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JOIN US  FOR THE FIRST
AMERICAN LEGION COUNTY FAIR

COLOR RUN !

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 22

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 History of the American Legion County Fair
formerly
the Cambria County Fair

For those living in Cambria County, Labor Day means more than simply the end of the summer season, the beginning of school or another holiday. Labor Day signals the annual fair.  Years of work, excitement, and heartbreak went into the making of the fair as we see it today and that work goes on year after year, all year long, not just for the few days during which the fair is open.

It was the farming which originally started events such as county fairs. Fairs were largely a glorified farmers market with some additional features to draw crowds.  Fairs were legally recognized by the Commonwealth at an early time, and the first fair in Ebensburg was held at the present fair grounds in June 1891, and became known as the Ebensburg Fair.

The Ebensburg Fair was originated by a group of farmers and local businessmen headed by Ira Bloom, F.J. Hartman, W.E. Lewis, John Gable, Mr. Crane and others.  The Ebensburg Fair continued until the early 1920's, when the late steel magnate Charles M. Schwab developed a vigorous idea that Cambria County should have a bigger fair. Mr. Schwab, who represented "big money" himself, immediately contacted local county citizens.  Mr. Schwab made a speaking campaign as primary promoter for the county, declaring that he was willing to do as much as possible, but that success was not feasible unless the people of the county generally become active. Meetings were held throughout the county. Stock certificates were sold. Unfortunately, due to depressed industrial conditions, the campaign was suspended, allowing the Ebensburg Fair to continue as usual until 1924. 


Charles Schwab

In the meantime the Ebensburg Fair group incorporated as the Cambria County Fair. During the next three years, the charter was amended creating the Cambria County Fair Association in 1924 with the same committeemen as the original fair, and including Judge A.A. Nelson and Philip Shettig. This effort coincided with the efforts of Mr. Schwab and his committee who had selected the grounds of the old Ebensburg Fair as the logical site for the new plant.
 


Ira Bloom

The letter Mr. Schwab wrote to Ira Bloom regarding this organization was dated October 1, 1924 (Letter compliments of Ira's granddaughter Lois Morris) reads:

Dear Mr. Bloom: 
Desiring to perfect a more permanent organization for the Cambria County Fair Association and to have a representative and high class Board of Directors of limit number (12), I wish to invite you to become a member of this Association. Your interest since its perception has always been pronounced and helpful and we would like you to continue your interest in the years to come.   We will have a meeting in Ebensburg at the office of the First National Bank at 10:30 A.M. on Saturday October 4th for organizational purposes and to elect and install the permanent Board and Officers.   I hope you will accept and find it convenient to be present. 
Sincerely yours,
C. M. Schwab.  


In 1924, the continued sale of stock registration was directed with most area residents buying stock, enabling the rebuilding of the grounds. The first exhibition was held the first week in September of 1924, and Schwab underwrote the first event, though not all stock had been sold. Roughly, even at that time, probably a half of million dollars was spent on the plant.   And so the new Cambria County Fair was launched. By comparison, this fair simply outclassed the other annual exhibitions in this and adjoining counties. 
 

The August 21, 1930 Patton Courier newspaper had an article titled Schwab Talks of the Coming Fair.  He said, "I have spent more than six hundred thousand dollars in the construction and maintenance of the Cambric County Fair and Exposition grounds at Ebensburg. I have contributed this amount to the community in my desire to provide a meeting place where clean sports and high class entertainment may be enjoyed by all. These community ventures have not been self supporting and the deficit each year, I have paid. Our seventh annual agricultural Fair opens on Labor Day, September 1 and runs for that week.   It promises to be a good one. The exhibits, the horse racing and the circus acts will, in my opinion, exceed anything shown at Ebensburg. I have been told by those who have visited our former Fairs that no other Fair provides such splendid entertainment, and I should like the people of this community and of the surrounding communities to see this big show. Visitors from a distance are welcome also. It is your show staged for your pleasure; my happiness lies in seeing everyone, enjoy the fruits of my efforts to bring together old friends and acquaintances, and in making this first week of September one to be happily remembered by all. Come to Ebensburg – bring your family and friends and enjoy the marvelous program that has been provided for your entertainment and amusement.”

The Patton Courier continued: Besides all the other features one of the unique ones, this year, that Mr. Schwab has provided are rifle, pistol and revolver contests, trap shooing tournaments, coon hound trials and fly and bait casting contests, the first time such sporting events have been staged at a Fair.


During the "high times" the association bought more land and built new buildings; the track was graded, widened and scaled to one-half mile.   The County Commissioners leased the fairgrounds, with necessary labor for refurbishing to be provided by the WPA workers (WPA - Works Progress Administration created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to ease unemployment during the Great Depression). The Fair Association furnished the monies for materials. 
But the county, like the country, was headed for deeper depression days. Cambria County and its industrial and mining dependencies took a tailspin, and the Cambria County Fair likewise went into one. Money borrowed from the local banks for restoration of the fair grounds was never paid back and foreclosure put the fair into bankruptcy. The plant and the grounds eventually went into the title of Cambria County for unpaid taxes and it was not until after many years and much litigation, that ownership finally became vested in the Cambria County Legion Recreation Association.  However, the conditions did not stop Ira Bloom. He gathered together a number of his good friends; Dick Crouse, Walter Good, Jim Wilkinson, and Roland (Caesar) Davis. Their tireless efforts enabled the fair to struggle through a few more years as an agricultural outlet. But by World War II, all fairs were shut down.   With no fairs going on at the grounds, the buildings were left with no maintenance and they deteriorated.
 
