Family fun for generations of Alpena residents
ALPENA -The Alpena County Fair has been around nearly as long as the county itself and even though there have been some changes to how the fair is held, in large part it is similar today to what it was when it began in near the end of the 1800s.
The Alpena County Fair wasn’t always held at the fairgrounds – one was held on Oct. 10, 1878, on the corner of Third Avenue and River Street in Alpena. It has became a mainstay at the fairgrounds after 1879 when the fairgrounds were purchased by the county for $1,200.
Years ago the fair was held in the fall of the year, but featured many of the same attractions the event provides today. There were animals and farm produce that were judged and sold, as well as activities for the children and their parents to enjoy.
In the early days there was little seating at the fairgrounds, until the Alpena Trotting Association paid to have the grandstands built in 1881. Former Alpena resident Frank Kelley said he remembers going to the fair in the 1950. He said there were always a lot of people and a a wide variety of things to do. He said he believes adults looked forward to the fair, as much as the kids who were looking forward to going on the ferris wheel and wining prizes playing games.
“The fair as always a big deal. It was very successful, which isn’t always the case now days, and it was enjoyed by everyone,” Kelley said. “There was a ride section and a carnival section, much like today and it was a lot of fun for the kids. I think it was just as fun for the parents though, because they could could take their children to it and a have a family day together enjoying the activities.”
Like today, the animal exhibits were a large and popular part of the fair. Ann Karrow said her favorite part of attending the fair in the 1950s was going through the barns to see the animals. She said she was fond of the rides, but liked the livestock and the produce much more. She said marveled at all the produce that was proudly displayed by local farmers and the awards that were given to the winners.
“When I went to the fair as a child I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. The midway always looked like it was endless. I may be looking at it through adult eyes now, but it doesn’t seem as large as it did then,” Karrow said. “Back then I think the awards meant more too. You would have a lot of entries for things like jam or canned green beans and if you won first prize when there might have been 30 or more entries it was special. Now you may have three or five entries, so I don’t think the prizes mean as much.”
Karrow said her father, Jack LaPine, attended the fair in the 1930s during the Great Depression. She said money was so tight her father and his six brothers would have to sneak into the fair on occasion and even spend the night in the barns.
“They may have only got a nickel or if they were lucky a dime and if they paid to get in they wouldn’t have money to do anything inside. My father told me many times the security guard would just look the other direction and let the boys in, or they would swim in the river, swim around and sneak in,” Karrow said. “My father used to help take care of horses on Hobbs Drive and he would ride them to the fair, show them, put them back in the stalls and sometimes sleep in the stall with them.”
Karrow said she doesn’t think the anticipation for the event is as strong as it used to be.
“There is so much more available to do now,” she said. “There is just so much for people to do or see that the fair doesn’t have that luster it once did because back then there were a very limited amount of things to do, so you couldn’t wait for it to come. It just doesn’t seems people get excited about it today as they did back then. I don’t think there is as much participation either. I’m not sure why, but back then it seemed like everyone took part.”