The History of California’s Lake County Fair
The Lake County Fair Association was first established in December of 1879, and held its first fair in 1880 in Grantsville, which today is the town of Lower Lake. In 1882 the Lake County Fair Association was absorbed into the 12th District Agricultural Association, and fairs were held in alternate years in either Willits (Mendocino County) or Upper Lake (Lake County) until 1893. No records exist of fairs between 1893 and 1922.
Beginning in 1922, fairs were held in September on the grounds of Upper Lake High School. These fairs took place for several years, and were financed through the sale of stocks, with a few stock certificates still in existence today.
From 1930 through 1938, Lake County Fair was held in Lakeport as part of a water sports show and rodeo.
In 1938, the 49th District Agricultural Association was formed by an act of the California Legislature, and the Governor appointed the first board of directors. The first premium book was printed in 1941, but the entry into World War Two by the United States put the fair on hold, and no fairs were held between 1942 and 1945.
In 1947, the 49th District Agricultural Association purchased the first piece of the current fairgrounds on Martin Street in Lakeport. The purchase price was $14,000. Construction began in 1948, and the first fair on the new site was held in September. The race track and a number of barns were built in 1949, followed by several exhibit buildings in 1950, including the Phil Lewis Hall, which remains the largest building of its kind in Lake County, and is named after the first full time fair manager.
In 1954, several more acres were added to the fairgrounds, and construction continued throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, with much of the current configuration of the fairgrounds constructed during these decades.
In 1976, after the unexpected death of Floyd Baldwin, the fair’s second manager, the fair board hired Viva Fritch, one of the first female fair managers in the United States. Mrs. Fritch retired in 1985.
In the mid-1980’s, the 49th District Agricultural Association went on another building spree, purchasing the balance of the property to make up the current 34 acres, and constructing the Floyd Baldwin Livestock Pavilion and the Fritch Hall. Parking lots for 1,400 cars were added, and baseball diamonds were constructed for use by little league teams.
Baldwin Pavilion remains the largest covered multi-purpose building in Lake County, and is used annually for more than a dozen equestrian events, go-karting, dog training, auto race parking, various farm bureau training programs, jackpot beef and goat competitions. It also houses the junior livestock competitions and auction during the annual Lake County Fair, with nearly 500 head of livestock and small animals. In 2003, 780 solar panels were installed in the roof, and generate enough power to run the entire back 1/3 of the fairgrounds over the course of a year.
In 2006, additional solar systems were installed on Phil Lewis Hall and Fritch Hall. The total combined output of the three systems is enough energy to power approximately 70 homes.