Jefferson County Agricultural Society
As agricultural activities including farming, raising animals and vegetables for food provisions and tillage of the soil has been a principal source of wealth of the county, every measure tending to the promotion of this object is deserving of notice. Such was the feeling of community leaders in 1817, which prompted the formation of the Agricultural Society.
The fair was first organized as the Jefferson County Agricultural Society in this city on October 25, 1817, but was inspired by an event prior to that which showed the first act of encouragement for agricultural interests and manufacturers in the county. On April 8, 1808, a competition was scheduled for anyone living in the county to prove who could produce the best woolen cloth of texture and quality not less than 30 yards long.
The premium money was given by the county and the award was to be made by the judge of common pleas and paid by the comptroller.
James D. LeRay, having imported some fine sheep, thus provided the material. Specimens were produced by Hart Massy and Noadiah Hubbard which were so nearly alike in quality that the premium was divided.
The Jefferson County Agricultural Society was the second society in the state (Otsego County was first).
The first cattle show and fair of the society was held on the 28th and 29th of September, 1818. The first day was devoted to the exhibition of stock and domestic manufacture. Governor Clinton, General Stephen Van Rensselaer, Colonel Jenkins, G. Parish and other notable strangers were present on the stand with the officers of the society. The pens for cattle were arranged in a circle, the platform in the center, and the domestic manufactures were displayed in the court house. In the course of the afternoon Roswell Woodruff exhibited a cart drawn by seventeen yoke of oxen and steers, the product of his own farm. Judge Hubbard and Colonel Harris, of Champion, exhibited a cart drawn by fifteen yoke of very fine, fat cattle. On the 29th, a plowing match came off with horse and ox teams, after which a parade with a band marched to the Court House. The first address before the society and fair crowd was delivered by Agricultural Society President James LeRay de Chaumont. He said the object of the society was to encourage every branch of agriculture. The President's speech was followed by another delivered by DeWitt Clinton.
Much of the Fair history has been explained by Dr. Franklin B. Hough, in his History of Jefferson County published in 1854. Other notables involved with the Society and Fair have included Jacob Brown, Commodore Melanchton Woolsey, Egbert Ten Eyck, Hart Massey, Noadiah Hubbard, Norris Winslow, Isaac Mitchell, B. L. Johnson, Alex Duffy and many community leaders up through the present time.
On June 8, 1853, the Legislature of the State of New York enacted "An act to Facilitate the Forming of Agricultural and Horticultural Societies", leading to the filing of other acts and supplementary proceedings which incorporated the Jefferson County Agricultural Society on December 8th, 1854.
Jefferson County was first developed as an agricultural area and today large, well kept and managed farms dot the countryside. As expected there have been changes made in agricultural life, and the county fair has tried to keep pace with those improvements.
There is no doubt the Jefferson County Fair has brought about a better understanding and relationship between the rural and urban sections of the county, which aid each other in overall growth.
Although the fair is devoted primarily to showing what is being done by farmers and farm organizations in the county, fair officials, in keeping with the times and advancements, are extending the fair's program so it includes commercial enterprises and industrial organizations of the county. Tourism has not been forgotten, as the officials of the Jefferson County Fair stress all endeavors and businesses that lead to the growth of the financial life of the area.
The Jefferson County Fair has not always had an easy path. There have been slim years when it appeared the fair might be on its last legs, but it always survived and continued forward. Today, the fair is making marked progress and gaining a place among the top county fairs in the state.
The Jefferson County Agricultural Society is now being led by its 46th President, Robert Simpson, and is getting ready for the 202nd Jefferson County Fair. It is the oldest continuous operating fair in the United States.