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August 25, 2012

Governor's visit to Schenevus fair in 1912 was memorable

The Daily Star

The Daily Star — It was one of the last in a long series of events known as the Schenevus Fair, but the 1912 edition probably had people talking about it for years to come around the village. It was a case of severe weather striking when a governor came to visit.

The Schenevus Fair, according to the 1990 book “A Pictorial History of the Town of Maryland, N.Y.,” began in 1864 and was discontinued in 1914. The fairgrounds were on a farm on the south side of state Route 7 near the Elk Creek, whose previous owners were the Bulson and Odell families, and most recently owned by the Darlings. At that time the fair was a two-day event.

Gov. John A. Dix had made a visit to Schenevus on the opening day, arriving on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 1912. Dix and a contingent arrived from Albany around noon that day, and with the escort of the Schenevus Band and numerous observers, went to the home of Melvin E. Baldwin, Esq., for a luncheon. After that, the governor held an impromptu reception of Baldwin’s front lawn, where he met numerous Democratic leaders in the county, among others.

We’re all aware of the sudden mood swings the weather can take in the heat of the summer, and nature provided a beauty as the governor and a motorcade arrived at the Schenevus fairgrounds.

Dix arrived at 2 p.m., and was prepared to address the fairgoers. As the Oneonta Star described it, his arrival “was timed almost to an instant with the breaking of a heavy thunder and hail storm over the vicinity, which continued for nearly an hour, sending the large crowd … to shelter in the buildings and tents scattered about the grounds.”

“The storm … did considerable damage. A bolt of lightning struck the large modern barn of Claude R. Bulson, near the entrance to the fairgrounds and endangered the lives of fully 100 people who had sought shelter.” The hailstones that fell in the village and along the Elk Creek Valley “did no little damage to crops and fruit.”

The governor had waited out the storm in his car. Lavern P. Butts of Oneonta, who drove the governor’s car, was also the Democratic county chairman at the time. It was decided that since the roof garden of the building the governor was originally set to make his address from had been drenched, would instead be made from the tonneau, or back-seat compartment of the open-top of Butts’ vehicle.

In his journey to Schenevus, the governor noticed how some crops being grown looked healthy, while others did not. Dix addressed the fairgoers, stressing the need for the extension of agricultural education.

“We want to have the education extended so that all our High schools, our agricultural schools and even our district schools will have the means of distributing scientific knowledge so much needed by the tillers of the soil,” Dix said.

Before the governor’s arrival and the subsequent storm, the Schenevus and Davenport ball teams had played a seven-inning game, with Davenport being the winner, 10-7. The rain made the track for the horse races too slippery, and attendance at the fair the rest of the day was light after the governor departed.

Attendance was better on the closing day, which featured the horse races, a “baby show,” and another baseball game. This time, Schenevus got even with Davenport, winning 10-2.

The midway was popular at the fair, or as the Star described it, was “lined with shows and amusement places of various kinds, interspersed with pop corn, ice cream and hot candy stands. Soft drink stands are to be found everywhere as well as the lunch and hot dog counters. The midway has never been so crowded with fakirs,” or those vendors hustling for business.

On Monday:

Computers for student use began in Oneonta in the autumn of 1982.

City Historian Mark Simonson’scolumn appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at His website is His columns can be found at