LANCASTER, Ohio — It was a somber morning, Sept. 24, when Fairfield County Fairboard members woke up to see the historic grandstand had burned to the ground.
Built in the early 1900s, the grandstands were no longer being used — except for storage — but the structure held a lot of meaning and memories to those who were able to sit in the stands during its glory days.
“It caused quite the community uprising because it is a tremendous piece of our fair’s history,” said Dave Benson, Fairfield County Fair manager. “It was well over 100 years old, like a lot of other building on the grounds.”
Lancaster Fire Department Assistant Chief Jack Mattlin said the call came in to the fire department at 2:17 a.m., Sept. 24. At that time, the stands were fully engulfed in flames.
The fire department arrived at the scene within 6 minutes, but it was too late. The wooden structure was “fully involved” and all crew members could do was contain the flames as the structure burned to the ground. No injuries were reported.
The fire has been deemed suspicious and an arson investigation is underway. So far, county officials have no leads. “It’s suspicious because there are no electrical units and no gas units going to the building. The fairboard wasn’t using it for anything. There is no reason that this building should have caught fire,” said Mattlin.
Mattlin said a $5,000 reward is being offered for any information leading to an arrest of those involved in the fire. Anyone with information should call the Lancaster Police Department at 740-687-6680, or the Lancaster Fire Department at 740-687-6640.
About the grandstand
The wooden grandstand was built in 1908 with a unique curve designed to sit around the track, explained Benson. It seated around 500 people and housed commercial exhibits in the space under the stands.
In 1927, it was relocated to the east end of the race track and a modern steel and concrete grandstand was built in its place. The old grandstand would sit at the bottom of Mount Pleasant until the recent fire.
“It was very picturesque,” said Benson, noting there are many pictures and postcards with the building surrounded by trees with the “mountain” in the background. The fire also spread to many of those surrounding trees, forcing any remaining trees that had not completely burnt to be removed.
A windstorm had caused significant damage to the grandstands in 2008 (making it unsafe to sit in the stands) and Benson said the community rallied together to raise money to restore the building. Benson said the community was able to raise $100,000 to restore the structure, enough to keep it standing, but it would take over $500,000 to make the stands safe for people use.
The remains of the stands have been cleared and dirt and gravel are currently filling in the holes from where the grandstand once sat. Benson said the fairboard plans to have a tent and benches for people to sit during the fair this year and will eventually have a monument built to remember the historic building.
The 166th Fairfield County Fair is scheduled for October 9-15, in Lancaster, Ohio.
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