Oregon Trails: Jackson County Fair

By Ron Brown

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. — It’s summer time, and as the song goes, “the livin’ is easy,” the time of year when kids, animals and crops are sprouting up. This is also the time of year for county fairs, when kids of all ages show off the flowers, livestock, food and other homegrown products they’ve been working on for months.

Rogue valley residents have always like to put on a show. This year is no different. The first Jackson County Fair was in Jacksonville in October of 1859. That’s the same year Oregon became a state. It was called the “agricultural show”. In 1872, the Jackson County Fair Association was organized, and there’s been a Jackson county fair held almost every year since. Former Fair Director Chris Borovansky says that makes it the longest running county fair in Oregon.

“We’ve got documentation about the board members and what they did, and, and there’s a quite a bit o’ history actually on the event as they evolved through the 1910’s, the 20’s, the 30’s, through the depression and on into the 50’s, 60’s into today,” Boravansky explains.

The first fairgrounds were on south Oakdale in Medford. But in 1922, the fair moved to the location near where the Medford Armory is now. And that’s where it stayed until it moved to its current 200-acre location at the Expo in Central Point.

“In the 20’s that was actually the fair’s heyday. I mean, there wasn’t Internet or TV, and you didn’t travel to the theme parks a whole lot, so county fairs were big,” says Boravansky. “We had auto racing. We had airplane racing. There was horse racing. I mean this was where people came. It was the event of the year. The social event of the year. The place to be to see and to be seen.”

If you had a time machine and could go back to 1859 to that first fair in Jacksonville, it probably wouldn’t look anything like what you see today. Certainly no carnival. There would’ve been a lot of baked goods and canned goods, and probably some animals. But fair officials say you need to change with the times in order to keep the fair relevant.

“That’s the biggest challenge for fairs these days, um, and there are a lot of fairs out there that just tend to do the same thing over and over and over again. We’d love to have more land products and more flowers,” Boravansky says. “But we’re pretty early in the growing season in Southern Oregon and so that’s one of the reasons we have the harvest fair in late September.”

In the old Copco newsreel footage of the Jackson County Fair in the ‘20’s you can see people dressed up for the events. Not too much casual wear then. As Chris said, this was a social event. Car races were promoted with special license plates, and top drivers and cars of the age came ready to run. The Millers, Duesenbergs, and overhead valve Fords. The king of racing then was Barney Oldfield, and he even showed up to wave the checkered flag one year.

Nearby was also one of Oregon’s first airfields. But the old fairgrounds began to be crowded out by commercial development and Interstate Five in the 60’s and 70’s. So the county sold its property there in 1974, and moved to its current location at the Expo park in Central Point. And there it continues to grow and expand. But will it still be around for another 150 years?

“It’s a good question, and it’s one we can’t take for granted. It really isn’t. And again, it comes back to that relevance. So, if communities want to showcase what they’ve got to do and fairs are willing to embrace that, we’re going to be around for 150, 250 years,” Boravansky states.

According to the Oregon Fairs Association, almost every county in Oregon holds a fair, beginning in July and running into September. The Curry County Fair opens July 26th and runs through the 29th. The Klamath County Fair begins August 9th and runs through the 12th. The Douglas County Fair is August 7th through 11th. The Siskiyou County Fair runs August 8th through 12th. The Josephine County Fair runs August 14th through the 18th. The Lake County Fair and Rodeo is from August 31st through September 3rd and the Oregon State Fair is August 24th through September 3rd.