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The following history of the South Mountain Fair was written by an unknown author and gives the early history of the Fair up to 1976.

Two Churches Helped Form Basis For South Mountain Fair

The two Arendtsville churches are, probably more than any other organizations, the “fathers” of the South Mountain Fair. For a half century or more prior to 1920, the Sunday Schools of Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion United Church of Christ in Arendtsville had gotten together each summer for a picnic in Heiges’ Grove, along the Conewago Creek a mile north of town.

About 1920 it became known that Heiges’ Grove was for sale and a group of Arendtsville men, members of the Sunday School and churches, decided to band together to buy the grove. This grove was purchased and named “The Arendtsville Union Park”.

The claim was made in 1922 that the South Mountain Fair was an outgrowth of the Farmer’s Day, which once was one of the most popular annual events in Gettysburg. One of the prime movers in the origin of the Fair upon his return to the upper end of the county from a Farmer’s Day in Gettysburg remarked: “Why can’t we have a show in our end of the county?” An affirmative answer was quickly forthcoming. The committee who helped organize the Farmer’s Day proceeded with a plan to organize the South Mountain Fair.

With the land now owned by the Sunday Schools, it became in a sense the property of the community and when a group of men in the upper end of the county got together to establish the Fair, the “Arendtsville Union Park” seemed the obvious site.

The Gettysburg Times on September 27, 1922, printed the report of the first South Mountain Fair under the heading “County Fair Was Big Success”. The account follows:

“What the annual Fairs are to York and Hanover, what Farmers’ Day is to Gettysburg, the South Mountain Fair is destined to become to residents of the upper half of Adams County, if indications of the first gala event held Tuesday, can be used as a measure.

The success of the first annual exhibition at Arendtsville Union Park was unquestioned by those in charge of arrangements. From start to finish, the fair was all and more than the officials of the South Mountain Fair Association could wish.”

Tuesday was proclaimed a holiday for everybody in the townships of Butler, Menallen and Franklin and judging from the crowd assembled on the park grounds, residents there took advantage of the proclamation. The crowd during the afternoon of the first day was estimated at 2,000.

The fairground was divided into two sections by the baseball diamond. To the north of the diamond were tents which housed the exhibits of fruits, vegetables, bread and cakes, preserves, home canned goods, art and needlework. To the south of the baseball field were pens of hogs, the horses and cows, chickens and other livestock exhibits.
The speech of Mr. Fred Rasmussen, State Secretary of Agriculture, during the afternoon attracted a large number of listeners. He praised Adams County for its great strides in apple production and urged standardization of crops to secure the greatest yield from the greatest number of acres.

The baseball game during the afternoon drew scores of persons who lined themselves around the field to watch Arendtsville defeat Bendersville, 4 to 3. Shoap and Snyder were the battery for Arendtsville, while Bream and Stahle officiated on the mound and behind the bat for Bendersville.

Music during the afternoon was furnished by the Loysville Orphan’s Home Band. During the evening this band was augmented by the Mt. Joy Community Band when both rendered selections. Moving pictures were also a feature of the evening.

Displays of farm and orchard machinery, labor saving devices for use by the farm-wife, and automobiles, occupied a portion of the fairgrounds.

There was no money for premiums for the first year, but ribbons were given for the best displays. The only cash prizes given were for the awards for school youngsters. All grade schools in Butler, Franklin and Menallen Twps. and the boroughs of Arendtsville, Biglerville, and Bendersville, were asked to enter exhibits. Each school was asked to collect farm, orchard and garden products and exhibit them as a unit. First prize, $15 cash, second $10, third $5, fourth $2.50. Gettysburg National Bank contributed the prize money for this department.

It was not until midnight that the last light on the Arendtsville Union Park was extinguished and the first exhibition of the South Mountain Fair came to a close.

Mr. M.E. Knouse and Mr. Frederick E. Griest

Mr. M.E. Knouse was one of the driving forces behind the fair. Mr. Knouse in 1922, had been a storekeeper at Brysonia for 15 years when the first fair took roots. Mr. Frederick E. Griest was another who spurred the fair into existence. At that time, Mr. Griest was manager of 418 acres of orchards owned by his father, A.W. Griest, also a charter member of the Fair Association.

These men were quoted at the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Association in 1972, as saying, “the fair was put together on the spur of the moment because we felt it would be good for the community.” Mr. Knouse was president of the fair for about 40 years. The officers of the first fair were: M.E. Knouse, President; Roy Raffensperger, Vice President; Charles Hershey, Vice President; Edwin A. Rice, Secretary and general manager; Frederick E. Griest, Asst. Secretary; E. Dale Heiges, Treasurer.

Board of Directors were: Charles Hartman, Arthur Roberts, W.W. Boyer, H.J. Oyler, C.A. Griest, John W. Miller, P.S. Orner, Isaac Bucher, Harvey Knouse, and G.W. Koser.

