The first "Morganza Fair' was actually an exhibition of cattle and sheep held for the purpose of sale on the last Saturday of October, 1798. At the premises of Daniel Purcel in the forks of Chartiers at the head of John Struther's Mill Dam. Advertised in the October 1, 1798 newspaper he states "55 head of beef cattle, working oxen, cows and sheep are already entered at this fair and it is expected more than double the number will be entered before the day of sale." An entry fee of six pence per head was charged and cattle would be taken care of at a reasonable cost."' No further notices regarding this fair appear and apparently only this single exhibit was held.
The first long-standing efforts to organize an Agricultural Society in Washington County took place in 1821. The following notice was placed in the Reporter of December 24, 1821: "Many gentlemen have been solicitous that a meeting should be called to make the necessary arrangements to form an Agricultural Society. To this object a meeting will be held at the tavern of George Jackson, in this borough, on Wednesday evening next at 5 o'clock P.M. The farmers are particularly invited to attend this meeting. The policy and vast importance of such associations must be obvious to every citizen. The county commissioners and grand jury had agreed to the establishment of an agricultural society under the law of March 6, 1820. Two committees were then appointed, one to draft by-laws and the second to solicit subscriptions. The Examiner newspaper of Oct. 23, 1824 lists the names of 214 person who had subscribed.
At a meeting held on March 27, 1822 the "Washington County Society for the Promotion of Agricultural and Domestic Manufactures" was organized. This was one of the first nineteen agricultural societies formed in the United States up to 1826. On April 4, 1822 a meeting of officers was held at the home of John Fleming. It was approved that an annual exhibition be held on "Wednesday of the Supreme Court in each year." In 1822 a report made to County auditors shows a total of $193.00 in subscriptions and $173.25 paid out in premiums for exhibits.
The 1822 fair was held on a lot owned by James Ruth, on East Maiden St. near Lincoln St.; but the next year it was changed to the John Sample farm, further east on the National Pike. That year James Gilmore was awarded a $16.00 premium for the best Merino Ram and 2 best Merino Ewes and Best Brood Sow. William Brownlee won $10.00 for second place merino ram and best ewes. Awards were given for cultivated farms; the first prize of $25.00 went to Enoch Wright, with second place going to lssac Manchester. In 1823 a total of $301.00 was paid out in premiums. While a total of $610.40 was received in 1824 with $595.25 was paid out in premiums and expenses. Alexander Scott, James Moore and John Flock, Jr. received first, second and third places respectively for best merino buck. For the next several years stock showing was held on a lot on the south side of West Chestnut Street owned by Samuel McFarland near the old train station at the bottom of Chestnut Street Hill. While vegetables, fruits, grains and manufactured goods were exhibited on the grounds of the public square.
In 1826 the society received a dividend from Joseph Lawrence, who had obtained quantities of white mulberry seeds and silkworm eggs for distribution to members. Just when this fair was discontinued is not clear as no minutes were located after 1833.
"The Washington Society for the Promotion of Agricultural and Domestic Manufacture in Washington County" was reorganized on Sept. 10, 1847. Anyone signing the constitution and paying the $1.00 fee was entitled to membership. After 273 members joined, the first fair was held on Oct. 15, 1847. Premiums totaling $323.00 were awarded. The fair of 1848 was held Oct. 5-6 with $207.00 in premiums paid out. In 1849 the fair was held Oct. 17-18. In 1850 the society decided to rent suitable grounds adjoining the borough. In 1852 a lot near the Chartiers Depot had been secured and buildings were erected. During this time exhibits of agricultural implements such as reaping and mowing machines were included in the fair exhibits. The fair remained there for the next 3 years.
In May 1855 the society was incorporated and a charter obtained. At that time the property known as the "Fair Grounds" was purchased. The new location for the fair was near Trinity Hall at Park Ave. and S. Main Streets. For the next 30 years fairs were held there.
In 1860 the largest floral hall of any fair in the state was erected. In 1866 the first hot air balloon ascension in the County was made by John A. Light, he came down on a farm some nine miles from Washington. That same year the fair was held Oct. 17-18 the number of entries reached 1,422 including: 300 horses, 111 sheep, 84 cattle, 30 jacks/mules, 14 swine, 13 poultry, 64 floral items, 121 pieces of fancy needlework, 223 preserved foods, 242 items of "domestic manufacture" and 43 fine arts entries. There was a Grandstand and track for horse racing on the grounds.
