XENIA — The Greene County Fair originated in the 1800s, but one needs only to go back to 2000 to find perhaps the most significant moment in its soon-to-be 175 year history.
On Sept. 20 a tornado ripped through Xenia, directly hitting the fairgrounds and taking with it 17 buildings and memories from an entire generation.
“The tornado changed people’s history in the fair,” said current Fair Board President Dan Bullen. “I remember being a little kid and running up in the bleachers up there, staying here overnight during the fair, we used to sleep in the barns. The joke on me was I was in my sleeping bag and they tied me up to a telephone pole. But that telephone pole is gone. I know where that happened at back there, but that history is gone. My generation, older generations, our history of the fair is a memory, but to be able to visually see that history, it’s not there anymore.”
Former board president Virgil Wallace, the board and a team of 46 contractors acted quickly. Working sunrise to sunset, the fairgrounds was rebuilt, allowing for a new set of memories to be created.
“All the people from the younger generation from 2000 on up, they’re developing history,” Bullen said. “They remember playing in these barns. They remember showing in these barns. That generation coming up is going to have a history.”
The Fair has quite a history itself. It’s rumored to be the oldest running county fair west of the Allegheny mountains and there is little doubt as to what’s kept it going for 175 years.
“Greene County is still very much a farm community,” said Xenia attorney Ken Sheets, whose grandfather Hollis Sheets started the sugar waffle craze at the fair. “The history of the area is early 1800s.”
And despite the boom in development around Wright State University, the Mall at Fairfield Commons and The Greene, among other areas, the county can still feed off its rural past.
“Agricultural heritage,” Bullen said. “That’s the big thing.”
But while Bullen clings to the fair’s farming history, he does have his eyes squarely focused on the current and future.
“One of my goals while I’m on here is to try to start bringing more tech stuff onto the grounds,” he said. “To get the younger kids you’re going to have to start bring some tech items in here.”
Wallace, who began harness racing at the fair in 1962, has also noticed the technology age creeping into fair activities.
“I see these kids out there jogging horses talking on their cell phones,” he said. “I don’t think (people) have changed that much outside their cell phones.”
Wallace, who is 82-years-old, has seen plenty of change at the Fairgrounds. When he first started attending horses raced six days a week. Now the races are twice a week, he said, to make way for more entertainment. Rides have gotten bigger and the popular Grange booths have come and gone.
“I still hear today ‘the fairgrounds just isn’t like it used to be.’ I’m not like I used to be either,” he laughed.
But rebuilding from the twister brought upon some change for the better.
“It was an improvement, that’s for sure,” Wallace said. “They’ve got more space in the buildings. They have auctions there. That makes the fairgrounds money. That’s the name of the game now. Back when I first went up there there was nothing going on up there except the fair.”
Now there are weddings, auctions, proms and pancake breakfasts.
“Everybody has come to like (the improved fairgrounds),” Wallace said. “It was a lot of work. Who knows … if that tornado hadn’t come through it might have been like it was 20 years ago. (But) I don’t want to see it happen again.”