History of the Kutztown
Kutztown, PA 19530
The Kutztown Fair
did not start as an agricultural fair as we know it today.
According the the Centennial History of Kutztown, published
in 1915, a popular military fair was held in Kutztown in 1831
and continued annually for many years. This event was a
celebration and reunion of the local militia and these immense
gathering were called battalions. They included militia and
volunteer organizations, such as fireman, with often more than
1000 men marching in line. The August 12 & 13, 1831 fair
advertised good music and pretty girls. It was described as a
"hilarious sport" and included a military parade,
shows, good pastimes of all kinds, much beer, mead, sweet meats,
written in German advertised the 1836 fair as the "
Glaenzende Fair in der Stadt Kutztown " (small fair in the
town of Kutztown). It was held on September 2 & 3, 1836.
There was a parade of the Freewill Regiment with the infantry
and the cavalry conducting maneuvers. They claimed to have the
best drinks - strong and weak from the best brandy to clear
water to accommodate the temperance people. There was a horse
race between a famous Virginia horse called Bucephalus and an
imported pure bred named Rosinante. A small balloon was released
(probably a hot air balloon). There was an interesting postscript
written in this pamphlet. It read in German " It is
expected that the ladies from the countryside dress up a bit,
since the Kutztown ladies will be dressed up in the latest fashions
they have seen in our stores ".
fairs were usually held in September depending upon the wishes
of the people and landlords of the community. The battalions
began to lose popularity in the 1860's. There were several
reason given for the demise of these military fairs. Some times
they were advertised too late and people from the outlying areas
came a day too late. These gathering also began to take on a
more violent side. The 1915 Centennial History described them as
being seldom bloodless. " Men of brutal disposition looked
forward to determining who would be known as the bully
for the coming year. Fights and brawls were common occurrences.
This did not elevate life.
The formation of
the Keystone Normal School (Kutztown University today) had a
refining effect upon the community. The respectable citizens of
Kutztown did not support the battalions and so they died out. It's
departure caused few regrets.
In 1870 the
Keystone Agricultural and Horticultural Society was chartered.
The society bought 16 acres of land bordered by Whiteoak and
Baldy Streets, and Trexler and Normal Avenues. This is in the
vicinity of the present day Kutztown Historical Society
building. They erected buildings and a horse racing track for an
orators of the day to visit the fairs were:
|1872 - Horace Greeley
|| of the United
|1874 - Alexander Ramsey
||-U.S. Senator from
|1875 - Judge Humphreys
||-from Washington D.C.
|1882 - General James A.
|1893 - Governor Robert
Jacob R. Heffner
and Joshua Levan bought the fairgrounds in 1877. Over the
subsequent years, the property was bought and sold several times
and divided into shares. In 1903 the Kutztown Improvement
Company, consisting of Daniel Kline, Jacob B. Esser, and William
R. Sander, bought the land and divided it into building lots.
This marked the of the first series of Kutztown Agricultural
however, wanted the fair to continue. So, in the spring of 1905
the present day Kutztown Fair Association was chartered. The
fair association purchased three parcels of land for the
fairgrounds. Today, this land is opposite the northern section
of Kutztown University and boarders College Boulevard, Wenz
Street, and Whiteoak Street.
After the land purchase, the next largest expense was the
construction of the horse racetrack. This was a superior racetrack
and over the years several records were broken on this track. In
1915 horsemen all over the country claimed the Kutztown Fair's
1/2 mile track was second to none. Due to delays in building the
track, the first fair was held in October 1905.
Other improvements to the grounds included a Grandstand, Main
Fair Building, Poultry House, 2 Cattle Sheds, Stalls for 100
horsed, a spacious Pig Sty, a large Office Building with
exhibition space of 40 ft. by 80 ft., and a hotel building. To
raise money for the purchas3e of land and improvements, stocks
were sold to over 500 people.
The first officers in 1905 were: President - Jacob B. Esser, 1st
Vice President - Dr. C.D. Werley, 2nd Vice President - F.S. Kutz,
Secretary - C.J. Rhode, Treasurer - Dr. U.S.G. Bieber. The fair
continued to grow over the years.
Transportation to the fair was made possible by railroad
passenger service from the main line at Topton, which was
completed to Kutztown in 1873. Trolley Service from Allentown
and Reading to Kutztown was established by 1902. Of course many
also came by horse. The admission cost in 1916 for a 1 or 2
horse carriage was 25 cents plus 25 cents for each rider.
The 1913 Kutztown Fair began emphasizing educational exhibits
entered by schools and school children. Boys were encouraged to prepare
exhibits along the line of farm products and girls were
encouraged to enter domestic science work. Usually the first day
of the four day fair was Children's Day and youth were admitted
free of charge. Marathon races and athletic meets on Children's
Day were also started in 1913. In addition, the Commercial
Motion Picture Co. of New York asked permission to take motion pictures
of the fair, which would then be shown at the local theatre.
By 1915 The Kutztown Fair was regarded as one of the major
events of Berks County. At times every building on the grounds
was overcrowded. There were liberal premiums for school
exhibits. Each fair received $1000.00 toward premiums in 1914.
The National Trotting Association in 1915 brought in some of the
best horses to the fair. Kutztown's horse races were part of the
"Big Fair Circuit" association along with Flemington,
NJ, Allentown, Nazareth, and several other fairs.
To earn extra money to maintain the fairgrounds, the Kutztown
Fair Assn. rented out the Fairgrounds Hotel and made and sold
hay off of the racetrack infield and fairgrounds. Also in those
early years, fair stocks were sold at almost every board
meeting. Sometimes fair stocks were bartered for goods or
services. Stocks in 1914 were worth $25.00 per share.
In addition to monetary premiums, special fair prizes were given
out to some of the top show placings. Here are some examples:.
|Best ear of corn - Box
||Best beets - Bottle of
|Best exhibit fancy work
- American Beauty corset
||2nd best Holstein bull
- Alarm clock
|Largest display fruit -
Electric buggy lights
||Best bushel oats -
Horse shod free
|Best exhibit of cattle
- 1/2 ton chestnut coal
||Largest rooster - Pair
|Largest pumpkin - Shave
and a haircut
||Best tomatoes - $1.00
worth of bread
|Largest poultry exhibit
- 500 envelopes
As time went on,
improvements continued. In 1914 a pigsty was finished and in
1915 a large poultry house was built. The first night fair was
held in August, 1916. Horse racing became so popular between
1910 and 1925 that a new 200 foot grandstand had to be built in
1919. It was finished just in time for Dan Patch to pace a 2:01
mile on Kutztown's 1/2 mile track.
Sulkie horse racing continued to be a popular attraction at the
Kutztown Fair until the grandstand burned down in 1942. It was
never rebuilt (World War II was going on at the time) and that
ended the horse racing at Kutztown. Auto races were held during
the 1940's until a fatal crash occurred in 1947 and it also
One of the most significant additions to Kutztown Fairgrounds occurred
in 1950. Franklin & Marshal College, in response to interest
in perpetuating the Pennsylvania German Culture, founded the Kutztown
Folk Festival. Once again the fairgrounds was host to thousands
of visitors. This cooperative event continued until 1994, when a
change in ownership moved the Folk Festival to another site. In
1995 a partnership was formed between Kutztown University and
the Kutztown Fair Association for a new Kutztown folk festival
call the Pennsylvania German Festival with the goal of keeping
all displays representative of the PA German culture. Over the
last 9 years this event held in late June and early July has
grown to match the success experienced by the previous
So as you can see, Kutztown Fair and its association are as
active and alive with success and excitement as it was back in
Researched by Roger D. Bowman
May 12, 2004