The West End Fair, originally named the Monroe County Agricultural Society, was first held at Weir Lake on Thursday, September 2, 1920. It came about at the monthly meeting of Weir Lake Development Company in 1919 when Frank Koehler came up with the idea of holding an annual display of farming products. He donated $100 towards this endeavor and stated that he would solicit $150 of advertising as long as the company would match his amount. Five hundred dollars was raised and the West End Fair was born. Nearly four thousand people attended this early event. Then Eldred, Chestnuthill, Polk, Hamilton, Ross, Jackson, and Tunkhannock were the seven townships involved in organizing the fair. Tunkhannock, no longer part of the organization, broke away in 1925. Today there are six directors from each of these townships.
It was in the second year of the fair that the name was changed to the West End Agricultural Society, thereby establishing our own identity. The date was also permanently established. The fair would always be held on the last Wednesday in August which is still in effect today.
In 1927 the directors and officers bought their own plot of ground and the West End Fair in Gilbert was officially created. One of the best features of our fair then as well as today is the fairground itself. Many articles have been written about our stately oaks and majestic hemlocks shading the grove. Even when temperatures rise into the 90’s, there is still a cool breeze blowing to the delight of the fairgoers.
The West End Fair in the 1920’s displayed historical exhibitions such as: Indian arrowheads and tomahawks found locally, two hundred year old bread baskets and quilts, old German coins, a Civil War canteen, a Revolutionary War fork and corn huskers made by a Civil War veteran while convalescing, wooden shoes, an old lock from a house in Mahoning Valley that had been burned and the occupants kidnapped by Indians.
Local bands from nearby towns such as McMichaels, Gilbert, Kunkletown, Wind Gap and Palmerton as well as minstrel and vaudeville acts performed at the fair. Cakewalks, fat men’s races, women’s nail driving contests, children’s shoe lacing contests, tugs of war, horseshoe pitching, parades of people dressed in “ridiculous” clothes, and parades of people “walking funny,” egg and potato relay races, young men on horseback relay races, and auto retiring races were all part of the early days of entertainment at the West End Fair.
Senior Citizen Day began in 1930 when prizes were given to the oldest man and lady. Now Senior Citizen Day has become a tradition at the West End Fair. On Wednesday there is a reduced senior admission price, afternoon entertainment selected with them in mind, and special prizes awarded in different categories. The association often gives flowers to the ladies.
The 1940’s was a difficult decade for the West End Fair since World War II was in full force. Because of the war obligations no fair was held in 1942 and 1943. In the 1940’s the fair association ran the “kitchen.” The women were famous for the generous helpings of pork and sauerkraut served to the hungry customers. In 1947 Mrs. Arlington Smith dished out one hundred gallons of homemade sauerkraut in one day. The homemade pies were also a favorite of the fairgoers. Even though the kitchen is no longer manned by the fair association, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes is still a traditional dish served at the fair.
Many changes occurred in the 1970’s. The fair went from a one-day event in the 1920’s to a six-day event in 1975. A new two-story fair office was erected which was expanded in 1994. Ten-tiered bleachers were built to hold many more interested 4 wheel drive and tractor pull fans. On Wednesday, August 30, 1978, at 5:30 a.m., fire hit the West End Fair and destroyed the entire main commercial exhibition building and all of its contents. Hundreds of thousands of dollars of electric organs, motorcycles, furniture, shoes and other saleable items were lost. The fire raged with such intense heat that it melted the roof of a nearby tractor. A somber director said with emotion that it was one of our best old buildings with a slate roof that had been built the old-fashioned way. A year later a new block building for commercial exhibits was erected in its place, but no construction could replace the fine old building that had shared so many fairs with the West End visitors. In 1979 two new entrance gates were erected and a year later a third gate was installed at the east entrance of the fairgrounds.
In 1986 the fair association purchased thirteen acres of land to alleviate the parking problem. During the summer of 1987 a company from King of Prussia began building a new grandstand. It was completed in the fall when the roof was added. The arena now had room for 3,371 more spectators. It could now seat a total of 4,211 people. The fair had its first “big” star at the arena in 1989 when Charley Pride entertained crowds of fairgoers.
In 1994 the main stage got a face life thanks to the generosity of a director and his wife who donated the beautiful fair logo. This thoughtful gesture displays another example of the dedication and love the directors have for their fair. In the 1990’s a new section was added for concessionaires. The grounds can now accommodate 200 concessions. In 1996 the old fair office became the new museum which was created for the fair’s 75th anniversary. It contained fair memorabilia and local antiques. There continues to be a changing theme each year, from quilts to tools to parlor to Christmas in August.
The museum has now expanded to a 50’ by 100’ building as room was needed for the many donations acquired.
Over the years the West End Fair has seen many changes. It has gone from 3000 people in attendance to over 180,000. Now we have many innovations, but no matter how much our fair changes, the philosophy remains the same. The original West End Fair premium book contained a statement of the goal of the fair, which hasn’t changed.
“The object of the fair is: to promote a healthy interest in the West End of Monroe County in the raising of thoroughbred horses, cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry; to increase the quality and quantity of grains, fruits, and vegetables; to assist in the social uplift of the West End by bringing all classes of rural life together to vie with each other in exhibiting the best that the West End can produce; finally to afford a day of recreation and pleasure.” We continue to keep these traditions as we preserve the past by developing the future.