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A Tradition Growing Since 1853

Traditions. Spencer County is steeped in them, from its rich legacy of Abraham Lincoln sites to the fertile farms that have supported families and communities across the county for 200 years. Throw in a deep sense of community togetherness and the love of a good time, and you have the recipe for a great county fair.

And, oh, how Spencer Countians LOVE their fair!

For more than168 years, Spencer Countians have come, on foot, on horseback, in paddle wheelers and even new-fangled driverless carriages, to Rockport for a fantastic fair packed with shows, horseracing, feats of human strength, rides, games and food … everything you’d expect from any good county fair.

And only Spencer County has a fair older than any other Indiana county.

According to a history of the fair compiled by Nancy and Jan Fulks of Rockport, the fair’s roots go back to 1853, when a group of Spencer County farmers and merchants formed the Spencer County Agriculture Society. The group decided that the growing county and its agricultural community needed an avenue to show off their work. The Ag Society held the first Spencer County Fair the week of Nov. 17, 1853.

There’s been a fair pretty much ever since, save a few years during the Civil War when the fairgrounds in Rockport was being used for military drills so fair events were limited. While today’s fair offers something for all ages, many of the fairs of yesteryear were geared toward adults. People from across the county, and surrounding communities, would don their Sunday best and set off for Rockport. Women entered baked and canned goods, sewing projects, even flower displays and various garden produce. Men showed off prize farm animals, new machinery, gadgets they made to solve some farming problem and crops, such as burley tobacco. It became THE summer event.

The fair’s location has changed often over the decades. The first event was held along Silverdale Road, just outside of the city. In 1879, the fair suffered a seven-year hiatus with the fair moving to various locations as several groups jostled where the fair should be held. It even moved to Chrisney after J.B. Chrisney became a board member.

But the county fair soon moved back to the county’s seat and the board wanted a larger piece of land on which they could build a racetrack. The current fairgrounds site was purchased and a half-mile dirt track constructed for a then whopping sum of $600. The new track allowed for races and horse shows with both men and women competing in events.

An impressive wooden grandstand, providing a shaded view for huge crowds, was constructed in 1887 and while gone now, remains vivid in the memory of many who attended fairs of old. Today, a viewing stand, originally constructed a century ago and renovated by the fair board in 2001, still remains.

The Spencer County Fair became known as “Indiana’s Little State Fair” with attractions showcasing the technological advances of the nation. Hot-air balloons and parachutists awed crowds in1887 with hot air from a fire pumped into the large balloons. Other fairs included the first driverless carriages – in 1900, using a battery for power. Early gasoline-powered cars would soon arrive, transitioning the fair from the horse drawn buggy days. Years later, airplane daredevils and wing walkers thrilled crowds from the skies. Acrobats, aerialists and the occasional circus acts with an elephant or tiger would appear. The fair grew quickly, became famous, or slightly infamous, for occasional gambling and burlesque shows that were racy for their day. For lads from the country, the Spencer County Fair became a can’t-miss event.

The 1950’s ushered in wildly popular motorsport exhibitions, including motorcycle feats, the Lynch “Death Dodgers” and Joey Chitwood’s Thrill Show. In the late 60’s and early 70’s demolition derbies were incorporated into the Spencer County Fair schedule and have continued to grow over the years, attracting patrons and participants from the Tri-State area.

In 2004 on the eve of its 150th Sesquicentennial Celebration the Spencer County Fair unfortunately was forced to leave its beloved home in the Rockport City Park due to infrastructure failure and outdated electrical facilities. With their future in question the fair’s plight became the focus of many concerned citizens in the community . . . Enter American Electric Power who volunteered the use of Honey Creek Farms for the celebration until a solution could be reached. In 2005 a 30 acre tract of land was gifted by American Electric to insure the preservation of “Indiana’s Longest Running County Fair” which has continued its development into a first class multi-functional facility with the capacity to host a variety of Tri-State events.

In 2016, however, at the invitation of then Rockport Mayor Gay Ann Harney the decision was made to move the county fair event back to the newly renovated Rockport city park. The fair returned in grand fashion with overwhelming crowds as the community clearly hadn’t forgotten their fond memories and fun times at the fair!!

Nearly 170 yrs. after that first modest event, the Spencer County Fair continues to bring people together. Many still come on foot from Rockport neighborhoods where the fair has been a time-honored tradition. Others continue to make their pilgrimage from across Spencer County and the Tri-State for regional event favorites. One thing is for certain, “Indiana’s Longest Running County Fair” is a tradition we can ALL be proud of!

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