Chautauqua County Fairgrounds begins Capital Campaign

The Chautauqua County Fairgrounds Board of Directors is kicking off its first countywide Capital Campaign this summer. The goal of the Capital Campaign is to secure funds for much needed facility renovations and new program development.

Says Chautauqua County Fairgrounds Board President Roy Harrington, “The fairgrounds are in need of infrastructure repairs. We have a drainage problem that must be addressed as the current culvert system is over 100 years old. Also, many of the grounds buildings are in need of upgrading.”

For nearly 114 years, the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds located on Central Avenue in Dunkirk, has been the home of the Chautauqua County Fair. The mission has remained virtually unchanged since its inception – to keep locally sustainable agriculture, horticulture, animal husbandry, and the domestic artistry alive in our community. This vision is as timely today as over a century ago.

Chautauqua County farmers and small scale specialty food producers continue to thrive in our area. A rapidly growing regional agri-tourism trade currently uses the community’s fairgrounds as a focal point to exhibit, promote new products, entertain and educate.

The Board of Directors is asking for community support as they campaign throughout the summer and fall, seeking to secure funds to make structural repairs to buildings, repair the culvert and upgrade water and utilities.

Harrington said, “We’re actively seeking grant monies to help subsidize the work that needs done. The cost will be extensive, but repairs are much needed, and our priority. By upgrading our facility we will be about to offer more to the community as a resource offering more events and programs.”

The fairgrounds is the one entity that is frequented by both south and north county residents. It draws families and exhibitors from all corners of Chautauqua County as well as visitors from neighboring Erie County, N.Y., and Erie County, Pa.

Says fairgrounds board member Dan King, “We’re fortunate that our grounds attract a diverse population and offer a wide variety of activities. We want to continue to offer new programs at our facility, and with community support we will be able to modernize our buildings and keep one of our most vital community assets in great condition.”

The Chautauqua County Fairgrounds had a rather bumpy start in the 1820s, and after several attempts finally became a consistent legal entity in 1917 through incorporation. At that time, the grounds were ‘modernized’ with lights installed around the racetrack.

The ensuing years saw a dramatic increase in the success of the fairgrounds and the value of local investors stock, resulting in the Chautauqua County Fair received an A- rating from New York State Fair Association 1927 and 1934.

The only tragedy to befall the fairgrounds occurred in 1919. An airplane performing a stunt act during the fair crashed on the then baseball diamond killing the pilot. The accident was witnessed by 10,000 horrified spectators.

The fair was an annual event from 1917 until WWII, when between the years 1942-44 the grounds were used as a POW camp for German, Italian and Japanese prisoners. Due to the draft, POW’s were house at the fairgrounds and utilized a source of labor for local farmers and food processors.

In July 1972, the Chau-tauqua County Agricultural Corporation was re-incorporated as the Chautauqua County Agricultural and Fair Association Inc., as a not-for-profit entity under Section 402, and still operates under that incorporation to this day. Although called the Chautauqua County Fairgrounds, it’s not part of the county system and receives minor, if any, funding from Chautauqua County government coffers.

Consider supporting The Chautauqua County Fairgrounds by sending a donation or request a pledge card. Donations can be sent directly to: Chautauqua County Fairgrounds, PO Box 191, Dunkirk, NY 14701. Do not send cash.

Phone 366-4752, Pledges and donations can be made using MasterCard, Visa and Discover cards.