Because the association was using the tents borrowed from the state, it was left without housing when Pennsylvania sold off its tents in 1924. So there were no fairs in 1924 and 1925. By 1926 the association had gotten together 100 guarantors who each signed notes of $100, and with the $10,000 thus raised, constructed the first permanent buildings which housed the fair for the first in 1926.

The Fair once provided guides for school children. In 1926 it was reported: “Because of the educational value of the fair as a whole, Adams County’s small army of nearly 10,000 school children has been invited to attend the fair on Wednesday afternoon as guests of the fair association. Children going to the fair in groups will find guides in attendance to conduct them through the various buildings, explaining the educational features and in other ways trying to make their visit pleasant.” School children have been admitted free to the fair ever since that day.

Events of 1926

A big event at the South Mountain Fair in 1926 was the horse pulling contest. Penn State specialists brought a “dynamometer” to test the pull of the teams of mules and horses which took part. Winners were in the heavyweight class, the team of Oscar Rice, Biglerville; middleweight class, Guy McBeth, Brysonia; Charles Hartman, Biglerville in the lightweight class. Also in 1926, probably the most unusual “feature” of the fair was the arrangement made by Wilbur Baker, proprietor of Baker’s Battery Service Station, Baltimore St., Gettysburg, with officials of the fair to install a loudspeaker of extraordinary strength to broadcast the heavyweight championship fight of Dempsey-Tunney being fought in Philadelphia ‘punch for punch’. The newspaper report read “In securing this additional feature, the entertainment committee of the fair, headed by Luther Lady, feels that it has accomplished a stroke of rare merit.”

The Fair Grows

In 1928 besides free entertainment, rides were obtained. A merry-go-round, ferris wheel, chairplane, shooting gallery, “high strikers”, other devices and an ice cream concession were added.

The fair continued year after year until 1930. On August 7 of that year, Secretary A.D. Sheely sadly announced that because of the drought, which had extended for 35 days up to that time, there would be no fair.

Each succeeding year, however, starting in 1931, the fair was held until 1941. Plans had been completed for the 1941 fair, but it was called off, just a few weeks before fair time, because of the polio epidemic at that time.

In 1941 it was assumed the fair would resume the next year, but World War II intervened, and it was not until 1948 that the exposition was able to continue. At that time new buildings were constructed with 262 guarantors each signing notes for $100 in order to provide a basic capital of $26,200.

Memorial Auditorium

When the South Mountain Fair resumed after World War II, one of the greatest needs was an auditorium. Members of the fair association and other residents of the upper end of the county worked long days to construct the building which was dedicated in 1948 as a “Living Memorial” to the World War II men from Adams County who died in service. It has served both the fair and all types of activities during the intervening years which included temporary facilities for the Fairfield Shoe Factory and Biglerville High School commencement exercises. Since 1948 the fair has continued annually without interruption.

Additional major construction following the completion of the Auditorium was discontinued, mainly due to lack of sufficient funds, until 1966-67 when a large sheet , metal exhibit building replaced approximately four old wooden exhibit buildings. This new exhibit building houses the following Fair Departments: (1) Dept. 10 4-H and Vocational; (2) Dept. 13, Vegetables; (3) Dept. 15, Home and Dairy Products; (4) Dept. 17, Floral Exhibits; (5) Dept. 18, Needlecraft; (6) Dept. 19, Art, Photography, Crafts.

The construction of this sheet metal exhibit building was greatly needed by the Fair Association, mainly due to the vast increase in the yearly number of Fair exhibitors for the many premiums offered during the annual South Mountain Fair in September.

A disastrous wind storm inn April, 1975, ripped out numerous trees throughtout the Fairgrounds, and completely wrecked the electric system. The Board of Directors promptly began advance repair plans – (1) The decision to put in permanent electric connections throughout the fairgrounds; a project entailing nearly $45,000 over a five-year period, or longer, (2) The construction of a new Commercial Exhibit Building – to house upwards of 20 additional exhibitors.

1976 found the Adams County Beef Breeders Association proposing to the Board of Directors of the Fair that an additional Beef Barn be erected to alleviate the demand for their planned exhibit capacity. The association is now working in close cooperation with the Fair Board to bring this new Beef Barn into being as a greatly needed facility in the Cattle Entry Departments.

The Fair Fund Section, Bureau of Markets, Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, supplies requested Pennsylvania Fair Funds in compliance with Act of the General Assembly No. 728, approved      December 22, 1959. These funds have kept our South Mountain Fair in yearly operation – being duly classified as a Class “A” Fair.

Thus through this chain of events the Sunday School Picnics have evolved into one of Adams County’s finest fairs.

Officers of the Fair Association, 1976

Earl F. Noel……………………………President
Elliott E. Schlosser……………….Vice President
G. David Bushman…………………Secretary-Treasurer

Board of Directors

Mrs. Richard B. Trostel           Glenn Hoke
Mrs. Orville G. McBeth            Donald Rouzer
Mrs. Vernard F. Group            Elson C. Grim
George Schriver                    Dale E. Ecker
Rowe Martin                         Sterling M. Kint
Glenn F. Kime                       Donald G. Kuhn
Guy W. Beamer


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