In December 1885 the Washington Society for the Promotion of Agricultural and Domestic Manufacture in Washington County was dissolved and the grounds were sold to W & J College, where College Field was then constructed. Each member received a $64.43 dividend. However in May of that same year the Western Pennsylvania Agricultural Society was incorporated with 400 shares at $50.00 each. Organizers included: Julius LeMoyne, Robert Carrons, A.G. Happer, R. D. Wylie and W. W. Hunter. With the $20,000 raised from shares, grounds were obtained in Tylerdale, at that time this section was still in the rural districts. The first fair was held there in the fall of 1885. Buildings were large and improvements made with no finer to be found at any fairgrounds in the state or in West Virginia or Ohio. In 1898 the Fair was held Sept. 20 to 23 with an admission of 25 cents per person or vehicle with Dr. Julius LeMoyne was listed as the Fair Secretary., This successful project continued for many years, gradual decline set in, with the final fair being held in Tylerdale in the fall of 1901.
After the stock was sold off in 1901, Washington was without a fair until the fall of 1911. In June 1911 the Washington Fair Association was chartered and the first fair exhibition was held at Arden Downs. Incorporated with $40,000 divided into 800 shares of $50 each. The first board of directors was composed of: H. S. Grayson, Ben M. Clark, W. H. Davis, John W. Warrick, H. T. Cochran, Dr. G. B. Dunkle and J. W. McKay all of Washington; James D. Callery, J. H. Moore and George W. Baum of Pittsburgh and H. L. Cockins of Canonsburg.
It was here that horse racing became essential at fairs in Washington County. The Hagan Stock farm at Arden was chosen to purchase, due to its excellent, already laid out, race track. The farm had been used for training and racing horses, with complete facilities for horse boarding year round.
The Fair Association secured the tract of 100 acres for $17,000, then spent another $20,000 in construction of stables and other needed buildings. There were two large horse barns; two cow barns; pens for 75 sheep and 50 hogs; a machinery hall; an exhibition hall; an office and bleachers to accommodate 2,500 people with a canvas cover. The old mansion on the grounds was used as a Ladies rest house, with a nurse in attendance. There was also a small building that few people ever saw, according to published accounts "it stands up the hollow from the racing stables. This is the jail. It was completed only yesterday and while not large will easily hold in check any one who may become obstreperous."" With 6 wells on the property water was fresh and plentiful. The estimates ran to 15,000 people attending the big day of the 1911 fair. Many of these came to the Fair by the Panhandle Railroad into the Arden Station. Pictures dated 1911 show a horse barn located on the site of the Malone Barn. So called because Mrs. Malone, who lived in a small house on the hill over-looking it, ran a boarding stable from it for many years. She was succeeded by Ralph Monk, who raised and trained Standard Bred horses there.
By 1912 the Washington County Fairgrounds were taxed to capacity. "it was announced today that every available foot of space in both the main and machinery halls had been taken with an insistent demand for more room being made continually. The capacity of the main hall has been increased 50 percent, but the increased accommodations do not begin to meet the demand for more space." The race lists show 150 entries for harness races and at least 25 running horses to be shown in competition, an unusually large number for fairs of this time.
The 1913 Fair Book states, "No teams or supply wagons will be allowed on the grounds unless holding a supply wagon privilege ticket admitting team and driver only. They must be on the grounds before 10 AM." and "All space renters will be required to keep their premises and space in a cleanly condition by removing there from any filth or litter and place in front of said space where the scavenger force of the Association may get it easily each morning and evening."", With a permanent home for the Fair, the Fair Association was able to concentrate its efforts on offering a wide variety of entertaining and educational contests and exhibits. For the first time Stock judging was offered. Ours was a progressive Fair, both boys and girls were allowed to compete in the Stock Judging Contest. The 39 boys and 1 girl judged: fine and coarse wool sheep, beef and dairy cattle, lard hogs and draft horses, all on the same day. For all of their work they were admitted to the grounds free. The winner of the Stock Judging Contest received a 13 week course at Pennsylvania State University donated by the Fair Assn.
