The Great Allentown Fair is a must-do on our yearly calendar. I’m a big fan of fairs, and this is one of the longest running events in the United States and one of the largest in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
The fair has been at its current location since 1889 when the current fairgrounds it was purchased for $3500.00. Since it’s inception, it has only closed twice. Once for the Civil War when it became a staging site for the 176 Pennsylvania Volunteers (for one year) and then again 1918, when the grounds temporarily became Camp Crane a training site for troops mobilizing for World War 1.
The fair primarily had a strong agrarian background. Originally it was designed as a venue for Lehigh County farmers to showcase their wares.At the end of the fair, monetary prizes were awarded to the best farm, orchard, and household. Livestock barns remain at the fairgrounds although they are a currently on a smaller scale. Many of the animal areas have been in use since the turn of the century.
We always enjoy the livestock exhibits, and my children love the 4H petting zoo.
Animal performances have always been a hit with audiences. Pigs race, they swim, they skydive (who knew)? The dog agility also has a large draw.
Originally the fairgrounds were known for horse racing which was part of the reason the fairgrounds were moved to a larger venue after the previous track proved too small and lacked stables for race horses.
In the early years, airship racing was popular. Apparently, crowds thrilled to see the US race Germany. When the country progressed to cars, auto racing came to the fair.
We loved the rides on the midway. My sons love all fast moving attractions, the faster, and more gravity defying the better. My daughters who are more sedate were initially afraid of the carousel. As the day went on became braver and eventually willing to try anything their size allowed them to ride.
In 1908, a new grandstand increased the seating capacity to 10,000. It is still in use today. The Fair is known for its big name acts has always drawn a large crowd. This year, fairgoers had the choice of Kiss, Jeff Dunham, Meghan Trainor among others. Stars have always had center stage. In 1974, Liza Minelli delayed her show so that Richard Nixon’s resignation speech could be played over the loudspeakers for all to hear.
It’s not a fair without food. From the pie contest to the very sophisticated SPAM creations competition there is something for everyone. I love all the prize winning foodstuffs from canning to baked goods to the largest pumpkin.
The fair has remained an integral part of the culture of the Lehigh Valley. It’s the worth the visit. See you next year!
A special thanks to the Morning Calll for the terrific archival photos!