Canfield Fair photographer shares fair’s history

ELLSWORTH — The Canfield Fair, the largest county fair in the state of Ohio, was the topic when local photographer and historian George Houk addressed members of the Ellsworth Historical Society earlier this month.

This year will be the 178th annual Canfield Fair.

Houk has been the sole professional photographer of the fair since 1971. Houk began taking photos as early as age 8 under the tutelage of his father, who was also a well-known professional photographer in the area for years.

He said he still has his first camera — a Kodak Instamatic 104. Years ago, he found a niche, helping a friend who produced senior portraits in eight schools and also by covering weddings. Houk’s work became very refined and was noticed by the fair board.

He was invited to capture the flavor of the fair and has continued to do so for the past 53 years. Houk also talked about still being a full-time farmer in Springfield Township and raising livestock, as well as growing mushrooms, and tapping and making maple syrup.

He showed a 30-minute montage of historical photos from the early days of the fair beginning in 1846 through last year’s event.

“There have been many interesting changes through the years that many may not be aware of,” Houk said.

Some of the highlights include:

• The first fair, which was only one day, took place in 1846, which was the same year Mahoning County was founded. Admission was 12 cents.

• Concession stands were added in 1861 and one booth sold $200 worth of candy.

• The fair expanded from 4 acres to 11 acres in 1867.

• The acreage increased to 22 and a half-mile race track was added in 1882.

• In 1900, Isaly’s was a mainstay at the fair with cones, milkshakes, ice cream sandwiches and swiss cheese on rye bread. DiRusso, Molnar’s and Richardson’s came later with their Italian sausage, cinnamon rolls and fair fries, respectively. All still operate a concession stand at the fair.

• The acreage expanded to 350 in the 1930s and a new grandstand and office were built.

• In 1946, the fair reached a pinnacle attendance record for the first time at 100,000.

• In 1962, the slogan “Something to Crow About” was added to the fair’s marketing campaign. The big rooster statue came in 1968.

• The first six-day fair took place in 1971.

• The fair recorded its highest attendance in 1979 at 539,437. The record still stands.

Houk said some of the notable attendees through the years were Lassie, Elsie the Cow, Ronald McDonald, Willard Scott, Budweiser Clydesdale Horses, Bob Evans, John Glenn, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The grandstand was also a huge draw through the years, including such artists as Johnny Cash, Bob Hope, Gloria Estefan, Patty LaBelle, Miami Sound Machine, The Beach Boys, puppeteer Jeff Dunham, Wayne Newton, Reba McEntire and the Band Perry.

Houk ended his presentation by saying, “I don’t have a favorite photo shot yet, because my best shot has yet to be taken.”

He also said how honored he is to be able to capture such a historical event for the ages.


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