Some different fare for 1877 event
The Chautauqua County Fair, more than one century ago, was relatively simple and presented a very different scene from ours today. However, it was just as much prepared for and anticipated as it is now.
Simple though it may have been, we have still preserved the basic elements that made it such a popular event even then.
The locale of the county fair of Sept. 19, 1877, was on the outskirts of Jamestown and it was reported in advance that the road leading to the grounds was “in splendid” condition, being hard, well-graded and with no dust.
The opening day dawned with good weather, and people arrived early from all parts of the county. At the general superintendent’s office, entries were being accepted from a throng of exhibitors. Generally considered the most handsomely decorated building on the grounds was Floral Hall, which consisted of three rooms.
Room one was heavily decorated in the most prevalent Victorian decor. Overhead evergreen arches reached from side to side of the room, from which hanging baskets of flowers and birdcages were suspended.
On a long table down the middle of the room was an aquarium surrounded by flowers. At the head of the table reposed a giant pyramid of evergreens, mosses and fruits, crowned above by a large bell made of crabapples with a bunch of grapes for a clapper. The rest of the room was taken up with furniture from D.C. Comstock’s warehouse, books, stationery, crayon pictures from Ellington, and women’s needlework such as bed quilts, shawls, antimacassars (doilies or covers for the backs and arms of chairs), bonnets, etc.
Room two, devoted to art exhibits, was octagon shaped, finely wall-papered and lighted by a new innovation – glass in the roof. Oil paintings and steel engravings completely covered the walls. A table down the center of the room held bronzes, old china, French and Chinese porcelain, Japanese ware, “pumpkin” lamps, etc.
Room three featured, on one side, Charles Baker’s ornamental woodwork, namely brackets, birdcages, fruit and cake baskets and carved texts. On the other side of the room were paintings, drawings, and examples of taxidermy.
On leaving Floral Hall, the visitors proceeded down to the race course, past the grandstand with cider vendors and games of chance, and found themselves in Mechanics Hall. Here the exhibits included stoves, hardware and an ornate hearse from H.G. Comstock’s store. There were also wagons, carriages, tools and looms from Hall and Turner’s Alpaca Works, a printing press and a machine for making chair seats.
Displayed around the building outside were grouped plows, harrows, drags, threshing machines and a hay loader from Meadville, Pa. Steam power for these exhibits was provided by a Canton Monitor engine.
The next and last building, Dairy Hall, had fruit, vegetable, and pastry displays, native wines and Jamestown bottled beer. Among the vegetables was a head of cabbage described as being large enough to be “a tight fit in a washtub.”
Two hundred entries of poultry, including game cocks (fighting roosters, outlawed today) were located at the far end of the grounds and completed the 2,000 exhibits.
Highlights at the fair were the baseball games in which local towns participated. That year the final winner of the championship flag and $30 prize was Jamestown.
All in all, the 1877 county fair seems to have been successful, with everyone returning home happy – with the exception perhaps of Deputy Sheriff Frank Hitchcock, whose open buggy collided on the way home with a team of horses and was overturned into a ditch. He was only slightly injured and continued on his way.
Agnes “Pat” Pfleuger is a Dunkirk resident who formerly worked at the OBSERVER writing articles on the area’s history.