Visiting the Warren County Fair today, it can be hard to imagine a time when it was little more than a hastily erected field of tents to house exhibits.
Looking down Rt. 6 in Youngsville, it can be even harder to imagine a time when an area now dominated by hard pavement and exhaust fumes was home to a fair.
For some members of the Kibbey family, it’s easier. Memory can take the place of imagination.
When it comes to the fair, the name Kibbey is synonymous with horse pulls.
It stands to reason; the family has been deeply involved with the activity since before the fair was the fair.
According to Lisa Kibbey, the annual event has become something of a family event with relatives gathering from a wide range of ages, from the eldest, Merle, at 92, to the youngest children and from as far away as Arizona.
“I’ve been here since…” she said indicating a knee-high level. “I was in 4-H. I have two brothers and we’ve been here our whole lives and my uncle’s kids, they’re the same way. It’s just kind of like a family reunion each year. You see everybody.”
Lisa’s uncle, Don Johnson, is in his seventies and has been involved with the fair since they were holding horse pulls at the Island Park site in Youngsville.
“This all started since Youngsville,” Johnson said, indicating the current horse ring. “The first few years all we had was one building with restrooms and everything else was tents.”
Johnson was referring to the progress the Pittsfield fairgrounds have made since the fair relocated there in 1967. Prior to that, horse pulls were a part of events in Youngsville, which hosted a fair beginning in 1931. While not available to comment himself, it was acknowledged that Merle Kibbey, his brothers and his father were involved in events going back to at least the 1930s.
When the Rt. 6 bypass came in to steer traffic by Youngsville, the events were forced to find a new home in Youngsville, and the Kibbeys were involved from the start.
According to Johnson, he can recall erecting tents and placing poles and planks for animals and exhibits in the Pittsfield location’s early days. As time passed, the site evolved to what is seen today.
In the mid-1970s, according to Kibbey, the first horse barn was erected by volunteers.
“We scrounged around and built a horse barn,” Johnson said. “We did a lot of scrounging around to get that first barn built. Then we just kind of worked at it and got a building when we could. It was the horse people and the cattle people that got the buildings up mostly.”
Johnson and his in-laws were instrumental to bringing horse pulls to the fair.
“I got on the (fair) board and got her (Lisa’s) father on.” Johnson said referring to Ben Kibbey. “The fair board was worried about getting people in. I told them, if they give us $4,000, we’ll get them in on Friday. They held me to it.”
That was in the early 1980s. Today, the Heavyweight Horse Pull on Friday night is a sponsored event drawing competition from as far away as Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia.
Both Johnson and his niece acknowledge their family is just one part of a larger whole.
“A hell of a lot people do a hell of a lot work,” Johnson noted.
“If it wasn’t for the volunteers… we couldn’t do this,” Lisa said. “We all help each other out. It’s a great fair and they just seem to be getting bigger and bigger.”
Looking at it today, Johnson said he can’t see how the event can grow much larger, but no matter how the size, he hopes the fair maintains its focus.
“I was on it (the fair board) for over 30 years, from next to nothing to quite a fair, but they just seem to keep getting bigger,” Johnson said. “I just hope they can keep things going the way they’re going. As long as they keep it agriculture mostly, that’s the main thing.”