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Collection Corner - Fair Plates

The fair has always been a time for the community to come together for a common goal of celebrating the agricultural community. It is through stories, writing, and artifacts that the history of this yearly event lives on. Through 1891, the fair grounds were located on what is now IUP’s campus. The 1871 Atlas depicts the grounds as the present site of Clark Hall, the Stapleton and Stabley Libraries, Waller Hall, and Fisher Auditorium. From 1878 to 1890, attendance reached 12,000 people. There were many complaints of not enough seats under the shade and lack of space for proper exhibiting. In 1890, fourteen passenger coaches arrived, carrying the largest amount of people ever brought into the town on a single train. In June 1891, an announcement was made that the Indiana County Agricultural Society purchased 40 acres of the Carter Farm for the new fairgrounds. The owners of the farm, H.M. Lowry and Gamble Fleming, were paid $100 per acre, or 4,000 total. Exhibits were still held at the old grounds this year, which was offered for sale to the highest bidder on the third day of the fair. Silas M. Clark acted on behalf of the Normal School, and won the bidding at the price of $8,600.

Each year, attendance numbers grew and more spectacles of entertainment were brought to town. By 1899, the Agricultural Society was $13,600 in debt. A.S. Cunningham was named a trustee. He held a mortgage on the fairgrounds, and provided each subscriber a proportional share. D.C. Mack, James McGregor, and M.F. Jamison were tasked to solicit subscriptions. Overall, they obtained $10,000, with the highest amount of $500 from each John P. Elkin and Harry White.

Many long-standing traditions continue to this day, which includes annual judging of entries in divisions such as baked goods, vegetables, sewing, livestock, and art. The Historical and Genealogical Society has in its collection a set of painted plates entered in the 1890 art division. One plate depicts three horses peeking out through their stable door with a loving and affectionate gaze. A small vine of ivy creeps into the top right hand side, which provides the viewer with a punch of unexpected color. With the blue ribbon still intact, viewers learn this attractive plate won “First Premium” at the 1890 Indiana County Fair. Additionally, there exists another painted plate with a portrait of a young girl, hair blown, with a gaze upwards to the viewer’s left. It is the eyes of both the horses and girl that identifies one specific painter’s style. No tags accompany this piece, and neither plate is attributable to an artist.

Take time to visit the Indiana County Fair happening August 26-September 2, 2023.

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