Historical Markers
York Inter-State Fair Historical Marker
Mouse over for marker text

York Inter-State Fair

Hershey/Gettysburg/Dutch Country Region


Marker Location:
PA 462 (W. Market St.) at fairgrounds, near W end of York

Dedication Date:
September 10, 1978

Behind the Marker

Aerial view of the International State Fair.
Aerial view of the International State Fair.
The first Quaker settlers in Pennsylvania held their first fair within a few years of the founding of the colony. In the 1700s, fairs provided many Pennsylvania farmers' opportunities to gather for a few days of entertainment and socializing, and to see and sell some of their best livestock and produce.

An observer at a Pennsylvania fair in 1794 wrote, "During the Fair, which lasts for three days in June and while Court is held (which is once every three months), all the Country farmers and their children always come to Lancaster and then everything is good cheer. All the young farmers, men and women, must have pleasure, as they have none the rest of the year. People say nothing is more interesting than their loud joy and big kisses exchanged everywhere by the sweethearts who fill the streets. So young people have an opportunity to see each other and marriage follows; while the fathers get drunk in the taverns."

The York Fair began in 1765, when Thomas Penn, son of the founder William Penn and then proprietor of the colony, issued a charter granting York permission to hold two fairs a year - one in the spring and the other in the fall. Participants brought their farm animals, produce, cheeses, hams, pies, preserves, and other items they manufactured for sale. Merchants and traveling dealers in small wares also set up booths at the fair. Over the next fifty years, the York County fair, like many county fairs became popular events - sometimes to the consternation of local residents. Fair days often resulted in what one witness called "scene[s] of... riotous merriment and... riotous commotion" in the otherwise peaceful and quiet town. The murder of Robert Dunn during the fall fair in 1815 led citizens to petition the state government to end the event, and the following year, the legislature obliged.
Fruit stands at the Inter-State Fair.
"Fruit Exhibit Number 1," York County Fair, York, PA, circa 1910.

In 1851 several prominent citizens of York met to form a county agricultural society and resurrect the county fair in order to showcase the best that county farmers were able to produce through improved farming, and reward them and encourage them to continue with better breeding and farming techniques.

The newly formed York County Agricultural Society sponsored its first "agricultural and industrial fair" on October 5, 6, and 7, 1853. Thousands came to see the numerous exhibitions of livestock and machinery. By the 1880s, the Fair had grown so large that the Society purchased the 73-acre Smyser farm in Manchester Township and additional acreage to host the annual York Interstate Fair. Other agricultural organizations in Pennsylvania held fairs, too - particularly important was the Grangers Interstate Picnic and Exhibition at markerWilliam's Grove.
Delaware Horticultural Manufacturing Diploma 1857.
Delaware Horticultural Manufacturing Diploma 1857.

Throughout the twentieth century, the York fair presented the best livestock, garden produce, home crafts and manufactures, and educational exhibits, along with other forms of wholesome family entertainment. (The fair missed only one year, of 1918 when it was cancelled due to the influenza pandemic.) The festival became so popular that the York County Agricultural Society expanded the fair into a five-day, and then a nine-day event.

The sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the York Fair delight tens of thousands of visitors from Pennsylvania and the rest of the eastern United States every year. At the fair you can eat all kinds of treats: candy apples, caramel corn, corn dogs, cotton candy, funnel cakes, hot dogs, ice cream, peanuts, popcorn, soft pretzels, water ice, and more. There are also plenty of amusements such as bumper cars, comedy animal acts, the Ferris wheel, fun house, merry-go-round, racing pigs, roller coaster, and a dozen or more entertaining side-show acts. The best of the farm and garden are on display: cattle, horse, poultry, sheep, and swine shows, and flower arrangements, fruits, and vegetables. Breads, cakes, jams, jellies, pies, preserves, and relishes of all kinds are tasted and judged. Crafts and skills from years gone by are demonstrated, including the threshing of grain with horse and mule-powered machines.
Back to Top