July 9, 2010
Fair brings back memories
CORTLANDVILLE— Chuck McEvoy has one poignant memory that stands out from past Cortland County fairs
In the 1940s, as a boy at the fair, McEvoy and friends took a bull from its holding pen and brought it out to impress burlesque dancers.
They were confronted by a deputy sheriff, who happened to be McEvoy’s father, Ken McEvoy. Deputy McEvoy told the boys to return the bull to the barn. The boys were let off with a verbal warning.
On Thursday, 16 people retold memories of the Cortland County Junior Fair and its predecessor, the Cortland County Fair during 30-minute interviews at this year’s fair, which runs through Saturday. The people who were interviewed had to be have been at least 9 years old by 1965, and participated in past fairs. This is the first time such interviews were held.
“There are so many people in this county who have done remarkable things and want their histories to be remembered,” said Marti Dumas, an organizer for the program.
Dumas, a trustee of the Cortland County Historical Society, said the interview at the fair is an extension of an ongoing oral history program at the historical society.
The society have been collecting memories from residents and publishing the memories as books. The books are sold at the society’s headquarters on Homer Avenue, Dumas said.
Interviews were conducted Thursday by Tom Dumas, Marti’s husband. Tom Dumas is the former executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Cortland County, cosponsor of the fair, along with the county Agricultural Corporation, also known as the Cortland County Junior Fair Board.
Jim Forshee, a local videographer and a retired Cortland High School teacher who formed the Cortland Video Club, used his personal video-recording equipment to record the interviews.
The historical society has not finalized what will be done with the video footage, said Marti Dumas. She did say that at least one copy of the interviews will be available at the society.
Tom Bell was 8 years old when he started attending the fair. Bell’s parents, Ruth and Rutherford Bell, were charter members of the junior fair, and their involvement inspired his own, Bell said.
“I’ve seen this (the junior fair) grow,” Bell recalled. He said now there are more buildings and a bathroom for participants.
Bell has served on the fair board and still participates with the fair by cutting the grass on the fairgrounds, a job he has done for 25 years, he said.
Bell said his most memorable moment at the fair was a water fight involving boys ages 8-18. Water was thrown from buckets and it was a fun time, Bell said.
“I probably started my fair share of them (water fights),” said a smiling Bell.
Tom Dumas said detailed historical information on the fair is not clear, but said the first official fair was hosted in about 1839 by The Eagle Tavern on Main Street in Cortland.
Other fairs had been held previously, but 1839 was the first official fair, said Dumas. The Cortland County Agricultural Society purchased the fairgrounds on Homer Avenue in Cortland around 1859.
The Cortland County Fair was held annually until 1953 when the Cortland County Agricultural Society sold most of the land to developers, said Dumas.
The original boundaries of the fairgrounds were Wheeler Avenue on the south, Fisher Avenue on the north and Homer Avenue on the east. The western boundary extended almost to Route 281.
In June 1954, a meeting held at the Homer fire station resolved to hold a junior fair at the Holstein Club property on what remained of the original fairgrounds.
The Junior Fair was first held in 1955 as an opportunity for children to show animals and qualify for competitions at the New York State Fair held just outside Syracuse.
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