The Bellville Street Fair is about to embark on its 165th edition, a feat that stands as a testament to the popularity of its yearly festivities, as well as residents’ long standing support of village traditions.
The annual event is as woven into the fabric of Bellville as any of the village’s rich historical narratives or cultural landmarks. September stands as a homecoming both literally and figuratively to many past and current citizens, as many fairgoers rediscover what is authentically Bellville.
According to Roger Long in article published in the Sept. 15, 1982 edition of The Bellville Star, “I grew up in Bellville in the years just after World War II. Although I’ve been away 27 years, the town has a special place in memory that never fades. And no recollection is clearer than that of the Bellville Fair. That one week in September was a magic time. When a cloth banner announcing the fair went up over Main Street in mid-summer, we knew for sure it was coming. We’d stop on bikes and admire those red letters that promised untold wonders.”
That sentiment is echoed by many as the annual fair approaches. In a similar vein Mary Louise Smith of Arlington Heights, Ill. wrote in article published in The Bellville Star, “There’s no kid luckier than the one who is raised in a small town that boasts an annual street fair. Having had that advantage and been allowed the freedom to explore it. I enjoy again each year memories of the Bellville Street Fair.”
The street fair seems to hold a special place in many villager’s memories and acts as a proper end to the Central Ohio summer. As we once again wait for the fair to appear downtown, it seems fitting to look back at the fair throughout its existence that spans well over a century.
The first Bellville Street Fair began in 1850 just 47 years after Ohio became a state. There is little documented history of 19th century fairs in Bellville, but according to documents at the Bellville Historical Society the fair is believed to have served as common gathering place for residents to display their agricultural inventory.
The first sparsely documented fair was in 1895 and was billed as “Bellville’s Annual Free Street Fair.” According to the historical society’s archives, “The streets during the fair were unpaved, pipe hitching rails flanked the sidewalks and the Mansfield Band was scheduled to play Friday evening.” The event was reported to be a “grand and glorious success” even though not much was written about it.
The following year “Bellville’s Second Annual Free Street Fair” was reported to have had 10,000 people in attendance on Friday, the event’s “banner day”. An article published in the village’s newspaper at the time cited that thousands of people arrived to the village by train to take in the yearly festivities.
After the turn of the century, the fair grew to even larger proportion and began to resemble its current state. According to documents at the historical society, it is estimated that 20,000 people attended the fair, which was now being billed as “The Bellville Street Fair and Homecoming”.
“Belleville’s 1938 Street Fair and Homecoming held last Thursday, Friday and Saturday made a new record in its fair history by having the largest and most diversified exhibits of agricultural products ever seen in Bellville. The Centerburg-Bellville High School Band contributed admirably with concerts at the Bandstand. While presenting a brilliant and unusual spectacle by playing while riding the Ferris wheel and merry go-round.”
Following World War II, the street fair became further entrenched into Bellville’s culture enlisting multiple area organizations such as the Bellville Independent Agriculture Society to organize the festival. Since, its inception the Bellville Street Fair has grown to include a plethora of other various competitions, along with its agricultural contests.
Today, the fair includes a wide array of events to suit all interests, it boasts everything from the annual tractor pull to a fine-art show. With so much to see during the annual event, it is hard to fit it all in and seems to leave as quickly as it comes.
In Thomas’ archived piece for the Bellville Star she sums up the experience quite well writing, “Before church on Sunday morning the fair had disappeared, the streets had been swept clean and the barriers removed. In the silence of the early morning one could almost hear the echo of the merry go-round music- the reluctance of the mind to let happiness become a memory.”
Enjoy this year’s 165th annual street it’s a great opportunity take in a bit of Bellville’s present and past.