The History of the Luzerne County Fair Research and written by Marge Parry, first edition by Sheldon Spear Re-Written for this publication by Judy Kmetz, Colette Mahoney and Dusty Titus
The annual Luzerne County Fair is part of a long tradition of entertainment and recreation in the Back Mountain area. Earlier activities included picnicking and steamboat rides on Harveys Lake, which was readily accessible from Wilkes-Barre from 1896 on, by way of a trolley car line.
To help support this line, the Wilkes-Barre, Dallas and Harveys Lake Railway Company built the Fernbrook Amusement Park. Located on the site of what is today Offset Paperback Company, Fernbrook was an outstanding resort. Among other things, it featured big name bands and national radio and movie personalities such as Rudy Vallee, Les Brown, Glenn Miller, Wayne King, Guy Lombardo and many others. One of the Dallas Area’s most popular events, the Easter Egg Hunt, also took place in Fernbrook.
From 1896 to 1921 the Dallas Fair, which combined picnic, reunion, parade, educational exhibit, competitions and glamour, was perhaps the biggest amusement extravaganza of all. It ran for one week in the later part of September on “the fairgrounds” in Dallas Township, east of the Current Dallas Senior High School (stone post on Hildebrandt Road still mark the entrance). The Fair drew as many as 6,000 people on the weekend, offering them harness racing, band concerts, games of skill and chance, displays of livestock and farm produce, handicraft products, farm machinery and sideshows with a somewhat off-color reputation. The Fair never made a profit, which is probably why it eventually had to cease operations.
The old Dallas Fair was only a distant memory in the early 1960’s when the Dallas Rotary Club decided that it needed a new community program. After months of planning, Club President Myron Baker announced that a fair would be held on Saturday, October 5, 1963 at the Lehman Horse Show grounds – its purpose would be to raise funds for various civic activities. Specifically the beneficiaries would be the Back Mountain Library Fund, Rotary Youth Leadership Cap, Back Mountain Y.M.C.A., Wyoming Valley Council of Boy Scouts, Dallas School Library, Lake Lehman School Library and Gate of Heaven School Library.
Called the Dallas Rotary Fall Fair, that first fair began with a parade from Lehman Center to the Horse Show grounds. Daytime entertainment included a baby parade and show, a dog training exhibition, a horse show and a little league exhibition baseball game. In the evening the Dallas Senior High School Band gave a concert, Boy Scouts presented American Indian dances and the Dallas High Key Club and Rifle Team and the Junior High Drill Team performed precision drills. After a fashion show (through the courtesy of the Boston Store) and the selection of a fair queen, the festivities ended up with tunes played by the Lake Lehman Band and a fireworks display. Financially the Fair was a modest success. The 1964 Fair expanded to two days and also in the number of exhibits and activities. For example, the hobby station, with Dr. Lester Jordan as chairman, became a major attraction and remained on over the years. A Dutch couple, Mr. and Mrs. Van Bearen, who had hosted a Back Mountain exchange student, made an appearance in their native costumes.
In 1965 Dallas Rotary Fall Fair featured a spectacular illuminated motorcycle drill by a Reading group, as well as a trained horse and dog exhibition by the Pennsylvania State Police. Unfortunately rain, always a distinct threat, caused cancellation of the second day of the Fair The fourth annual Fall Fair, in 1966, substituted a motorcade from Carverton Road in Trucksville to the fair grounds for the usual parade. A rock concert by “the Groovy Blues” was a sign of the times. Of considerable interest was the handling of live snakes by Dr. Charles Kuschel of Pittston, who proceeded to “milk” the creatures of their venom (Dr. Kuschel was bitten by a rattlesnake at the 1968 Fair and had to be rushed to the hospital – he emerged without serious injury). Interesting in another sense was a demonstration of the Braille system of writing for the blind, a subject of which most sighted people have little knowledge.
In 1969 the Rotary Fall Fair underwent a name change, to the Dallas Area Fall Fair, as the Dallas Kiwanis and Dallas Lions Clubs joined Rotary as sponsors. This Fair included an outstanding demonstration of dressage, an equestrian term of French derivation encompassing many elements of training the riding horse. The model railroad display by the Wyoming Valley Model Railroad club also drew much favorable attention. Net profit for the 1969 Fair was the greatest up to this point.
