135 Octobers Ago: The County Fair

Headline from lead article on page 2 of San Diego Union, October 31, 1885.

The San Diego County Fair took place in late October 1885. A county agricultural association had been established just a few years previously, and like many other county fairs, San Diego’s started primarily as a display of agricultural produce, though there were some references to exhibits of the products of local carriage builders and brick makers in the San Diego Union’s coverage of the 1885 fair. But agricultural production was still the heart of the county’s economy, as the Union’s publisher obviously noted. The papers October 31, 1885 issue filled four pages with articles directly or indirectly referencing the fair, and the paper of that time was only eight pages long!

While the county was predominantly a farming and ranching area it still had a relatively low population, which was reflected in the fact that all the county fair’s exhibits were housed in one building, the Armory Hall on Second Street (now Broadway), between D and E streets.

Ten tables filled the hall with displays of produce, according to the Union. A “magnificent display made by the Julian district” included “apples, pears, grapes, dried fruit and nuts.” The reporter also commented on “the fine exhibits of raisins by G. A. Cowles and B. P. McKoon of El Cajon,” adding that “Mr. Cowles is the largest raisin producer of the county.” Cowles would later be memorialized by Cowles Mountain.

While 1885 saw the fair in San Diego, the county fair would not have a permanent home for almost five decades, being staged at venues from National City to San Diego to Escondido, until finally settling in at the then-new Del Mar Fairgrounds in 1936.

Sources for this post included historic San Diego newspapers, The Journal of San Diego History and the 1994 essay, “A Brief History of the Del Mar Fair,” by Del Mar Fairgrounds Archivist Jane Spivey.

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