Most people in the Midwest are familiar with the idea of a county fair, or a state fair, but not every community is as fortunate as Barlow to have their own community fair and the rich history that stands behind it. The very first Barlow Independent Fair was held in September, 1872 in response to the passing of the Act for Encouraging Agriculture in 1846, which helped fund and establish agricultural societies. If you aren’t familiar with the community of Barlow, it is a beautiful little town just west of Marietta. The fairgrounds are located at the intersection of State Route 550 and State Route 339, on the top of a tree covered hill. The trip back in time starts shortly after you step out of the car. You can cross the parking lot to the grounds area through one of Washington County’s historic covered bridges. At the base of the hill sits the Mill Branch Bridge, originally built in 1832, but was relocated to the fairgrounds around 1980 when it was closed to vehicle traffic. The original cost to attend the Barlow fair was 10 cents with children being free. Though time has required the price of admission go up some, the board in charge tries hard to make it affordable for community families. In keeping with the principals of encouraging the community, the Fair Board offers midway ride tickets at no cost on Thursday night of the fair weekend.
Starting with just a rented tent, the Barlow fair slowly grew, adding permanent buildings and barns for the livestock being shown and sold as part of the fair festivities. In 1889 they created a round track for racing horses and in 1892 they added another permanent hall, referred to as the T-building because of the shape of the building. At some point a centrally located bi-level, round building was added, fondly called the “roundhouse,” and used for history displays and a food vendor on the main floor. For many years, the local marching band would take turns working shifts in the roundhouse, selling Bob Evans Sausage sandwiches and other delicious fair food.
As expected the early fair attractions were farming equipment and related items. As the fair grew, so did the displays, now including projects completed by local 4-H clubs, food and homemade craft vendors, flower arrangements by the garden club, and food offerings by local churches, Boy Scouts and, most recently, food trucks. In 1914 the fair welcomed car owners to show their cars for the first time. Owners had to pay 25 cents to enter the show. There is also a gazebo, completed in the last twenty years, where local talent performs for the fair crowd and the Little Miss and Mister Barlow Pageant is held. The first Little Miss pageant was held in 1984 with the Little Mister being added a number of years later. Over the course of the last hundred years, the fair presenters added a community parade to the festivities. The parade is let by a Marshal, a community member chosen each fall to start off the evening parade. The parade also includes the local high school marching band, football team, cheerleaders and any number of other community groups that vary from year to year.
When you hold the title of Ohio’s Oldest Independent Fair, you are bound to have left a million memories in the community and the families who have visited over the last 146 years. Upon speaking with Jeremy Barth, Fair Board member, it has become beautifully clear the kind of impact that a small community fair can have on a person. Jeremy started out as a participant, a 4-H club member, showing both small and large animals at the fair. Eventually he moved into a youth leadership position on the Jr. Fair Board. As an adult, when a position opened up for the Fair Board, Jeremy decided to run, and was elected for the position. Jeremy has put his heart and soul into making the Barlow Fair a great experience, and even helps run fundraisers at the fairgrounds throughout the year to help run the fair every September. To sum up the history, the future and the entire atmosphere that is the Barlow Fair is a quote from Barth about his time spent at the fair: “I love the excitement of the whole weekend, the sounds of the chickens and the cows crying!! Also, I love going to the parade and the sound of the band, the sound of the drums gives me goose bumps!!”
Further information on the schedule, the history, and how to be a part of the Oldest Fair in Ohio can be found on the Barlow Fairgrounds Facebook page, www.BarlowFair.com and www.ohiohistory.org.