The Erie County Fair is a fair held in Hamburg in Erie County, New York every August. Based on 2014 attendance statistics, The Erie County Fair is the largest fair in New York and the third largest county fair in the United States, often drawing over one million in attendance.
The first Erie County Fair was held in 1820, and was hosted by the Niagara County Agricultural Society. The fair is third largest county fair in the USA with the 2014 fair setting an attendance record of 1,220,101.
The 2016 fair will run from August 10-21.
The 2017 fair will run from August 9-20.
The Erie County Agricultural Society is a private, not for profit membership corporation established in 1819, then called the Niagara County Horticultural Society. It held its first fair in 1820 on what is now the site of the Donovan Office Building in Buffalo. One year later, Niagara County split into Erie and Niagara Counties, and so did the agricultural society. The Erie County Agricultural Society is the oldest civic, community member organization in Erie County. The only time in the history of the fair where the event was not held was 1943 during World War II due to rationing of supplies for the war effort. The fair was briefly renamed America's Fair during the early to mid-2000s in an effort to expand the fair beyond Erie County; it has since been renamed the Erie County Fair. 2014 marked the 175th edition of the fair, and was celebrated with special events including a high wire walk by Nik Wallenda.
The region’s first agricultural society was founded in 1819 with the goal of sponsoring a county fair to promote education and competition among farmers. This goal was realized when the first fairs were held on the Buffalo waterfront in 1820 and 1821. Dr. Cyrenius Chapin, one of Buffalo’s most active energetic pioneers was elected President for the fledgling organization. The location was near Terrace and Main Streets, the current site of One Canalside (2014). Enthusiasm for the annual “Farmer’s Holiday” was shortcut when local farmers lost interest due to poor travel conditions, a downturn in the economy and the community’s collective focus on the building of the Erie Canal. With the opening of the Canal in 1825, the Village of Buffalo quickly grew in size and economic stature becoming a city in 1832. After not holding a fair from 1822 through 1840, The Erie County Agricultural Society was re-activated in 1841 and sponsored a Fair held at Lafayette Square on the grounds of the Erie County Court House. So earnest were their endeavors that only once since 1841 has a year passed without a Fair. In 1943 the Fair was postponed due to World War II rationing of gasoline and other vital commodities.
The Fair would be held within the Buffalo city-limits until 1849 at which time urban expansion facilitated a move to a country location for the Fair. 1850 marked the first year that the Fair was held outside of the City of Buffalo making its debut in the Village of Aurora. Lancaster hosted the Fair September 9 and 10, 1851. Fairgoers were able to take specially scheduled trains for a fare of .25 cents from Buffalo at 9:30a & 12:30a and returning from Lancaster at 1p and 5p. 1852 saw the Fair held in East Hamburgh, now Orchard Park. The 1853 Fair was held on the enclosed grounds at Cold Spring October 7 & 8. The Fair returned to Aurora in 1854 and 1855.
The year 1855 was distinguished by two important circumstances in the history of the Ag society. First it was then for the first time, that admission fee of 12 ½ cents was imposed. Secondly, it was the year that famed newspaper editor and once candidate for President Horace Greeley spoke as a main attraction. Greeley is noted for his famous admonition, “Go west, young man, go west!” His speech at the Fair was a practical talk – on drainage, the use of tile and the canning of fruit which was just coming into vogue. An act of the State Legislature in April 1855 provided for the more thorough organization of Agricultural Societies. At a meeting of the Society, the group was technically dissolved and immediately reorganized under the act.
The Agricultural Society leased, for the term of ten years, a lot near the Indian Church which is now called Indian Church Road in South Buffalo near West Seneca and held its fair on September 26-26, 1856. In 1862, the minutes speak of holding the fair on the Society’s grounds near Whitmore’s tavern. As no record of a change of location can be found, this must refer to the grounds near the Indian Church. But in 1863 the site was evidently change and a committee was appointed to locate a site nearer the city on the premise that it would then be to the Society’s interests and more acceptable to the citizens of Buffalo. In 1865, under the direction of Hiram White, the fair was held on the half-mile track at Cold Springs.
At a meeting held in September 1865 a resolution was passed to hold the fair in the town fitting up the necessary grounds and offering the best pecuniary inducements. At the annual meeting on January 10, 1866, an informal ballot upon the location of the next fair was taken. Springville received 38 and Aurora 13 votes, in consequence of which the fair that year was held at Springville on the grounds of the Union Agricultural Society. The Fair’s nomadic ways would soon end as after the 1867 Springville Fair, the Agricultural Society would receive an offer that would change its history forever.
On January 9, 1868, Luther Titus of Hamburg went to the annual meeting at Springville and offered on behalf of the Hamburg Driving Park Association the use of its new half-mile track and grounds with office buildings and seats, free of charge for holding the next annual fair. By a vote of 18 to 17, the Fair moved to Hamburg and held its first exposition in 1868.
In the year 1881, the society purchased it first acres of land from Maria and Naomi Clark and George M. Pierce which is the present site of the Society’s ground and the original site of the Hamburg Driving Park Association. Now with its own land, the Society began to develop the property into its permanent home.
The Erie County Agricultural Society held annual Fairs from 1841 through 1855. In 1856, the original Society was reorganized under a State legislative act and the Fair held in 1856 was again given the number “one.” In 1937, the Board of Managers took action to incorporate the first 15 fairs plus one fair added to the count that was held in conjunction with the New York State Fair in 1856. In 1937, the 97th Fair was held. No fair was held in 1943 due to WWII. In 1963, after the pioneer fairs of 1820 & 1821 were fully documented, their numbers were to the official numbering system making the 1964 fair the 125th. In 2014, the Erie County Agricultural Society held its 175th Fair.
In 1885, two brothers from Akron, Ohio named Frank and Charles Menches were vendors at the Erie County Fair. Unfortunately, during the fair, the Menches brothers’ ran out of pork for their sausages. The brothers went to a local butcher shop in town to get more sausage but were turned back because they did not have any more pork and would not slaughter any more because it was too hot on that August day. As the story goes, Charles was forced to buy ground beef knowing very well that few would buy it if they knew what it was. So, he took it back to his booth, rolled the ground beef into a patty, plopped it onto a hot-iron skillet and cooked it on an radiating cast-iron stove. The result? Something that resembled a hockey puck. So, he found the old coffee pot and decided to start mixing together some items like coffee, brown sugar and other household ingredients with another patty of ground beef. Then, he took that patty and put it down on the black-iron skillet. The brothers placed the patty between two pieces of bread and served it to the gentleman who took one bite and said, “This is good!! What do you call it?” Frank looked up at the fair’s banner and replied, “It’s called a ‘hamburg.’”
1820-1821 Buffalo (Main/Terrace; current site of Canalside One) 1841 Buffalo (Court House Grounds/Lafayette Square) 1842 Buffalo (Ebenezer Johnson Property/Delaware Ave) 1850 Aurora 1851 Lancaster 1852 East Hamburgh (Orchard Park) 1853 Cold Springs 1854 Aurora 1855 East Hamburgh (Orchard Park) 1856-1864 South Buffalo/West Seneca (Indian Church Road) 1865 Buffalo (Cold Springs) 1866 Springville (Dygert Farm) 1867 Springville (Union Fairgrounds) 1868 Hamburg (Current site)
Beginning in the 1990s, fairs had themes. Recent themes include:
2015- It's Our Fair
2014- Growing Strong
2013- Experience it
2012- Wild About the Fair
2011- Red, White, and You
2010- Fair Fever
2009- Summer Love a Fair