Fond memories of past fairs jerked the initiatives of Lou Sheehan and Edwin F. Green, who desperately wanted to save the annual events. On his way to an American Legion meeting, Mr. Green made a call on a good friend at the local lending institution, Tom Daugherty. Mr. Daugherty had lent the fair association money in the past and after some convincing agreed to go along with the fair. Shortly after, other banks tentatively agreed to go along, taking a chance on getting some of their money back.

To his and the fair's advantage, Mr. Green was elected District Commander at the State Convention of the American Legion. This gave him the opportunity to take his program proposal to all local Legion posts. This also precipitated his being made chairman of the fair grounds committee. The "leg work" for Mr. Green had just begun; attending meetings, talking to post members and convincing the bankers.  It was discovered that since the County Commissioners had taken over the lease, that the law required them to hold a fair at least every five years. Therefore, the Commissioners signed the lease over to the Legion. Then came the task of acquiring the money to buy and save the grounds with the help of all Legion posts, in hopes of making the fair a living memorial to the American Legion in the county.  Following many meetings with legal advisor, Attorney Paul Larimer, the Legion was advised to call a meeting at the Ebensburg post, inviting all other district posts to aid in closing the deal. Although Attorney Evans, on behalf of the banks, stated that the original offer was to go for $150,000, which was well beyond the means of the Legion. Aware of the fact that the banks had long ago written the fair debts off as a loss, the bank representative was convinced to accept $35,000 which he agreed would probably satisfy the lending institutions.  Much discussion precipitated the conclusion that if each post were to donate approximately $4,000 it would be feasible for the Legion to take over. Mr. Green can be credited, again, for the leg-work in coming up with the following donations: $4,000 each from Portage, Ebensburg, Barnesboro, Patton and Johnstown American Legion Posts; plus $2,000 each from Cresson and Spangler; $1,000 from Conemaugh, Gallitzin and South Fork and $500 from St. Michael. Within the aid of some $10,000 borrowed from the bank, their first fair was about to get off the ground.

On January 9, 1946, the organization was granted a non-profit organization charter as the "Cambria County Legion Association." During their first meeting as a chartered group, the Legion Association elected Edwin F. Green as president, Paul Lantzy as Secretary, "Sap" Cawley, Treasurer, with Lou Sheehan, Walter Stinson, Frank Morley and Harold Johnson as members of the board. With all the work that had to be done, there was a 1946 fair.  The buildings were in a state of dilapidation and the roofs were "open" to the sky, but somehow the work got done. And even more unbelievable, the bills were paid.

Beginning immediately, the fair operation was placed upon the shoulders of a group of men on a commission: Dick Crouse, Caesar Davis, James Wilkinson, Walter Good and John P. Bloom (Ira's son took Ira's place). After that first fair, Mr. Davis passed away and Mr. Crouse left the area due to a job transfer, but their positions on the commission were left vacant.  For a number of years the commission was considerably successful in getting the fair on its feet. They applied for a club liquor license, constructed a quarter-mile track for stock car and midget auto races, organized a saddle club, and began full-fledged horse shows. However, as luck would have it, the fair could not make ends meet, let alone keep roofs on the buildings.  
 
Then, the closest thing to real tragedy struck the fair. The loss of the grandstand in an historic fire June 22, 1955 took a great toll on the Association's efforts.   But the fair went on with plans to slowly but surely continue a program of building, repairing and adding to the facilities already in existence, which make Cambria County's Fair one of the State's finest.
 
When the contract with the commissioned fair group expired in 1958, the Legion Association did not renew it, taking over the full responsibility of operating the annual event, which it has done since.  In 1967, after the death of John P Bloom his son Richard Bloom became the Fair Superintendent and was superintendent for several years to follow.

 

For the time being, all seemed "rosey" for the Association. The horse and pony barns were expanded; as were the dairy and beef barns; some 14 new, permanent food stands were constructed and the grandstand was rebuilt.  But on a cold night in December, 1967, there came another great set-back for the fair. Devastated in a fire were the arena, the wildlife building, home economics building, rest rooms and dairy #6 building. But the fairs went on!!! The buildings were rebuilt on their old slabs, reinforced with steel and expanded. The arena was rebuilt in steel with much more floor space.

Now, the Cambria County Fair draws thousands of visitors from the surrounding counties to the grounds, as well as inviting  many visitors from outside the state. For many, the fair is their only close contact with farm life during the entire year.  
In 2017 the American Legion local posts received permission from the national American Legion to change the Cambria County Fair's name to the American Legion County Fair. 
Browse through our "Days gone by" photo gallery to see some of the changes the fair has experienced throughout the years.