The history of the Bloomsburg Fair and how it began 166 years ago

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BLOOMSBURG, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Friday kicks off the Bloomsburg Fair. After being canceled last year the fair is back. This isn’t your typical run-of-the-mill fair. It’s the largest and one of the oldest fairs in Pennsylvania, with weekly attendance averaging around 400,000 visitors throughout the course of the week.

According to the fair’s website, the Bloomsburg Fair Association was established in 1855, making this the 166th year the fair is being held.

David R. Millard, the author of the book, “The History of the Bloomsburg Fair,” says historians have previously called it a street carnival. But, the men who first founded it called it an agricultural fair, way back in 1855.

The fair started with the enthusiasm of one man, Dr. John Taggert after he visited a county fair in northern Pennsylvania earlier in the summer. He was amazed by the values of a community to an agricultural exhibition. Convinced others could reap the benefits from such a movement, he decided to start one in Columbia County.

“Five men held a consultation and decided to undertake an agricultural fair if they could find willing exhibitors of fruits, vegetables, and other farm products,” Millard wrote. “Through personal solicitation, they found enough interest to encourage them and proceeded with arrangements for an event that was to become “The Bloomsburg Fair”. The men who ventured all of this were Dr. John Ramsey, B.F. Hartman, Caleb Barton, William Neal, and I.W. Hartman.”

Around 1,000 residents of Columbia County paid the 10 cent admission fee to the new adventure in Bloomsburg as the big event was held in Caleb Barton’s field, located at the lower end of Second Street, known today as Main Street, according to Millard.

“Very little is known about the first few years of the fair. Presumably, it began as a one-day production. By 1857 it was running for two days,” Millard explained. “In 1892 it began operating for 5 days. By 1923 it was back to a six-day exposition.”

The fair was extended to a full 7 days and nights in 1988 and a full 8 days in 1989, Millard wrote.

Gradually, through its long history, the Bloomsburg Fair Week moved slowly up the calendar from late October into late September. Fair Week officially begins the third Saturday after Labor Day, according to Millard.

A lot has changed since 1855, but at its heart, it’s still a country fair. Not only is agriculture featured, now the fair includes arts & crafts, horticulture, many types of animals and livestock, harness racing, school exhibits, scholarships, great-tasting food, farmers markets, amazing rides, and some of the best music around.

Since the beginning, the Bloomsburg Fair has evolved from a street carnival to an agricultural fair, into an annual fair visitors look forward to every year, for food, rides, and good old-fashioned fun.

For more information on events, guest information, and special attractions please visit the Bloomsburg Fair website.

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