In 1914 the Fair was held over the Fourth of July week. On July 3rd attendance was listed at 19,000 persons. Horse and mule racing was provided, a four day horse shoe pitching tournament was presented, a lime crushing demonstration was offered and the Stock Judging Contest became an annual event. There was a competition for loaves of bread baked by girls, not over 16, to encourage them to exhibit their homemaking skills. At that time contest winners were encouraged to parade premium stock around the track. On Democratic day a brass band was provided. Hot air balloon ascensions took place during several days of the fair that year. In an attempt to offer fewer lines and quicker entry, coin operated turnstiles were installed at the front gate to replace tickets. In a full page ad the fair Association maintained "Bring a 50 cent piece for each adult and a 25 cent piece for each child and deposit in Turnstile box. Follow this system and the crowds will mean nothing to you. A change booth will be placed at entrance for the convenience of those who find it necessary to make change.
At the fair held in 1917 DeLoyd Thompson, a professional aviator from Washington, gave the first exhibition of trick flying in an airplane ever witnessed in the county.
In 1926 a dog show was added to the Fair schedule. This was held in the W. H. Davis barn near the center and to the right side of the midway. For the only time, a National Champion dog, a Dalmatian owned by C. K. Lyon of Carnegie was shown at the Washington County Fair. At this time, pigeons were added to the poultry judging; auto and motorcycle racing was held in front of the grandstand and a Fireworks display was offered, as well.
The Fairgrounds has undergone many modifications and additions during the past 87 years. The present Draft Horse barn is one of the few original buildings still in existence on the grounds, it originally housed sheep. Sheep were shipped by rail from as far away as Xenia, Ohio for the Fair and unloaded at Arden Station. In the 1940's and 50's the Lions Club held horse shows in the infield show ring in front of the Grandstands, where the current 4-H Horse Show Ring is located.
The Junior Exhibit Building was erected and dedicated at the 1953 fair. Built on the former site of the poultry barn, it was financed entirely from donations of citizens, at a cost of $20,700. The earliest 4-H Horse and Pony Show was held at the Washington County Fair in 1960 in the old open show arena, there were 35 entries in 12 classes. This was replaced in 1977 by the covered Large Show arena.
Of the dairy barns, the Jersey Barn seems to be the oldest in style, with some people remembering how they pushed friends out of its square loft doors. Sometime in the early 1960's the Holstein Barn was erected on the site of the one-time Draft horse barn. The first market sale was not held until 1964, it was known as "The First Baby Beef Show and Sale". By 1965 this sale had extended to include sheep, offering fair goers "The Second Annual Baby Beef and Fat Lamb Show and Sale."
The existing cement block Pony Barn was erected in 1974 on the site of the former open type horse barn. The 4-H Horse Barn was erected in 1983 allowing all 4-H horses to be located in a single barn. Prior to this they had been housed in barns throughout the grounds.
The Victorian style Grandstand built in 1911-1912, seating 2,000 was demolished in 1985 after being used for 75 years. This was replaced by aluminum bleachers, seating 1500, that are still in use today.
The Floral Hall built in 1988, was built on the site of a former pig and goat barn which had burned down. Exhibit Hall 1 started out as a machine shed, then in the mid 60's a Holstein barn before it became the location of Home Economics/Crafts. Exhibit Hall 2 at one time was a horse barn.
The Pig Barn was built in the 50's originally as a barn for Ayshire cattle, by 1967 Angus cattle were being housed there. The pigs moved in sometime in the 1970's. Part of the Sheep Barn was used to house market steers. The present day Beef Barn was built in the late 1970's.
The current Fair Office was constructed in 1985, to replace a small crowded office that had been located on the lower side of the Junior Building. The time worn Main Exhibit Hall was torn down and replaced by a new Commercial Building which holds many commercial exhibits during the fair. Also in this building are new restrooms built in 1997 and it is used for different shows throughout the year. This is thought to be the previous site of the W. H. Davis Barn. The new stage was built in 1995 and the Silverdome was constructed in 1996 with a new stage in 1997.
For the past 200 years individuals have worked to make our fairs fun, educational, and worthwhile. A one price gate of $4.00 was started in 1983, this included all the rides, entertainment and all events held on the grounds, but due to rising costs in 1994, the one price gate became $6.00 and the gate was raised to $8.00 in 2001, and more recently to $9.00. New water lines and an electrical update were completed in 1995 and 1996. Into the 21st Century, two new buildings were added with an enclosed food court between them.
Our Fair Board has dedicated itself to making the Washington County Fair a growing and flourishing enterprise. With the aid of members of the agricultural community is can continue to be a showcase of Washington County Agriculture and continue on for another 200 years.