Continued from the April 25 issue of Agri-View

The settlers of Columbia County have always been largely engaged in agricultural and pastoral pursuits.

Agricultural societies formed

For more than 60 years the farmers have been organizing and supporting agricultural societies, designed both as social factors and to stimulate and protect their interests. Various local and sectional societies and fairs, such as the Union Fair at Columbus and the Lodi Union Agricultural Society, grew out of the parent body, known as the Columbia County Agricultural Society. A suggestion which led to the organization of the county society was made by Jesse Van Ness of West Point, at a meeting of the board of supervisors held at Portage in November 1851. His suggestion was received so favorably by his fellow members that soon after a preliminary meeting of farmers and leading citizens was held at school house No. 7 in the town of Fort Winnebago.

Van Ness became president pro tem, and Joseph Kerr of Randolph, F.C. Curtis of Lowville and J.A. Guptil of Scott were appointed a committee on constitution. On the 19th of the month the meeting reassembled, adopted a constitution which was simplicity itself. About 50 leading farmers throughout the county paid 25 cents each for becoming members of the society.

The officers elected were: President J. Van Ness of West Point, first vice-president Joseph Kerr of Randolph, second vice-president Thomas C. Smith of Columbus, treasurer F. C. Curtis of Lowville, recording secretary John A Byrne of Otsego, corresponding secretary Henry Converse of Wyocena.

County fair created with $15

The first fair of the Columbia County Agricultural Society was held on the commons at Wyocena. The receipts were $15.75 and the disbursements were $11.80, but everybody had a good time. The society went forward with a hopeful face. At least one may so infer from the first report of Secretary Byrne, which he issued as follows.

Otsego, December 6, 1852

Dear Sir: – The first annual fair and cattle show of Columbia County Agricultural Society was held in the village of Wyocena in November last. But this being our first attempt, it was, as to be expected, somewhat meagre. However as a starting point and a beginning it was one of which we may justly feel proud. Like our parent, the state society, we commenced without funds or patronage. Our birth was slowly and humble; our future – who shall say?

At the session of the Board of Supervisors in November 1851 a few of our practical farmers, while chatting socially on this topic, proposed having a primary meeting for the purpose of getting an expression of public sentiment. It was done. A proposition to organize a county society was received with favor. Committees were appointed to draft a constitution and by-laws, and to nominate officers. An adjournment then took place, and on reassembling, a constitution was agreed upon, officers appointed, and an address delivered by Hon. Joseph Kerr of Randolph, and under such auspices we came into existence. The vital spark was infused into our materiality, and now it needs but little to fan it to the vigor of manhood.

The notice of our fair had been issued only a few days prior to the time of holding it. Consequently the attendance was thin, and yet large enough to show that, with proper organization and a due share of exertion on the part of each member and officer, Columbia will yet take a proud position among her sister counties in this state, in the cause of agriculture. To obtain that point, but one course is necessary. The society has now taken root; let it extend its branches into each township, school district and road district. Let its members and all friends of agricultural knowledge take an interest in its welfare, and it must succeed.

(officers listed)

I remain, dear sir.

Truly yours,

John A. Byrne

Secretary Columbia County Agricultural Society

This report was printed in the Wyocena Advance a few months ago, and drew forth an addendum from A.J. Townsend, the Lowville and Wyocena pioneer.

“After reading the report of the first county fair in last week’s Advance, this thought came to me,” he said. “How many are alive that took part in that fair 61 years ago this fall?

“There was a fine exhibition of grains, vegetables and stock. Jacob Townsend and sons of Lowville had a herd of fine Devon cattle, on which they took all the first premiums. There were a few fine horses exhibited.

“Some amusing incidents during the fair: Two men from Marcellon came with a large rangy horse and stumped everybody for a race for ten dollars. No takers until the Lowville boys raised the money and ran John Low’s pony against the Marcellon horse. The pony won by ten rods, and the men took their departure amid shouts of the large crowd of spectators, minus the ten.

“Then John Gilbert of Lowville asked his father, Jonathan Gilbert, for a dollar. The old man said, ‘No, but I will put up a dollar for the winner of a foot race with ten starters, and I will be one of them.’ The race was made up and the old man started and ran a few rods and said, ‘Oh pshaw! I won’t run.’ John won the race and got the dollar.”

The show and cattle fair of 1853 was also held at Wyocena. At that exhibition there were 19 entries under the class of horses, 12 under cattle, one for poultry, and two for farm implements – one of which was a plow and the other a vertical gate. The receipts were $20, with disbursements $18.81.

The fair held Sept. 20, 1854, at Columbus was an improvement over the Wyocena shows. The scene of the exhibition and the rural festivities was at the forks of the road on the western declivity of what became known as Lewis & Cook’s Hill (location of the Governor James Taylor Lewis Mansion). The “Mountain House,” a little hotel kept by A.P. Birdsey between the two roads, was the hall of fine arts and in it were displayed a few fruits and specimens of fine needlework. There were 99 entries. The receipts for members’ fees amounted to $32. Of this $18 was disbursed in premiums, together with 31 volumes of the State Agricultural Society and sundry diplomas.

Since then fairs have been held at the following places.

  • 1855 – Portage
  • 1856, 1857 – Wyocena
  • 1858, 1859 – Portage
  • 1860 – Cambria
  • 1861, 1862 – Portage
  • 1863 – Lodi
  • 1864 – Columbus
  • 1865, 1856 – Portage
  • 1867 – Columbus
  • 1868 – Portage
  • 1869 – Columbus
  • 1879 – Portage
  • 1871 – Columbus
  • 1872 – Portage
  • 1873 – Columbus
  • 1874 until 1901 – Portage

To be continued...

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