In 1886, the Shenandoah County Agricultural Society organized an event for the purposes of showcasing area agricultural, horticultural and commercial products. A newspaper article lists the dates of the 1887 fair as being October 4 - 7th. That article goes on to say that all trains stop within a few hundred yards of the gates, and Hack lines will run from the center of town. Entertainment including horse racing of every description is listed as the main program on the grandstands, with lady bareback riders, chariot races and riding on two horses as a team. These are some of the first known records of the fair happenings. Unfortunately, not enough interest was generated in the project and it fizzled sometime in 1915.
In early 1916, a group of local farmers and businessmen got together to again attempt to put on a showcase of area farming. Some of the farmers and businessmen had traveled to other fairs in Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland. They felt that Shenandoah County would benefit from the same type of event. It was decided that 420 shares of capitol stock would be sold to raise money to start this venture. At that time, there were 338 original stockholders. The first meeting of these stockholders was held on December 1, 1916. It was said to be a large and enthusiastic gathering of said subscribers this day in the court house. Officers and Directors were appointed and a committee was appointed to purchase and secure grounds for the association.
In early 1917, Dr. J. H. Smoot acquired 25 acres, originally owned by the Shenandoah County Agricultural Society. Dr. Smoot then sold the property to the Shenandoah County Fair Association. The first Shenandoah County Fair was held October 16 - 19, 1917. At that time the President of the Association was requested to appear before the Board of Supervisors of the County and ask them to improve the roads leading to the fairgrounds from the Valley turnpike. In the meetings to follow, department heads were appointed and entertainment was secured. Admission prices for the first fair were: Single Admission $.50 and Season Tickets $1.00. Thursday was always known as family day. Local businesses closed at Noon and families came to the fair with their packed lunches and enjoyed afternoon picnics under the trees followed by evening entertainment in the grandstands. The first radio advertising for the fair occurred in 1941, and they had a budget of $20.00. These advertising dollars were to be spent at the radio stations in Harrisonburg and Winchester. As a result of relief efforts during World War II, no fair was held in 1943 and 1944.
Over the years, the fair has acquired more land and has grown to fit the needs of our community. Currently we have approximately 68 acres and 365 stockholders. Our Board of Directors is made up of 14 volunteer stockholders. These volunteers give countless hours of their own time to organizing and preparing each years fair.
An entertainment committee plans and coordinates our entertainment each year with a booking agency. Throughout the years, that booking agency has been able to provide a lot of insight into what types of entertainment are popular in our area. Each year we strive to provide equal or better entertainment than the years before. The fair has had quite an array of entertainment over the years. High-wire acts and bicycle racing were some of the earlier entertainment. In 1948 the Eastern Roadster Association put on automobile races on the racetrack. It is said that only 2 races took place, as the cars were not able to make the turns very well and some went through the fences at the livestock barns. In that same year, a decision was made to allow the sale of beer on the grounds. Times have changed, and alcohol is no longer served or allowed on our grounds. Throughout the years we have grown, but our goals remain the same. We strive to provide quality entertainment for the whole family while providing a venue for area farmers and businessmen to showcase their various products.
The fair is a main promotional tool for area agriculture and business. Local not-for-profit groups such as Churches, the Lions Clubs, Ruritans, and others raise a significant portion of their annual revenue at the fair. Youth programs such as FFA and 4-H, whose budgets have been drastically cut, directly need the fairs financial support. In order to offer award incentives in the form of competitive premiums to our exhibitors, the fair must seek community support. Last year we had over 5,000 entries in the various livestock, home arts and horticulture departments. The fair works closely with the County Extension Office and the local FFA chapters to promote continuous participation among the youth in our community.