What we know as the Clarion County Fair wasn’t always what it started out as. In an effort to improve relations between the area’s merchants and farmers, community members organized a “gala one-day event”.
About 5,000 people turned out for the first picnic in 1938, which featured such events as a balloon-blowing contest, a potato race, a greased pig contest and a tug-of-war. The event was so successful that the organizers decided to keep it going.
The Farmers and Merchants Picnic was first inspired by the Harvest Home days when the park was known only as “Alcola.” The park was then owned by the Frank R. Johnson family, and in the 1930s, the Johnson interests sold the grounds to the Walter W. Craig Post of the American Legion in New Bethlehem.
During the Legion’s operation, the grandstand was erected, and the auditorium and pavilion were converted into the skating rink and dance floor. The pool was later added, and many of the original buildings are still in use. The old dance hall and club, which at one time housed the park’s merry-go-round, is now used as an arts and crafts display center.
The large grandstand is still an important part of the Fair, and structures housing the refreshment stands are still in use. In fact, the original cattle sheds are filled to capacity each year during Fair Week.
Throughout the years, the Farmers and Merchants Picnic included not only events at the American Legion Park, but in downtown New Bethlehem as well. Four days were spent at the park and three days in town. Teen dances were held at the New Bethlehem Fire Hall, bargain days at Newbie stores offered customers great deals, and a “giant” firemen’s parade was held along Broad Street.
By 1953 the Fair had expanded to three days from two and lasted Wednesday until Friday. Wednesday was dedicated to registration of animals and agricultural events, and Thursday featured many of the picnic’s main events.
It wasn’t until 1967 that the Fair was expanded to its current seven-day length, and in 1969, it was renamed the “Clarion County Fair.” About the same time, the park again changed names – this time to the Redbank Valley Municipal Park. A strong sense of community spirit and involvement have always been sources of pride for the Clarion County Fair. And through the years, the involvement of its many sponsors, committees, volunteers, and fairgoers, the sense of community is as strong as it was seven decades ago.