Promote and develop the interest of the surrounding communities while improving agriculture, livestock, business, industry, and the home life of the local people. To this end, industry accomplishments, volunteer service and community spirit come together as a showcase of achievements. The conducting of the fair, exhibitions, entertainment and other educational activities contribute to a community spirit and awareness of good fellowship, sportsmanship and citizenship.
History - 1873 to Present
The original land for the Gratz Fair Association came from Dr. Isaiah Schminky. Before Doctor Schminky died, he rented the acreage to the group. After his death in 1901, the Gratz Agricultural Society purchased almost fourteen acres, with buildings, from the Schminky Estate. In succeeding years, they continued to add more acreage to the fairgrounds to make room for expansion.
Some History of the Organization:
A petition was made to the County Court for a charter, on December 15, 1873. It marked the beginning of the Gratz Driving Park and Horticultural Society. It was the parent of a long lived organization that we now know as the Gratz Fair Association.
The first Directors were: President, Edward Miller of Lykens; Moses R. Young, an Associate Judge of Dauphin County, and resident of Lykens; Dr. I. S. Schminky, who owned the land; Joseph Umholtz, of Gratz; P. J. Artz, of Gratz; John Moyer, of Gratz, who had charge of the concession at the fair for many years; Dr. A. G. Stanley, of Lykens; G. W. Hain, of Williamstown; and George Moyer, of Pillow, who was in charge of the machinery. For several years after the fair was organized, profits were not exactly exciting. Receipts for the first fair week were $980.09, expenses $868.74. The next few seasons continued to show slight profits. There were unexpected setbacks caused by unforeseen events. One of them, a devastating snow storm hit in December 1891, and destroyed all the stables and sheds on the fairgrounds. By 1903, total receipts climbed to $1320.45, and expenditures $1051.11, leaving a profit for the year of $270.34. The directors began to look for other means of income, and in 1906, they decided to rent some of the grounds to surrounding farmers. The farmers were allowed to turn the land into grass fields, to be harvested into hay. It was the only crop farmers were permitted to raise on the land.
In 1907, a discouraged board decided to sell the fairgrounds, and the asking price was set at $2000.00. At a public sale held on April 18, 1908, the grounds were offered, but the board rejected the highest bid of $1900.00. The group decided to sell the grounds privately, or cut the land into building lots, and then offer at public sale.
A new group of stockholders met at the Union House in Gratz, on May 2, 1908, in hopes of purchasing the grounds. About a week later, the committee signed a purchase agreement for the $2000.00 selling price, and a whole new team gained control, with Harry Smith as President.
Under the direction of Mr. Smith, the Gratz Fair had a new lease on life. A new variety of amusements were introduced, and more emphasis placed on harness racing.
The Fair - a Popular Place:
While the Gratz Fair may not have been a monetarily satisfying project for its early owners, it did attract quite a bit of attention from the public. In the early years stage drivers ran special excursions to Gratz, from Millersburg and other area towns. In 1886, D. M. Romberger advertised in advance that a stage would leave Millersburg each morning at seven o'clock, and return in the evening. The cost for each person was $1.50 for the round trip. Seating reservations had to be made in advance at the stables in Millersburg. The people gathered in from many areas. Folks who had moved away, came back to visit relatives during fair week, so they could take in the exhibits.
During the first years of the Gratz Fair, random dates were chosen for the fair. At first, it was held in the latter part of September. In 1901, it was held in late August. About 1902, it was postponed until the middle of October, because of a miners strike.
Changes on the Fairgrounds:
In 1901, great changes were made on the fairgrounds, prior to its opening in late August. A half mile track was constructed. A group of men moved the large exhibition building to the west end of the grounds; also, moved a smaller building to the east end. New stables and pens were constructed for the cattle and swine, new stables built at the north east end for the race horses. A new grandstand accommodated the patrons. The grounds were said to be "cool and shady".
Another reconstruction took place about 1915, when the building next to Reed's Inn was built, at a cost of $1371.00. More horse barns were built in 1922. In October 1928, Charles Dietz sold some needed acreage to the association for a grandstand and race track. In 1938, the grandstand was moved from along Route 25 to its present location. D. A. Kessler Construction Company of Mt. Carmel made another race track in 1939.
From the very beginning, deep hand dug wells supplied the fairgrounds with water. In 1935, underground pipes were laid to connect to the Gratz Water supply.
Since Gratz was the home of the only fairground in these parts, it drew attention to would-be exhibitors for many miles around. Starting at the northern area, competition was drawn from Northumberland County, to the vicinity of what is now Line Mountain. It included all of Mahantongo Valley to the Susquehanna River. On the opposite side, people participated from as far away as Tremont, and from there to Peter's Mountain, and the river. Persons who were affiliated with the Gratz Fair, and who lived in surrounding communities, provided a place to drop off items for exhibit. In 1901, these representatives received the exhibits: From Lykens - Dr. A. G. Stanley, Dr. J. N. Baker, H. H. Tallman, and Sheriff Reiff; From Williamstown - Solomon Hess, and P. H. Meehan; From Berrysburg - Joseph Romberger, and J. W. Deibler; From Elizabethville - H. H. Weaver; From Tower City - Eli Kauffman. They gave the ladies a special invitation to send exhibits. Many other exhibits at the fair were not in competition. During the 1880s, much emphasis was placed on music. The Keystone Organs and Somer Pianos were on special exhibit, sponsored by Breimeler Brothers of Berrysburg. Professor Buehler exhibited his musical skills, by performing on a Miller Organ.
In recent years, school exhibits of art, industrial art, FFA showcases and more are a big attraction.
Horse racing has always been one of the big attractions at the Gratz Fair. Great emphasis was placed on having a quality race track, and this track from the very beginning was considered one of the best. Many horses trained, and also competed in harness racing on this track. Some later went on to win much greater honors elsewhere. In 1892, a total of nine races took place, spread over three days. 1901, was considered a banner year for the entries of "high class trotting horses". One of the races of that year, for a purse of $150, was won by Davis Wise's Dutch - time 2:25 1/2. 1900 brought the first automobile races to the Gratz Fairgrounds. They were scheduled for every day that year. It was said to be the first auto racing event in this section of the country. A HERNDON STAR reporter remarked in 1902, that a horseless carriage, an automobile, went around the track a hundred times and did not get tired.
The Gratz Fair continued to be a popular place to go, through many more years, to the present time. Many memories of yearly events and features are recalled. The Coney Island Man in the enclosed glass booth kept busy stretching candy. The dental hygienist who cleaned children's teeth during the 1920s, and kept busy all day. The organ grinder with his tin cup and monkey on a leash, and dressed in a hat, came to the fair every year. "Hicks", the man with the rubber sponge balls attached to long rubber bands crying "Get your booster ball here, only a dime" came every year. More recently, nightly entertainment attracts crowds, and "Senior Citizen Day" has become as popular as "School Day". Each era had different exhibits of interest, and "progress" made drastic changes. Contrast the thrill of riding in the first airplane to arrive in Gratz 1913, to the thrill of the 1990s - "Bungy Jumping!" All of this makes the Gratz Fair; however, its primary focus remains on those exhibits of agriculture, horticulture, etc. from the area.
Most information taken from the book
"A Comprehensive History of the Town of Gratz Pennsylvania"
by the Gratz Historical Society - published 1997