MILLERSBURG, Ohio — The countdown is on until the Holmes County Fair opens at its new location — just a couple miles west of the old fairgrounds — and most importantly, on higher ground.
The first fair at the new property, known as Harvest Ridge, will take place Aug. 8-13.
That’s still 10 months away, but the move to the new grounds, and construction at the new grounds, are well underway.
The “move” was a big part of this year’s annual 4-H recognition banquet, held Oct. 8 in Walnut Creek, and was a sentimental moment as the final fair at the old grounds came to a close.
“There was a whole (lot) of emotions. Good feelings, sad feelings and the alike, but yet a lot of excitement about that the direction that we’re going,” said Kerry Taylor, senior fairboard president.
Taylor has gotten used to making announcements about the move, which has been in the planning stages for at least the last five years. The fair is moving because its old grounds were located in a floodway, and in recent years, has experienced costly and potentially dangerous damages from flooding.
“Here we are, we’re moving,” Taylor said. “There’s really not much better announcement to make than that, but it’s certainly not new.”
Volunteers are already in the process of what he calls the “de-fair process,” taking down gates and pens, fence posts and electrical equipment that can be moved to the new grounds. The goal is to have most things moved before winter — when the cold and snow set in.
The fair is holding a number of volunteer days, beginning in October, and continuing until the work is done.
And, on a larger scale — the new grounds itself continues to take form. A major excavation and water drainage project was recently completed, and a 38,000- square-foot livestock project is out to bid, with an expected completion date by June 1.
The whole project — from the land to the buildings — has relied on grants and donations, which continue to be substantial.
The fairboard learned this spring that a local farmer, Sterling Humrichouser, was willing to donate a large portion of his estate to the new fairgrounds.
Sterling Humrichouser, who was also a Holmes County 4-H alumni, died March 13. His property sold over the summer, with about $500,000 going to the new fair.
His contribution will help fund the fair’s new livestock barn, which will be called the Tom, Eva & Sterling Humrichouser Livestock Barn.
This brings the total donations, cash and in-kind, to about $6.2 million — enough to hold the first fair and continue to build and grow in following years.
The fairgrounds completed its first building, the William T. Baker Building, in 2013, along with the restoration of an old bank barn.
And it received what was arguably its biggest donation in 2010 — when 80-plus acres were donated to the fair by Paul Weaver, chairman of Weaver Leather, in exchange for running water and sanitary utilities to that part of the county.
Those achievements were followed by state grants, including a $500,000 capital appropriations grant, and an Ohio Public Works Commission grant of about $600,000, which helped pay for utilities.
Taylor and the rest of the fairboard thanked state lawmakers for their support during a tour of the grounds Oct. 9. They welcomed State Reps. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, and Rep. Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, who is also speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives.
“There’s a lot of potential out here,” said Hall, who commented on the county’s strong tourism and woodworking industries.
Good opportunity. The county is short on expo-type facilities, even though it serves as a hub for certain events — like hardwood manufacturers, hunting and outdoors shows, and agriculture.
A quality fairgrounds — with buildings that can be used year-round — could provide a source of revenue for the fairgrounds and the rest of the county.
In addition to the other structures, the fairboard hopes to build a 60,000 square-foot expo building, that could be used during the fair, and to hold special events like the annual meeting of the Hardwood Furniture Guild, the largest group of hardwood furniture manufacturers and retailers in the nation.
The fairboard and the furniture guild are partnering to raise about $1 million toward the expo facility.
The expo facility could also be a “bridge” between the Amish and English communities, Taylor said. The Amish, which make up a large part of the county, generally do not participate at the fair. However, they could use the buildings for exhibits or trade shows that they feel are appropriate.
Taylor said that fairs “are the fabric of the local, particularly small, rural communities,” but that it’s challenging to raise enough funds for capital improvements. He’s hopeful that the buildings will be used year-round, and that the state will continue supporting the fair.