Many are now wending their way this week to Greenwich to attend the oldest chartered agricultural county fair in the Northeast. It also has the distinction of having the largest agricultural machinery display in New York State, second only to that of the New York State Fair.
One booth will be identified by its sign: Washington County Bicentennial 1975-1980. In it will be stressed arts and crafts of the County’s communities. Whitehall’s contribution this year is the Senior Citizens’ historical quilt with 48 blocks containing appliquéd and embroidered pictures and signs of Whitehall. Whitehall has long had displays at the county fair, especially those of the two Granges and the 4-H in the Grange Hall.
What about the very early years of this oldest chartered fair? Like many Organiza-tions it had its forerunner. In December, 1818, a group of interested citizens met at the Sandy Hill (Hudson Fa11s) Court House with the Hon. Asa Fitch, father of the historian, in the chair. They decided to form a constitu tion for an agricultural society and made a plan for its constitution. The first item of business was a plan to protect its members from horse thieves, Two months later, February, 1819, at the home of Joseph Rouse in Argyle, 40 members signed the constitution. Melanction Wheeler was the signer for Whitehall.
Wake up” meetings were held in various towns for the ‘Farmers’ Holiday” as they were called; really friendly gatherings for one day. In September, Whitehall Wiswell’s Tavern hosted this town’s fair.
During the following years special events were held. In 1822 there was a plowing match with the plowers in white frocks and spears of wheat in their hats. In 1825 in Union Village (Greenwich) five dollars was awarded to the female who shall appear in full dress, as far as practicable, of her own domestic manufacture.”
In 1826 in Argyle first place was given to one who could plow 1/8 of an acre in the best manner, turning a furrow four to five inches wide and nine to eleven inches deep in less than 45 minutes with horses or 60 minutes with oxen. One year a prize was given to a lady equestrienne but it was discontinued because more attention was paid to that than to the animals and produce.
On 4 August 1842 the Washington County Agricultural society was organized. This year it was held in Greenwich and for the first time the interest the ladies participated in the events of the day was noted in 1843. In I844 at Greenwich a subsoil plow was exhibited.
The fairs were now rotated from town to town, the choice being the town that would donate the most money. In 1848 the 8th annual Fair and Cattle Show was held in Argyle. The report of the New York State Agricultural society for 1849 stated that the annual meeting of the society was held at Phoenix Hotel in Whitehall with John H. Boyd president. Unfortunately the report of the county fair was not given, though awards were made to Isaac Wood for 373/4 bushels per acre of wheat, to Nathan Jackson for corn, 92 bushels, and to Andrew Wilson for corn, 91 bushels, all of Whitehall.
In 1860 there was a three day fair because of the Civil War. The fair was omitted in the next two years. In 1863 Salem promised to furnish ground and buildings if the fair would be held there regularly for eight years. In 1865 the fair continued for four days and Horace Greeley was the speaker. A main feature at all the early fairs was an oration.
This year prizes were offered for the fastest trotting horses. In 1971 an agreement was made for the next ten years for the fair to be held on ground between Sandy Hill and Fort Edward with the society receiving the benefit of 25 acres of ground, the buildings, and $2500 bonus. Thus were the seeds of the present Washington County Agricultural Fair sown.
Doris B. Morton, Town Historian – The Whitehall Times – August 21, 1975