The Fulton County Fair is far from the oldest or the newest in the area, but its 150th anniversary celebration late this summer is likely to be one of the biggest that northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan have ever seen.
That's a fair prediction largely because Fulton County puts on what is said to consistently be one of the largest events of any kind in the area. It reported a record attendance of 269,829 over its week-long run last year.
So this year, when the fair offers a laser show after every grandstand performance over Labor Day weekend along with fireworks on Sept. 2, organizers have high hopes for a week that will stand out amid the season of Ferris wheels and french fries that begins with the opening of the Putnam County Fair on Tuesday and continues through the end of the Hillsdale County Fair on Sept. 29.
Fulton County Fair opens Aug. 31 with a vintage baseball game to remember the past. The next day includes several fife and drums performances. Sunday afternoon of the fair is the annual Golden Wedding Anniversary party where couples who have been married - or at least dating - for close to half of the fair's years will gather for cake and commemorations.
Labor Day is to bring fiddlers and a dulcimer performance. The next day, when the county schools are out of session for fair day, FFA chapters are to lead vintage kids' games. On Wednesday of the fair, when most of the children are back in school - only the tiny Gorham Fayette district calls off school for the whole week the fair is in session - there are to be high-wheel bikes and other heritage activities.
Amish buggy races and storytelling are in the works as well, according to Jeanne Johnson, secretary of the Fulton County Agricultural Society, which puts on the fair.
Finding stories to tell about the fair shouldn't be hard. The fair has been collecting them all year. Among the most interesting are the diary of a man who built the grandstand and notes from a woman who lived across the road from the fairgrounds. A book with such history of the fair is to be published in August.
Many area county fairs are about the same age as Fulton's.
Van Wert will mark its 151st fair this year. Henry County's Fair will be the 154th edition and Hancock's the 155th. Hillsdale's will be the 157th.
But there are also some that have generations to go before hitting triple digits under their current organization.
This summer's Ottawa County Fair will be the 43rd and the Monroe County Fair will be the 60th. Huron County Fair will be the 86th.
Monroe will celebrate its milestone with a new $2.5 million exhibit center and office complex that offers 27,000 square feet of display space.
Several fairs are increasing their admission prices from last year.
Williams and Seneca county fairs both upped gate admission to $6 from $5 last year. But Seneca reduced prices for mechanical amusements to 50 cents a ride, all day, every day, down from $3 a ride last year.
Michigan State Fair has the most expensive gate admission in the area at $10 this year, up from $9 last year. It also has the highest parking fee at $5.
Lucas County Fair took the biggest jump over last year, raising its gate admission to $8, up from $6 last year. It also changed its times for free admission. This year, admission will be free from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 24-26. Last year, the fair had not charged admission throughout its opening day.
Most fairs have at least one day when admission is free or reduced for children, senior citizens, and veterans. And some admit youngsters and uniformed military members free throughout the fair.
The Pemberville Free Fair still lives up to its name with no gate.
Paulding County Fair reduced its gate admission to $4, down from $6 last year. But the fair also shortened its run by two days and will not have any mechanical rides, which it has struggled to get for years. The fair will be open for five days, July 10-14, down from a full week in previous years.
Lenawee County will have a full midway with 24 mechanical rides, but it moved its fair up three weeks to fit into the schedule with its preferred amusement company. The fair will be July 22-28 this year; last year it was Aug. 13-19.
The main reason that county fairs are the biggest event of the year in most of the area's rural counties hasn't changed at all, however.
Almost every area county fair has a tractor pull, harness racing, demolition derby, and country or gospel music.
There are some big names coming. Montgomery Gentry is booked at the Allen County Fair. Danielle Peck is to be at the Lucas County Fair. Josh Turner and Tracy Lawrence are down for the Wood County Fair. Trace Adkins is to be at the Monroe County Fair. Joe Nichols is on the Lenawee County Fair schedule.
Eric Church and Jason Michael Carroll are booked for the Ottawa County Fair. Billy Currington is to be at the Sandusky County Fair. Mark Wills is on for the Williams County Fair and the Oak Ridge Boys are on the Hillsdale County Fair schedule.
Rodney Atkins is to be at two area fairs: the Huron County Fair on Aug. 13 and the Fulton County Fair three weeks later on Labor Day night when he is to perform with Phil Vassar.
And then, of course, there are the halls of exhibits, ranging from pigs to pickles, ducks to doilies, and cows to cakes.
It's all summed up in this year's Hillsdale County Fair theme: "Turnip and lettuce entertain ewe."
Contact Jane Schmucker at: