In 1846, the Clark and Madison County Agricultural Society was organized. Fairs were held alternately in South Charleston and London. The last fair of this combined effort was held Oct. 6-8, 1852, in London. On Nov. 13, 1852, the following agricultural notice was published in the Madison Reveille: “We, the undersigned citizens of Madison County, are in favor of calling a county convention, for the purpose of organizing a county agricultural society, within and for Madison County, separate and apart from Clark County; and recommend such convention be held Saturday, the 20th day of November, 1852.”
The notice was signed by 38 citizens of Madison County. In response to this call, a large and enthusiastic meeting of farmers, mechanics and businessmen took place Nov. 20, 1852, in London. It was explained in the meeting that the object was to dissolve the connection which had existed with Clark County in an agricultural society and to organize such a society for Madison County alone. The necessity of such a course was due to the fact that the fairs were held in Clark County “except occasionally by special favors, and by private individuals at London defraying certain expenses.” Consequently, a large portion of Madison County was excluded from its benefits by being so remote from the point where the fairs were held. It was noted in the meeting that Madison County contained the elements “within herself” to produce the best agricultural exhibitions of any county in the state. It was resolved to proceed to organize a Madison County Agricultural Society and elect officers for president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary, and five directors. The first board of the society consisted of: President, Richard Cowling; Vice-President, Dr. J. Strutson; Treasurer, John Rouse; Secretary, W. H. Creighton; with John H. Findlay, John T. Maxey, John G. Dun, Jesse Watson, and Jonathon Farrar serving as directors. The first fair of the Madison County Agricultural Society took place on Sept. 28-29, 1853, in London. The day prior to the opening of the fair the sale of the imported thoroughbred stock, brought from Europe a short time before, took place and gave the newly formed agricultural society something it could not have received in any other way. Hundreds of leading stock men attended the sale and remained to attend the fair. This fair proved to be a great success. In September 1854, the agricultural society purchased “eight acres and eighty perches of land” paying $425. The fairs were held at this site for 14 years. The last exhibition at that site was held Sept. 18-20, 1867.
There were many causes which led to the abandonment of the fairs. The principal cause appeared to be due to the rapid growth of the Madison County stock sales. At that time, and for years, these were the glory and pride of this portion of Ohio. The county needed no annual fair since it conducted one every month. The Madison County Agricultural Society, however, continued to exist. The first steps toward reviving the county fairs involved the organization of the London Driving-Park Association. This organization formed early in 1883. On March 23, 1883 a contract was given to construct a half-mile track at $339. During the spring of this year, local newspapers began discussing the revival of the county fairs. There were two successful race programs held; the first on July 4, 1883, and the second on Aug. 8, 1863. The Democrat printed the following article March 4, 1885: “We, the undersigned citizens of Madison County, are in favor of calling a county convention for the purpose of organizing a county agricultural society within and for Madison County, Ohio, and recommend that said convention be held at the courthouse in London on Saturday, the fourteenth day of March, 1885, and respectfully invite all persons interested to attend said convention.” The notice was signed by 150 of the most prominent citizens of the county. It is recorded that on Jan. 5, 1886, the Madison County Agricultural Society met and elected officers. At a meeting of the board of directors on Jan. 15, 1886, it was decided to sell the old fairgrounds and secure new grounds. A committee was appointed to purchase or lease new grounds and a second committee was appointed to prepare a premium list. For reasons unknown no fair was held in that year. In January of 1887, the president of the Madison County Agricultural Society met with the directors of the London Driving-Park Association and submitted a proposal to conduct a county fair on the grounds held by the London Driving-Park Association by either leasing, purchasing or “borrowing” the land. The proposition to purchase the land was favorably considered by the Driving-Park Association since the association was in poor financial shape. The hope for a fair that year, though, was dashed by the county commissioners, who refused to accept a quit-claim deed for the old fairgrounds from the Madison County Agricultural Society in the belief that the society had abandoned the grounds. On Nov. 9, 1889, a meeting of the agricultural society took place at the courthouse and interest was revived in a proposed fair. On April 14, 1890, the society held a meeting on the matter of leasing and buying ground adjacent to the old fairgrounds on North Elm Street (the current site of the fair). The land was obtained and local horse fanciers agreed to build a track at their own expense. The state board of agriculture placed Madison County in the Ohio Valley circuit and fixed the time for their fair for the week including Sept. 1-5, 1890. On April 30, 1890, the village council of London voted to give $500 to the agricultural society to pay for improvements to the grounds. The county commissioners donated $2,000 to assist in putting up buildings for the fair.
A dairy showmanship trophy from the 1958 Madison County Fair, courtesy of Todd Kitchen
The fair was a success with a crowd estimated at 12,000 attending on Thursday of the fair. Rain prevented races on Friday so the agricultural society decided to extend the fair another day. The Madison County Agricultural Society has continued to present an annual fair at the fairgrounds since this time. The results have varied over the years. On May 19, 1900, the county commissioners directed the directors of the society to extend the fairgrounds and make improvements, not to exceed $8,000. This came about as a result of the law passed April 14, 1900, by the Legislature. The article printed in the Madison County Democrat read: “By authority of a law passed April 14 by the Legislature, the Madison County Board of Commissioners met last Saturday, as per notice published in the weekly papers, to consider the resolution asking for the extension and improvement of the grounds prayed for by the Madison County Agricultural Society. The fairboard has been leasing for 10 years at $400 per year the greater part of the ground used for fair purposes and the lease having expired and it being necessary to order to conduct a successful agricultural fair, to own the grounds which should be commodious, the board asked the county commissioners to consider the application favorably. The commissioners, after carefully considering the matter gave the agricultural society the right to acquire by purchase or condemnation additional real estate for the improvement of the grounds, including the grounds now owned and such as shall be acquired, providing the improvement shall not exceed $8,000.” On Sept. 3, 1900, the society board bought 26.5 acres for $3,478.12. In October of 1900, the society purchased 11 and thirty-eight one-hundredths acres for $150 per acre. With these land purchases and the 8 acres already owned, the agricultural society had a fairground of about 45 acres. A new track was laid out and built that year. This is the same track in use today. In 1901, many buildings were repaired and remodeled and a new grandstand was erected. This grandstand would hold 2,800 people and is the same one on the grounds today. In 2014, the Madison County Fair celebrated its 125th year by sprucing up the grounds, renovating the Della Selsor Building and dedicating two new buildings. The new Coughlin Automotive Community Center and the Eby Youth Arena — which were built through the efforts of Madison County residents, area businesses, the county commissioners and the Madison County Junior Fair Sale Committee — are the start of a revival for the fairgrounds. The Beck’s Swine Barn and Franklin Equipment Building were finished in time for the 2015 fair.
Since 2015 even more upgrades have happened on the grounds and more are planned for 2018!