Chip Minemyer | Fair amount of activity this spring, summer in Centre Hall

April 19, 2014 

  • Growth of the grounds

    1890: original 20 acres purchased for $2,300

    1890: 5.7 acres purchased from Andrew Gregg Curtin’s family for $679

    1923: three smaller parcels of donated land added (actually paid $1 per parcel)

    1984: 140 acres of former Ilgen farm purchased

    2010: 55 acres purchased

    Now: fairgrounds set at 264 acres through GPS surveying

If you think Grange Fairgrounds is busy for just two weeks at the end of August, try again.

Beginning with a whopping eight events at the Centre Hall site in the next week, the home of the popular Grange Encampment and Fair is entering its busiest season ever.

From April to September, 71 events will be held at the fairgrounds, leaders said. They will feature everything from gospel and blue-grass music to horse and dog competitions.

Even a show featuring wild-west stagecoaches and cowboys shooting at targets.

“We’re excited about the summer,” said fairgrounds general manager Darlene Confer. “It’s going to be a busy one.”

LeDon Young, a fair committee member since 1995, said a multiuse facility is what founder Leonard Rhone and others envisioned in 1874, when the first Progress Grange picnic was held at the site.

“After all these years on the fair committee, I’ve learned that we really don’t do anything brand new,” Young said. “All that we do goes back to Leonard Rhone’s vision 140 years ago. He called it Grange Park, because he wanted it to be used all the time, not just at fair time.”

This weekend will bring events including Dog Jog 2014, a 5K race and 1.5-mile walk to benefit Pets Come First; the Central Pa. Holstein Club’s Spring Spectacular Show; a Nita-Nee Kennel Club Dog Show; Centre County Conservation District’s seedling sale; and Stagecoach Mounted Shooters — “a spectator sport,” Confer said.

“It’s our kickoff, really,” Confer said.

There’s much more on the calendar.

Music lovers can head to the fairgrounds for the Covalt Gospel Sing (June 6-7) and the big Remington Ryde Bluegrass Festival (July 8-13).

The site’s equine facility will busy all spring and summer, with quarter-horse and other shows and 4-H rides on many weeknights. Plans are in the works to expand that area due to high demand.

Speaking of expansion, the grounds’ tractor-pull arena has new bleachers, brought over from Penn State, and will host a BMX event during the fair. The Interstate tractor and truck pull will be held May 16-17, and an event for garden and farm tractors will be June 27-28.

The American Cancer Society Relay for Life returns June 21-22. A new event, a science camp run by Discovery Space of State College, will be held July 24-25.

And, oh yes, Grange Fair is Aug. 21-28. Grandstand entertainment announced in the past week will include the country duo Swon Brothers, legendary twister Chubby Checker, and 1970s southern-rockers The Outlaws.

“Every event is sort of like an open house,” Young said. “You throw open the doors and say, ‘Y’all come.’ ”

And the steady activity at Grange Fairgrounds is no accident.

Young said that in the late ’60s and early ’70s, “when RVs first were catching on,” fairgrounds leaders started to think about broader uses for the site.

“Concessionaires started to bring Winnebagos and converted vehicles to the fair because they were riding the circuit,” she said. “And that’s when (the committee) said, ‘This is a way to generate revenue.’ ”

Over the years, camping amenities were added and then enhanced — both for fairgoers and other visitors. The restroom facilities were added and later upgraded.

And the fairgrounds has grown considerably since Leonard Rhone’s day. What started as 20 acres for the inaugur-al picnic is now a 264-acre sprawling complex with more than 100 individual buildings.

That growth meant greater costs — taxes, maintenance, utilities — which in turn led to a drive for more events.

“We really did this out of necessity,” Confer said. “The cost of keeping a piece of property this size is enormous.”

The 1984 purchase of the former Ilgen farm added 140 acres and a big loan to pay for them.

“Then the marketing had to really go, because we had a mortgage and that had to be paid for,” Young said.

“We have a sewer bill that’s $5,000 a month,” she said. “And if the only thing out there peeing is a squirrel, we still have that payment.”

For Young, a 40-year member of the Progress Grange, the stream of activity means revenue coming to the region and numerous opportunities to showcase Centre Hall, Penns Valley and the entire county.

“We all have agriculture in our hearts, and to see fallow ground is something that goes against the grain,” Young said. “To have that fairgrounds full of folks as much as we can, that makes your heart proud. You’re so fulfilled. And it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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