In a world so modern, where companies are merging and splitting and always competing to launch the “next big thing,” it is rare to find an entity that is more than a hundred years old and virtually unchanged at its core. This year the Barlow Independent Fair is celebrating its 150th anniversary. It is currently the oldest independent fair in the state of Ohio. Save for adapting to new demands and keeping up with changes in agriculture, it remains largely unchanged in both its bylaws and its mission to provide a welcoming space for visitors and those displaying animals or crafts to gather.
Like any big anniversary, there will be a couple of surprises from the Fair Board to the fairgoers. On Saturday night the fair will be hosting fireworks to celebrate the milestone. On Sunday there will be goat yoga, and a wood chop event. For the wood chop event, there will be multiple categories to compete in including a two man saw, ax throwing, and Jack and Jill cutting. This year there will be more local music hosted in the gazebo throughout the whole fair. Another tradition hoping to take hold this year is the Barlow Fair Queen Pageant. Unlike most fair pageants, this is designed for women over 18, who are above the age to participate in other judging, like with animal showings and groups such as 4H and FFA.
Tying the entire fair together from present to past will be the annual parade. This year the fair board has invited any and all living descendants of the original founding families to return and serve as the Parade Marshalls for the 150th anniversary. Some of the early families involved in the formation and growth of the fair are names that are still present in the area today: Fleming, Thompson, Shaw, Breckenridge, Palmer and Anderson.
In the early days of the fair, the location was listed as Ford Grove Park which was located on the grounds, though no specific spot is notated today as being the original park. What is known is that the area on top of the hill was where the original Sheep and Cattle display was held. Some of the breeds of livestock described in the older guides aren’t even raised in this area anymore. Also described in the history is that the pens where the animals were tied was the exact same spot where the Boy Scouts slow cook the delicious ham and soup beans. Also, shhhh, don’t tell the hogs!
The oldest official building on the grounds, aside from the Mill Branch covered bridge is the Floral Hall, constructed in 1873. This incredible spot is known as the T Building, though the T section was not added until 1893. It is anchored on each corner with local grindstones and houses the octagonal well cap. Originally used in one of the oldest homes, built 1817 in nearby Bartlett, the unique well cap was donated by the Ray and Christine Richards family to the Western Washington County Area Historical Society and placed permanently at the fair grounds to keep the history present for years to come.
When you come from an agricultural background, fairs are something you just understand. I wanted to give back to the 4H program and FFA chapters and all the kids raising animals.
A lot of work goes into making the oldest independent fair run so smoothly. Jeremy Barth, who serves as the Fair Board Vice President used his entire background to make sure everything is in its place, and everyone gets settled in with everything they need to have a successful weekend. Prior to serving on Barlow’s fair board, Jeremy served on the Washington County Fair Board and as a Jr Fair Board member. Though not originally from Barlow, he has embraced this community as though it has been in his blood for decades.
“I fell in love with the area and the fair and ultimately chose to move down here from the northern corner of Washington County,” said Barth. “When you come from an agricultural background, fairs are something you just understand. I wanted to give back to the 4H program and FFA chapters and all the kids raising animals. Though there are other attractions and displays, you don’t really have a fair without the kids who put the work into raising animals, creating home arts, and putting together 4H club displays.”
Another staple of the Barlow Fair is the food. There are multiple food vendors, each serving something just a little different, and being run by a community organization. Profits from the food visitors enjoy go to help wonderful causes like the Lions Club, both Dunham Township (noodles) and Barlow Township (fish sandwiches). The Warren High School Band boosters and band students can always be found in the newly painted Roundhouse building, slinging fresh sausage sandwiches. If anyone is unsure of where to find the roundhouse, all they need to do is follow their nose.
Though the Veto Presbyterian church is no longer able to sell their giant ice cream bars, as they did for many years, fear not! The Washington county Holstein club will be selling fresh milk and ice cream provided by local dairy, Florence Creamery.
Talking about food and supporters of the Barlow Fair would not be complete without a giant hats off to the Boy Scouts. This year will be a nice mix of new and old creating memories over a hot cauldron of yummy soup beans. This year the fair welcomes a brand new scoutmaster leading the cooks in the kitchen. Justin Logue, local business owner, has taken over the reins as scoutmaster for Barlow Troop 217. This may be his first year leading the pack, but the pack has been leading the fair and the community for nearly 75 years. Formed in 1947, Troop 217 has been an integral part of the Barlow Community, partnering with the Barlow Volunteer Fire Department as their charter organization.
When asked about how he came to take over the troop, Justin said, “We had heard that the troop needed a Scoutmaster and my father in law, Terry Graham, used to be the Scoutmaster from the late 70’s to the early 2000’s. We didn’t want to see it fold and being an Eagle Scout myself, I knew how important it was to keep the troop going for the boys. Especially with family connections to it.” If anyone is interested in joining Troop 217, feel free to stop over for some lunch and a chat at the main dining area on top of the hill!
Whether it is your first year at the fair, like Justin, or you have been attending every year for the last 40, 50, 60 or more, the traditions that the Barlow Agricultural and Mechanical Association put in places 150 years ago still stand today. On display are some of the old fair information books, pictures and other memorabilia from as many years as could be found. From the oldest book, published for the 1886 fair to this year’s beautiful commemorative guide, the basic principles, ideas and fair culture have essentially remained the same. Even with modern additions (like bathrooms and refrigerators), the heart of the Barlow Independent Fair remains steeped in tradition, and with visitors and leaders coming in from younger generations, the community hopes that the Barlow Fair can continue to celebrate this history for many years to come.
Jeremy said it best when he summed up what it is to be both a visitor and a part of the great group of leaders who put on the fair every year.
“We strive to remember who we are as a fair and keep those old family traditions. It is exciting to bring the family together every year. Even after you have moved out of the area, you can always come back to the Barlow Fair to visit with your family and friends.”