Looking back at the Montgomery County Fair, whose origins stretch back 180 years

The Montgomery County Fair has a long history in the Gem City.

The first fair was held in 1839 at Swaynies’s wagon yard on East First and Race streets before it found its Main Street location, less than a mile from downtown, in 1856.

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Photographs and stories in the Dayton Daily News archive have chronicled prized pigs, elephant ears and canned beans through the decades.

Harold Crowe on the far right ant the Montgomery County fair in 1948.

In 1860, plowing exhibitions, harness races and cattle, sheep and poultry drew crowds to the fair. A single ticket cost 25 cents, a horse and rider could enter for 35 cents, and for a dollar a family could spend three days.

Agriculture has always been the backbone of the fair. A pair of youngsters posed for a photograph with their champion steers in 1948. The duo, dressed in baggy dungarees, proudly hold their ribbons above the bovine heads.

Twelve-year-old Ralph Yordy awaits the official opening of the 1962 Montgomery County Fair. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Harness racing was been a long-time highlight of the fair. A black-and-white photograph from 1950 captures a pack of pacers led by an automobile around the dusty dirt track and framed by National Cash Register buildings that no longer stand.

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The Dayton Daily News took note of the high number of entries in the 1962 fair. “Livestock, poultry, grain, vegetable and fruit entries are running very heavy,” the newspaper reported. “Over 850 chickens and pigeons have been entered.”

A crowd watches the start of a harness race at the 1950 Montgomery County Fair. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Politics entered the frivolity of the fair in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1966. President Lyndon B. Johnson and his wife Lady Bird attended the exposition for a Labor Day rally.

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Before making a speech, the president wrangled a trio of champion Herefords comparing them to Texas livestock.

“I think these are better, we don’t have so much good feed to give them,” he said.

 
President Lyndon B. Johnson with his wife Lady Bird visited the Montgomery County Fair on Labor Day in 1966. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Anitoch College students held signs aloft urging the administration to “Please Stop the Killing” in Vietnam. Photographers captured sheriff’s deputies scuffling with demonstrators in front of the grandstand.

The fair has always lent itself to the quirky and capricious.

Bernard Wooley shows off his award winning dahlias at the Montgomery County Fair in 1976. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Bernard Wooley posed with a dahlia bloom as big as his head in 1976, and Quacky the Clown — a master of twisting balloons into the shape of animals while dressed in yellow duck feet, long eyelashes and a top hat — was a hit with most kids.

As a long line of children formed for the free balloons, Quacky confided to a reporter: “My kids hate balloons. They were ‘carneys’ for a long time and I guess over the years they’ve seen one too many.”

Cars race around the track at the Montgomery County Fairgrouds in 1975. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

A 1985 story featured Paul and Jean Grusenmeyer, their six children and multiple Guernsey cows who made a second home at the Montgomery County Fair for a quarter century.

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“I feel like I grew up at the fair,” Sharon Grusenmeyer, one of the children, told a reporter, though she would not admit to having a favorite cow. “When you work with animals, you learn not to get too attached because, someday, they’re gonna have to go.”

Carnival rides were thrilling at the Montgomery County Fair in 1970. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

No matter the decade, a little skill and a lot of luck have been needed to win a stuffed animal on the midway and thrill-seekers have clamored for paper tickets that admit one on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Last year, the fair began a new tradition at its new home, the 150-acre Judge Arthur O. Fisher Park in Jefferson Twp.

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