrounds property. The fair continued in operation throughout the 1930’s, but faced increasingly difficult times and dwindling attendance figures. In early 1942, with the United States’ official entry into World War II, it was decided to permanently close the fair.
The remainder of the fairgrounds property was sold to Joseph Rick, the longtime owner of the J. R. Rick Motor Company in New Castle. An article in the New Castle News of April 14, 1942, reads in part, “There appears to be little chance of the New Castle Fair operating this year. Apparently the fair is done… A short time ago the last of the properties, the race track, the speed barns, and some acreage was sold to Joseph Rick… Asked if there would be a fair held on the grounds this summer Mr. Rick replied: I don’t know. I am not in the fair business but the grounds and buildings are there if anyone wants to operate a fair.” Nobody apparently came forward to accept his offer, because Lawrence County was without a fair for the next twelve years.
In early 1954 another group of investors decided to establish a new county fair. They leased the old fairgrounds property from Joseph Rick and held the first “Lawrence County Farm Show” on August 23-24, 1954. They prospered and continued to hold the fair at this location for the next decade or so. In January 1966, with minor funding from the county, the Farm Show directors, led by George Bollinger and J. Francis Boak, took an option on the 96-acre Louis Enos property along the Harlansburg Road in Hickory Township. The property, located directly across from Laurel High School, was formally acquired in June 1966 for $25,000. Gaylord R. Lewis, a well-known fairgrounds designer from Ohio, was called in to help design the new property. A long term plan, costing an estimated $200,000, was put into effect to improve the grounds over the next ten years. A large race track and a grandstand were quickly constructed, and the 13th annual Lawrence County Farm Show was held there on August 16-19, 1966.
In July 1971 the Lawrence County Farm Show officials, in the midst of much growth, decided to change the name of annual event to the “Lawrence County Fair.” The first-ever event billed as the Lawrence County Fair was held on August 17-19, 1971. The popular event continues to grow and today is billed as “The Greatest Show in Western Pennsylvania.” The 60th annual Lawrence County Fair, a ten-day event, was held in August 2013.
Over the years Lawrence County has been home to a handful of county fairs, each managed by different associations or directors. In early 1919 the New Castle Agricultural Association purchased the Robert McAfee property in Hickory Township. The grounds were improved and the “New Castle Fair” (race track shown above) was held here from 1920-1941. With the onset of World War II and fair was closed and the property was sold to J. R. Rick. The reconstituted “Lawrence County Farm Show” operated here from 1954-1965, until a new fairgrounds was opened near the Laurel High School in 1966. (c1925) Full Size
Advertisement for the New Castle Fair. (Sept 1921)
Motorcycle racing at the fairgrounds in Hickory Township. All three riders appear to be on early model Indian motorcycles. (c1922) Full Size
An advertisement for the 1928 fair – officially known as the “New Castle Agricultural Association Fair.” (1928) Full Size
The officers overseeing the 1928 fair. The fair had its offices at #9 Dean Block, South Croton Ave, New Castle, PA. (1928) Full Size
The horse racing schedule and purse money from the 1928 fair. (1928) Full Size
The Three Martells, a daredevil cycling act from France, were one of several acts that performed for patrons at the 1928 fair. The act headlined vaudeville shows, carnivals, and county fairs throughout the country for thirty years beginning in the early 1920’s. (1928) Full Size
The rules for exhibiting cattle during the 1928 fair. (1928) Full Size
An advertisement for the Lawrence County Farm Show from August 1962. (1962)