The first West End Fair

Cover of the Premium Book for the first West End Fair.

By Amy Leiser, Executive Director
Monroe County Historical Association

The first West End Fair was held 88 years ago on a beautiful day, Thursday, September 2, 1920 at Weir Lake in Chestnuthill Township. The idea to hold a special day to celebrate the farmers and their goods belonged to Frank Koehler. Mr. Koehler, who was the father of school superintendent Dr. LeRoy Koehler, believed the hard-working people in the western portion of Monroe County deserved a day to celebrate and promote their agricultural products. It had only been the previous year, in 1919, when Koehler, who firmly believed in his idea, contributed the first $100 to begin the venture. Koehler was successful in his endeavors and garnered enough sponsors, advertisements, and support to hold a fair the following year.

On the day following the Fair, the local newspaper,
The Morning Press, headline read, “Success of the West End Fair Greater Than Any Had Anticipated.” The day’s triumph was a cooperative effort. Hundreds of cars, buses, and lumber wagons arrived at Weir Lake at 7:30 am packed with fruits, vegetables, farm animals, and textiles ready for display.

Various exhibits were located throughout the grove and pavilion at Weir Lake. Handmade quilts, blankets and other textiles hung on single 50-foot long beams which were harvested from West End forests. A special display of Ford trucks and touring cars was demonstrated for onlookers. The farm bureau distributed farming brochures, while the health booth, presided over by community nurse Miss Bisbing, distributed informational pamphlets. The forestry table gave away potted pine trees along with booklets for re-foresting the county.

Museum-quality artifacts and antiques provided fairgoers a look into the past. Hand-painted china over 300 years old, a Korean sword from the 1840 insurrection, and Native American tomahawks were on display. Two particular items of historic interest were also available for viewing: a 206 year-old door lock and a 150 year-old pistol. The door lock, according to the exhibitor, Mrs. John Meitzler, was on the “Gilbert Home” in Mahoning Valley. The home was burned and the occupants kidnapped. The lock was buried near the front door, and several years following the attack, was uncovered by Nathan Gerber. The pistol was made by the Henry Gun Company in Northampton County and was exhibited by Lafayette Everitt.

All types of livestock were at the 1920 West End Fair. Jersey, Holstein, Guernsey, and Ayrshire cattle alongside 25 draught horses were on display. A large number of sheep and swine were also present. Interestingly, a “large good-natured” cat (who wore a blue ribbon) oversaw the coop exhibits containing poultry of various kinds, rabbits, ducks, guinea pigs, pigeons, turkeys, and geese.

Canning jars lined one of the exhibit stands while various potted plants added to the pavilion. David S. Gregory displayed a 19-foot stalk of corn, believed to be the largest in the state at that time. Hand wagons owned by the Howell brothers were filled with all varieties of vegetables and fruits.

One hundred square feet of display space was dedicated to pastries along with 25 varieties of apples.

Refreshment stands, including a lemonade stand decorated in cedar boughs and yellow crepe paper, were profitable. Hundreds of suppers were served while entertainment was provided by the 30-piece West End Cornet Band. Visitors boated on Weir Lake and danced in the pavilion.

An attendance estimate of the first West End Fair was 3,000 to 4,000 people. Monroe County residents were the majority of attendees at the fair; many others traveled from surrounding Carbon and Pikes counties. Eight hundred sixty-four cars and 160 horse-drawn wagons and carriages were counted in the field.

Fairgoers were charged 25 cents per car-load and a total of $800 was raised, enough to hold a fair again the following year. Following the success of the 1920 fair, the West End Fair Association was created with seven townships participating: Chestnuthill, Eldred, Hamilton, Jackson, Polk, Ross and Tunkhannock. Later, in 1925, Tunkhannock Township left the Association.

The West End Fair continues to follow its mission established years ago. A portion of the statement reads:

The object of the fair is to promote a healthy interest in the West End of Monroe County in the raising of thoroughbred horses, cattle, sheep, swine and poultry; to increase the quality and quantity of grains, fruits and vegetables. To assist in the social uplift of the West End by bringing all classes of rural life together to vie with each other in exhibiting the best that the West End can produce. Finally to afford a day of recreation and pleasure.

This year, the West End Fair runs from August 23 through August 29, 2009. Be sure to plan a visit to the fair for similar experiences that Monroe County residents did 88 years ago. See you at the fair!

For more information on the West End Fair, visit the West End Fair Museum open during fair hours, or visit the
West End Fair website.