(Image originally belonged to Bob Bunz)
The 4-H Fair when it was at the ballpark.
(Image originally belonged to Bob Bunz) The 4-H Fair when it was at the ballpark.

In the Forgotten Franklin County column of last year at this time, we mentioned briefly the site of the current fairground and a little of its history. If you remember, it was originally part of the old county Poor Farm; and across the street from it, and near the river, is the Stringer pioneer cemetery, which was turned into the institution’s burial ground for the destitute inmates of the asylum. It was sixty years ago this year, when the current fairground was dedicated on the site we now use. Since its fair-week, it seems only appropriate to address that topic again.

Prior to meeting at the current fairground, some may remember when the county fair was held on the east side of Brookville at what we know as the grandstands and town ballpark. Even earlier, before the houses were built on Division Street, the fairground was located at Division and Fairfield Avenue. According to Ernest Showalter in a news column he wrote in January of 1953, this section of land was also used by the earliest town ball team, and served as a circus ground for some of the smaller shows.

The earliest county fairs here started in the 1850s. At this time, the county supported what was known as the Franklin County Agricultural Society Fair. These were held each year on the site that is now Maple Grove Cemetery. County fairs were also reported to have been held in the open fields that now make up what we know as Cliff Street in Brookville.

The old 4-H building that stood in the town ballpark, that many fondly remember, was a landmark in Brookville for many years and marked the beginning of the modern Franklin County 4-H Fair, as we know it. The 4-H building was built in 1938, and funded by contributions and private donations.

The impetus for a permanent 4-H building came from the fact that there was a need to house club exhibits for a longer duration of time. Rationale stated that such a building would enable the club organization to conduct a four-day exhibit and would draw larger crowds of people and would interest more merchants because of its longer duration and larger number in attendance. In addition, it was advertised that the proposed building could be used for many projects of a community nature other than just 4-H.

The September 1937 newspapers discussed the future building and said, “It was to be of cement, wood and sheet metal construction, much on the type of a bank barn. The proposed location is on the ledge between the high and lower ground of the baseball park about two hundred yards from Fairfield Avenue.” This style and set up allowed for the livestock to be in the lower section while the spacious upper section that was on the level with the baseball diamond, could house the exhibits.

According to the April 7, 1938 Democrat, work had started on the 4-H Club and community building and the labor was provided by the Works Progress Administration. The completed structure was 60x90 feet and two stories high. The building served its purpose well until the location of the fair was moved to the county park in 1960.

For many years, the landmark served its purpose as a 4-H exhibit barn, as well as a place residents could use for reunions, meetings and a wide variety of public gatherings. Some may also remember that the basement of the building was used by the Franklin County Jaycees for their haunted house during Halloween.

After the fair moved to its new location, during the 1970-80s the old building and ballpark were leased by the Franklin County Community School Corporation and used for storing old school desks no longer being used by Brookville High School, obsolete shop equipment, football bleachers, etc. The ballpark was used by the school for physical education classes in the spring and fall, track and field events, football practices, band rehearsals, as well as a variety of other school-related functions that needed a large space.

The local newspapers of Nov. 11, 1981 reported that the old 4-H building was completely destroyed by fire on Sunday Nov. 8. The Brookville Fire Department aided by the Cedar Grove Fire Department responded to the call about 2:30 p.m. Despite heavy winds, the fire department managed to save the small football storage building and log cabin located nearby. The 4-H building and all its contents were destroyed in the blaze. The fire department remained on site until 8 p.m. as the fire smoldered for several hours. A heavy black smoke hovered over the town of Brookville for several hours. While the building itself was insured by the town of Brookville, unfortunately, the school corporation’s contents were not.

Sadly, it was later discovered that the old landmark was set ablaze by four juveniles, ages 7, 8, 10 and 11, who admitted to the crime. They were “playing with matches that were allegedly found in the building.” Little could people have realized that the next old landmark in the ballpark, the grandstands, would be purposefully destroyed by arsonists slightly over two decades later.

So why was the 4-H Fair moved to the county park? Simply because it was growing in popularity. As the end of the 1950s approached, the realization that an overall larger land mass on which to have the fair, and additional facilities, were needed. In the summer of 1960, the new 4-H fairground was dedicated at the location currently used off Blue Creek Road. (Hopefully, a location at which we will be able to have a real fair again next year.)

At the 1960 dedication ceremony of the new fairground, it was stated, “The 4-H Club program in Indiana is a powerful force in developing trained leadership and responsible citizenship among young people.”

Speakers and leaders at that dedication boasted that in recent years Franklin County had been averaging about 600 4-H Club members annually, with just over a 90 percent completion rate in projects.

Maybe you, or your parents, or grandparents are pictured in some of the accompanying 4-H photos. A large collection of negatives was loaned to the library district’s local history department by Tami Wissman Hofer, whose grandfather Art Wissman was a longtime county extension agent. If anyone in these images looks familiar, perhaps you would like to help the library staff make positive identifications on the rest of the negatives. Give Julie a call at the library to see how you can help. In addition, do you have photographic negatives or glass plate negatives with Franklin County subject matter, but aren’t quite sure what to do with them? Donating is always an option! On the other hand, perhaps you have old negatives, and are having a difficult time determining what’s on them. Give the library’s history department a call at 765-647-4031 to find out what assistance and options we can offer.