MECHANICSBURG – Goshen Memorial Park will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the first event held there, back when it was called the Central Ohio Fairgrounds, on Saturday, Sept. 21, with food, music and an appearance by actor and singer Tom Wopat of the “Dukes of Hazzard” television show. Sept. 21 is the day in 1869 that Mechanicsburg hosted the first central Ohio fair, a regional fair held for 25 years. The event included many agricultural competitions before disbanding.
“In 1868 there was a group that was forming, the Central Ohio Fair Association, and their plans were to create a regional fair,” said local historian Stan Oliver. “There were county fairs going on, and there’s a lot of folks around who believe it was originally the state fair, and that is not true … The first fair was held in September and it was mainly a weekend thing, it wasn’t like a week-long fair, but it was a regional fair and it originally involved five counties. It became, eventually, eight counties that took part in that.”
According to Oliver, the ground was not developed and the park sat empty for a while, but by 1910 the land was being used for an annual Chautauqua with events and speakers. For a while it was referred to as Matinee Park until after World War II when the park was dedicated to veterans on Memorial Day of 1948 and officially named Goshen Township Memorial Park.
“It could have been developed,” he said. “There was debate in the community over whether they wanted to have a park or not, and luckily it was not developed into residential. That was discussed at one point … there was debate what to do when it had grown up and they didn’t take care of it for a while, before it became a park from fairgrounds. A lot of those folks just didn’t know what to do. They discussed if they should just sell it or get rid of it, so thank goodness they reestablished it and renamed it, and since ‘48 it’s been served with the name it has.”
Oliver said that one day he would like to bring back the Central Ohio Fair, but that next weekend’s event is to be a re-dedication of the park to local veterans. Admission is free, and in addition to the general public he said he’s hoping to see many local veterans, former park board members and their family members.
Local dignitaries have also been invited, and Mechanicsburg Mayor Greg Kimball will serve as master of ceremonies. Oliver said that Gov. Mike DeWine had also been invited and may choose to send a proclamation. There will be different speakers addressing local history and veterans’ issues as well as an American Legion and Boy Scout honor guard.
Music will begin at 1 p.m. including the Mechanicsburg High School band, Bonnie Ayars, and Isaac Bryant singing the national anthem. Tom Wopat will sing at 4 p.m., and will be available for meet and greets until that time.
For more information, or to register as a vendor, contact Oliver at 937-508-1080.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304