The first recorded Fair in El Dorado County was held in 1859 in Coloma. Until 1939, the Fair was held at various locations including Coloma, Diamond Springs, and downtown Placerville.
The Fairs of 1859, 1860, and 1864 were held in Coloma. Two other towns where the Fair was held in the early years were Placerville and Diamond Springs. The downtown areas of these small towns were transformed into the fairgrounds each time the County Fair was held.
With no permanent facilities to call its own until 1939, the County Fair annually used whatever facilities it could glean to hold the event. In those early days, the entire town where the Fair was held became the Fairgrounds. When in Placerville, some venues included the Confidence Hall, Sigwart’s Opera House, the Central House Hotel and Ballroom, and the Stockyards.
The first County Fair at the current site on Placerville Dr. (old Hwy 50) was held in 1939 conducted by the American Legion under a contract with El Dorado County. The American Legion conducted the County Fairs until 1952 when the current Fair Association was formed. World War II caused the Fair to become dormant from 1942 until 1947 when the American Legion reactivated the event.
Today the El Dorado County Fair Association conducts the Annual County Fair under a contract with El Dorado County. The El Dorado County Fair Association is a registered 501 (c) 3 non-profit.
The land on which the Fairgrounds sit today was purchased from Loren & Mary Forni in three transactions between 1939 and 1950. On January 12, 1939, for the sum of $2,596.50, the initial 17.31 acres of Fairgrounds property was purchased from Loren and Mary Forni. Total purchase price of all the property from the Forni’s was $6196.50. All of the funds to purchase the Forni property were provided by the State of California from a horse racing pari-mutuel tax account created by legislation in 1933. No County funds were used in the property acquisition. Today the Fairgrounds property totals 47.77 acres. All of the major improvements on the Fairgrounds were funded by the State of California through the pari-mutuel tax resource, about 7% of our budget today. You might be surprised to know that no County Funds are included in the Fairgrounds annual budget. We are completely self-supported.
The W.P.A. and the New Deal were responsible for the initial construction of permanent facilities at today’s fairgrounds. Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of World War II, bare ground was transformed into the facility used today. There are plaques on several of the buildings dedicated to the hard-working men and women of the C.C.C. who labored on these projects.
The Fair has 6 full time and 3 part-time employees. At Fairtime the employment soars to 100. The Fair also depends heavily on volunteers to accomplish it’s mission. The Annual County Fair attracts approximately 65,000 people over it’s 4 day run in June.
During the calendar year the Fairgrounds hosts a multitude of other events. The broad range of various events held at the Fairgrounds includes of course the County Fair. Also included are weddings, family reunions, cultural events, non-profit fund raising events, informational events, and participant events. Typically during the year approximately 600 events are held during the 347 days the Fairgrounds is open. In total these events result in 267,000 visitors to the Fairgrounds annually.
The Fairgrounds with its assembly capacity of 2285 persons in the Mark D. Forni building and 1800 person grandstand seating make it the only facility along the highway 50 corridor capable of meeting those requirements.
Economic Impact of the El Dorado County Fair
In 2003 KPMG Economic Consulting Service was retained by California Department of Food and Agriculture to conduct an Economic Impact survey of the El Dorado County Fair. Their report states “The El Dorado County Fairgrounds is an economic, social and cultural treasure for local communities. In 2002 the fair contributed more than $8.9 million in economic impact to El Dorado County, created 88 local jobs and generated $95,494 in local tax revenues.”
Additionally the report found “Attendee direct spending at fairtime and year round events totaled nearly $4.7 million.” “During 2002, the fair judged 7,104 exhibits, including 2,714 agricultural exhibits. This resulted in $22,426 in paid prize money to fair participants.” In 2002 “the junior livestock auction at the fair grossed $333,000, with 278 animals purchased by 182 buyers.”
The report also states, “Offsite dining and hotel spending of $461,599” for fairground events. “Commercial exhibitors generated about $1.1 million in local spending, $344,849 in personal income, 12 local jobs and $8,424 in local taxes. Attendee spending on commercial exhibitor merchandise totaled more than $2.2 million, which generated $33,169 in local taxes.”
“In 2002, nonprofit groups raised $70,320 at the El Dorado County Fair for community programs and services.
The El Dorado County Fair and Our Local Community
The Fairgrounds is inherently one of the first and visible public facilities. This is in part due to the historic rural underpinnings of all counties in the country and the continuing importance of agriculture to the local economy. More recently, however, fairgrounds, while still fulfilling their role as annual civic gathering space for rural citizens, have easily accommodated the role of community exhibit and conference space, a visible celebration venue or special commercial event space.
The purpose of today’s fair has changed little over the years. The core ideals and mission of fairs still reflect those of the early American fairs. The purpose of today’s fairs is to promote agricultural and animal husbandry, local resource and industrial promotion, education, entertainment, competition, youth development, and community outreach.
Several trends over the years have allowed the fairgrounds to become revenue generating entertainment and exhibition venue that operates on a year round basis.
These trends stem from the fairgrounds embracing the notion of using the grounds for year round uses. By placing importance on off season events, public-private sponsor partnerships, and developing a "civic" and "park" like community space, the fairgrounds are a central hub of community activities.
2009 will mark the 150th year of recorded county fairs in El Dorado County and our 70th year at 100 Placerville Drive.