It seems strange, of course, publishing an article about visiting the Ohio State Fair in September. But every year I visit the Fair in August, have a perfectly marvelous time. Then I neglect to write about it due to the crush of summer articles that cross my desk.
Ohio State Fair History
The first Ohio State Fair was held October 2-4 of 1850 at Camp Washington, just two miles east of downtown Cincinnati. According to the Ohio State Fair website, the site was 8-10 acres and had a number of shade trees and tents on the grounds, which were enclosed by a ten-foot-high fence.
The first day of the Fair was reserved for setup and judging and visitors were welcomed on the second and third day. Admission was just 20 cents, with exhibitors offered multiple day admission badges for $1 each. The two-day attendance of that very first Fair was estimated to be between 25,000 and 30,000 people.
Over the years the Fair was held in a number of Ohio cities, including: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Newark, Columbus, Sandusky, Zanesville, Dayton, Toledo, Springfield and Mansfield. From 1874 through 1885 it was held in Columbus on the site of Franklin Park. Then in 1886, the Fair was moved to the current location, which is now the Ohio Expo Center in Columbus.
The Fair has taken place every year since inception with few exceptions. From 1942 through 1945 the Fair was cancelled due to World War II. The war department was using the grounds and buildings for handling airplane parts and equipment. Then in 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fair was cancelled for one year. The following year it was limited to livestock and educational competitions.
Visiting the Ohio State Fair
Each year, the Fair is held at the Ohio Expo Center the last week of July and first week of August. The 2024 State Fair will take place July 24 through August 4.
There are so many things to do and see when visiting the Ohio State Fair. You can really customize your experience to your own tastes. I don’t think that anyone’s Fair experience is exactly the same!
If you decide to go (and I know I’m either a little late or very early with this information), be sure to check out their website ahead of time. You can buy admission, ride wrist bands and concert tickets. You can check out the daily schedule and put together your own itinerary with options like: pig races, magic shows, fishing at the ODNR area, livestock shows, rides and more. The Fair map is also available and it’s good to make a plan before you go to avoid walking quite so much.
Ohio State Fair Favorites
Everyone has their favorites at the Ohio State Fair. My mother grew up in rural Ohio with a gaggle of siblings. They went to school and around her small town, but the only time that they really went anywhere was the Fair. She remembered fondly using her money to buy a Swiss cheese sandwich at the Dairy Barn. I stop by the same spot every year for an ice cream cone and remember her stories of the Fair.
One of my favorite spots at the Fair is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) section. Every year I scan the rows of county themed park benches until I find mine. This whole section just seems cooler (less concrete and more grass) and quieter than the rest of the fairgrounds. I have fond memories of catching a fish at the fishing pond and love watching the logging show at the amphitheater. My kids, now adults, have always loved the giant Smokey the Bear and were unaware for an embarrassingly long time that the moms and dads whisper the names of their kids to Smokey’s “handler.” How did they think he knew their names?
I also love walking through the Bricker Marketplace. Yes, it’s a lot of vendors selling things, but I always find something that I like. And they also have booths set up from different Ohio agencies. It’s interesting interacting with the people there and learning a little bit about the services that are offered in Ohio.
Food at the Fair
Oh, and I love the food! Fried cheese on a stick is a favorite of mine. This year I enjoyed a barbecue sandwich and coleslaw from the pork producers at the Taste of Ohio Cafe. And, of course, I always wrap up my Fair experience with a stop by the Dairy Barn for that ice cream cone and the opportunity to take a look at this year’s Butter Cow!
Ohio History Center and Ohio Village
I don’t know if admission is included every year, but this year admission to the Ohio History Center and Ohio Village were included with admission. If you haven’t been it’s well worth a visit. The Ohio History Center is a traditional museum and has some very interesting exhibits. The Ohio Village is a historic Ohio town (circa 1898) where you can tour shops and the local schoolhouse. I always most enjoy the pharmacy and the funeral parlor. It seems the costumed actors (1898 villagers) in those two locations have the most interesting stories.
If you are considering visiting the Ohio State Fair, put the dates on your 2024 calendar now! For Central Ohioians, it’s a must do end of summer tradition. If you’re coming from out of town and plan to stay in the Columbus area, there’s so much to do beyond the Fair. Tour the ‘Shoe at the Ohio State University, walk the Scioto Mile on the city’s riverfront, visit the Columbus Zoo’s new Dinosaur Island or visit a historical Ohio farm at Slate Run near Canal Winchester.
Before you travel, be sure to check out some articles I put together to help you save money as you travel the Buckeye State. You can see how we save money on travel and gas expenses and also how we save money on food when we hit the road.
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