In search of proof that York Fair is nation’s oldest

A historical marker near the York Fairgrounds states that the York Fair is the oldest such event in America.
So does a York Fair mural on the side of the East Market Street parking garage. (The widest of all the murals at 120 feet.)
And occasionally the claim will find its way into print, as it did in the York Daily Record on Friday.
The problem is that it’s a hard claim to pin down. Two of the oldest York County histories — Gibson’s and Prowell’s — just tell about its founding in 1765… .


The best work so far, by the York Daily Record’s Mike Argento, found a fair in Fredericksburg, Va., dating back to 1738.

In fact, the fallback claim that it’s the oldest continuously operating fair in America is even less grounded.
For about 30 years in the first half of the 19th century, the fair did not operate because the annual event had turned into a place for mischief. In 1815, a man was killed at the fair.
Readers and researchers are welcome to put forth a citation marking it as the nation’s oldest. For now, an excerpted fair history from “Never to be Forgotten” gives a summary, sans the oldest claim:

The York Inter-State Fair dates its origin from a charter issued by the Penn proprietors in 1765 for two annual fairs. Meanwhile, Wednesday and Saturday markets were authorized in York in 1767. The demand for a fair and farmers markets suggests that county growers are producing more goods than needed to feed their families within 30 years after the county is settled. It also points to sufficient population growth, from settlers continuing their westward march, to create a demand for these goods. The fairs ended after 1815 because of the slaying of Robert Dunn. Three men were convicted of manslaughter in Dunn’s death, and a grand jury declared such fairs a public nuisance. Time passed, and the York County Agricultural Society took over the fair in 1853. It has returned on an annual basis since then, except for two years. The fair was held near East King and South Queen streets from 1856 to 1887 and moved to its present ground the next year. The annual event moved from October to September in 1942. In 1876, the whole family could attend the fair for $1. Single admission was 25 cents. Carriages could enter for $1… .

And here’s a sampling of past York Fair posts:
Teddy Roosevelt at the York Fair: ‘I know York county farmers are prosperous. Their barns are bigger than their houses’.
This York Fair mural is fading from sight .
Good old days at the York Fair were at least old.
JFK received grand applause at York Fair visit.
Young curators produce York Fair exhibit: ‘A Fair of Our Own’.
All’s Fair blog gives all kinds of insight about York Fair.
Both Yanks, Rebs camped at old York Fairgrounds.
‘The lower she sank in her chair’.
‘The lower she sank in her chair’.
In search of proof that York Fair is America’s oldest.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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