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Food and Ag Feature: Oceana County Fair Celebrates 150 Years

Michigan boasts 86 county fairs across the state that provide livestock, horticultural and agricultural exhibits, demonstrations, and competitions, along with the excitement of midway rides, entertainment, and delicious culinary treats. Our county fairs are a part of Michigan's agricultural roots. They give us a place to celebrate good local food and entertainment; bring an economic boost to area businesses; and celebrate the growing season.

The Oceana County Fair Days is a 4-day event held annually at the Oceana County Fairgrounds in Hart, Michigan and is a great finish to summer. After an altered fair schedule due to the pandemic in 2020, the Oceana County will offer a pre-fair, August 18-21, 2021, and the full fair with 4H and Carnival officially begins at 4 p.m., Monday, August 24 with Harness Racing, and runs to Saturday, August 28, celebrating its 150th anniversary. Visit www.oceanafair.com or check out the fair's YouTube Channel for details.

The Oceana County Fair has a rich history. In 1870, a group of Oceana County residents gathered to create the Oceana County Agricultural Society. The society held its first fair in Elbridge Township in 1871 and relocated to the present site in 1874. Over the years, the fair has expanded to create the fairgrounds of today.

Historically, fairgrounds were known as "driving parks," usually found adjacent to railroad tracks, and served as a place where horses were trained and stabled to provide transportation

for travelers perusing timber tracts, and in Oceana County's case, for horseracing. Railroads were crucial for carrying fruits and vegetables grown in the area to markets. The railroad in Hart would carry produce grown in Oceana County along the Lake Michigan shore to Chicago.

Oceana County Fair's horseracing track is one of the oldest continually used tracks in Michigan. Samuel A. Browne, a member of the Oceana County Agricultural Society and the driving force behind bringing the railroad to Pentwater with a spur to Hart, was known for his prized trotters and pacers nationally. One champion, Peter the Great, is immortalized with a monument on the grounds of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. Browne was a friend of Abraham Lincoln, having driven him through Illinois during his bid for the presidency.

The landmark structure on the Oceana County fairgrounds is its grandstand. Originally constructed in 1895, the grandstand burned in 1915, the victim of an errant cigarette stub during a baseball game. When the structure was rebuilt, the grandstand was expanded to nearly three times the size of the original structure and is now over 104 years old.

In 2020, the Oceana County Fair received a Capital Improvement Grant from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to repair, renovate and beautify the grandstand area. Decades of decay and weather damage have been stripped away and structural repairs are underway. A new vertical steel façade will go up soon, and the grandstand seating and walkways are being inspected and repaired. Thanks in part to the MDARD investment, a portion of the grandstand that used to house horses will be reopened to the public for the first time in more than 75 years. A new gathering area, "The Stables," with a covered roof patio area and tables and chairs, will be available for food and beverage service during grandstand events.

Fair organizers and the entire fair community look forward to a "back to normal" fair season, gathering on the fairgrounds to celebrate 150 years of the Oceana County Fair.

Oceana County Fair