Meet the Canfield Fair’s first family
For 174 years, the Neff clan has remained a fair regular
CANFIELD — What family today can say it has never missed a Canfield Fair and has had a family member in attendance at all 174 fairs?
The Neff family can very well make that claim when one looks at the family tree.
According to Jennifer Neff of Florida, the first of the family to settle in Mahoning County was Conrad Neff. In 1805, Conrad moved to Canfield from Pennsylvania with some other German families. He built the Loghurst Farm where the farm museum stands today, along with the house. He was 63 when he built the house and began farming in Mahoning County.
“Conrad’s son John had a farm where the present day Westford development is,” said Bruce Neff, a seventh-generation Neff.
In 1847 at the first Canfield Fair, John would have been 51, and his son Martin would have been 20. Martin also was known to be a farmer.
The fair was held on Oct. 5 that year and, according to information compiled for the Mahoning County Agricultural Society, all of the farmers around the county were eager to display their finest products. Since the John Neff farm was only a few miles from the center of Canfield, it is highly likely he attended that first fair.
While farmers came to anticipate and look forward to the fair each year, the Neffs continued in the farming community and thus would have been in attendance displaying their prize crops.
The first recorded Neff at a fair was in 1862, when Martin Neff (son of John Neff) won a 50-cent premium for his sugar beets and a 25-cent premium for his best mangel-wurzels during the 1862 Canfield Fair. Mangel-wurzels are a large yellow-orange beet grown for cattle feed.
Continuing down the line, the fourth generation was John E. Neff who was born in 1849 and ended up owning a farm on Mygatt Street (present-day Fairview Avenue). The farm consisted of a lot of acreage and a large barn where an apartment building sits today. That put the entire farm behind the Congregational Church where the first fair took place.
John had a son born in 1886 whose name was Roy, a fifth-generation Neff. Roy had four sons including Robert Neff born in 1916, Edward Neff born in 1912, Charles Neff born in 1910, and Richard Neff who was the youngest and was born in 1927. It was Robert who made the news at the fair.
A BEAR BITE
Robert’s name appeared in reports during the 83rd fair in 1929. Jennifer said Robert, then 13, was bitten by a bear at an exhibit presented by the fish and game commission. He received first aid and went on to enjoy the rest of the day at the fair, taking home a tale to pass on to the next generation.
Robert’s father was next to hit the news when he was working on the fairgrounds water system. Roy, or R.J. as he was called, was an electrical and plumbing contractor. In September 1932, he was exiting the pump house when a truck flew by. He started to leap out of the way but was struck by the truck fender, sending him flying more than 10 feet. He suffered lacerations on one leg and a lot of bruises. It was said he was inches away from death.
The Neff name stayed with the fair and descendants of Conrad became involved with the fair in many areas. Perhaps one of the most unusual came in 1934. Jennifer said her father (Robert), 18 at the time, got a job leading greyhounds for the dog races.
“He told me local football players were offered the lead-out positions, and they were paid $15 for six nights,” Jennifer said.
This year’s 175th Canfield Fair starts Wednesday and runs through Labor Day.
The Neff name continues to be part of the fair with seventh- and eighth-generation Neffs attending and taking part. They make new tales to pass down, which Jennifer said mean a lot to her today.
“My dad would talk about the family history,” Jennifer said, “but I would just roll my eyes when I was younger. Later in life, I saw the value in his memories, and I am glad he shared them.”
For Bruce, the fair is important and as a member of the Canfield Historical Society, he works the fair’s information booth, helping people find what they are looking for. He said the society gets paid for the volunteering.
Bruce said the fair has meant a lot to him. As a child he remembers seeing the Lennon Sisters in concert. He also remembers his saddest day at the fair.
“My dad was involved with Boy Scouts, and he had taken his troop to Philmont Boy Scout Camp in Philmont, N.M.,” Bruce said. “He earned a real nice cowboy hat, and I wore it to the fair as a youth. I went into the arcade tent at the fair and played arcade games. I sat the hat down and forgot it. I always felt bad about losing my father’s Philmont hat.”
As both Jennifer and Bruce look back at their family tree, the realization sets in that a Neff was probably in attendance at every Canfield Fair.