The 1971 Fall Fair, a three-day affair, was notable for the appearance of the nationally known musical group, the New Christy Minstrels. It was in 1971 too that the Fair donated $12,000 to the Back Mountain Memorial Library to help establish a permanent auction site; and the combined service clubs – Rotary, Lions and Kiwanis – made a down payment of $1,000 to Mr. Joseph Parks on twelve acres of land to be used for future Fairs. As part of the same deal, Mr. Parks agreed to donate twelve additional acres for the establishment of a medical clinic. The Fair flourished during the rest of the decade, with a new partial funding source: the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Under a new name – the Luzerne County Fair – it featured square dancers, animal acts, rock and jazz concerts, skydivers, fire fighting competitions, fashion shows and numerous other entertainments. The growing proceeds provided funding for excellent causes, such as the construction of a life support vehicle for the Back Mountain Ambulance Association.
The 1979 Luzerne County Fair was a five-day affair – September 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 – dedicated specially to raising money for the support of the Back Mountain Mobile Intensive Care Unit and the medical facility, which was in the process of being completed on Route 118. To emphasize the health theme, personnel from the Nesbitt Memorial Hospital made themselves available for high blood pressure and other screening tests.
On June 16, 1980, The Fair’s sponsors completed the purchase of twenty-five acres of land in Lehman Township and Dallas Borough for the sum of $25,000, which was raised through a community fund drive. This was also the first year of the Medical Center’s operation. Most of the Fair’s annual proceeds were used to sponsor the Medical Center and the Mobile Intensive Care Unit, which required more than $20,000 annually to operate. In 1986, the Nesbitt Hospital purchased these facilities and thereby freed Fair proceeds for other worthy causes and facility expansion.
Over the years, fairground improvements have included much excavation, electrical, drainage and paving work. In addition to the early construction of the horseshoe pitching building, permanent facilities now include an office, horse barn, cattle barn, two arts & crafts buildings, two large indoor exhibitor buildings, a horse show arena and several stands built and operated by member clubs.The most notable changes in the last 15 years have included the Fair Amphitheater, and new Gate A, C and D ticket booths. New buildings were added for a dressing room, water building, electric building and the small animals barn. The livestock area also enjoys a new horse ring, footing and fence. In the Gate areas, we have a new parking lot at Gate A, and gardens at Gate A and Gate B entrances.
A covered demonstration area was added off the Arts and Crafts building and new roofs were added on all buildings. A First Aid Room was added at the main office. Several security enhancements include dusk to dawn lights, security cameras, and radios. New paved walkways, guide rails, and additional water and electrical standards have also been installed. Technological advances have also come to the fair, as seen by our website, www.LuzerneCountyFair.com which also includes our annual Premium Guide online as well as entertainment and other information. You can “Like” us on Facebook, and we have computerized our entry tags for livestock, horticulture, 4-H and arts and crafts entries.
We were privileged and honored to have had the 2009 State Fair Queen, the beautiful, personable, and talented Nicole Clemson of Dallas, who represented Luzerne County and all the other fairs at many State Fair events. In 2010 the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture instituted a new recognition award for PA fairs, “Outstanding Fair Ambassador”. This award is to honor an individual or group from each fair who has demonstrated outstanding leadership, volunteerism and dedication.The first Luzerne County Outstanding Fair Ambassador to be honored was Judy Kmetz! The 2011 Outstanding Fair Ambassador award recognized Carole Malig. There have been numerous awards at the annual State Fair convention, including the PSACF Best of Show award, 1st Place in the Billboard ad competition for the past three years, and the 2011 Zone Fair Award for Zone 2 fairs.
Recognized as a “Class A” Fair by the Department of Agriculture, the Luzerne County Fair remains one of very few Fairs in Pennsylvania to be sponsored by a non-profit association. Incorporated in 1980, the Dallas Area Fall Fair, Inc. presently consists of eight service clubs in the Back Mountain, the Luzerne County Extension Service and an associate group of community members. In addition to the sponsorship of the annual Fair, the Dallas Area Fall Fair, Inc. manages year-round activities at the grounds including winter storage and grounds rentals.
As it has for the past 50 years, The Luzerne County Fair continues to be organized and operated by a committee of volunteers which is comprised of individuals from the association member clubs and the community. Current member clubs that are the heart and soul of the “GREEN TEAM” include: Dallas Rotary; Dallas Kiwanis; Dallas Lions; Dallas Horseshoe Pitching Club; Harvey’s Lake Lions; Lake Silkworth Lions; Luzerne County Extension Service; Lake-Lehman Band Sponsors and Associate Members from the community. Annual attendance is estimated at well over 60,000 for the five day event that has become an annual family tradition. The Fair has more than fulfilled the aspirations of its original sponsors. It continues to provide funding for beneficial community activities, while entertaining thousands of visitors every year as one of the most popular institutions in northeastern Pennsylvania.