1880 - San Diego's County Fair is born
In 1880, James A. Garfield was elected President, the U.S. flag had only 38 stars on it, and just a few thousand people lived in San Diego. It also was the year that the first agricultural fair was organized in San Diego County. The San Diego County Horticultural and Agricultural Display, as it was dubbed, took place in August under a canvas awning in what is now National City's Kimball Park. The National Ranch Grange Society organized a precedent-setting event with just two months' work and only volunteer labor.
The purpose of the original extravaganza was to showcase agriculture. Examples of locally grown produce were abundant. Livestock exhibitions were limited, because it was difficult to transport the animals, but the oil paintings, quilts, leatherwork, shells and "an elegant display of photographic art" were an indication of what the Fair might become more than 100 years later. Prize money that year was $200.50 - several zeros less than the prize money offered in recent years.
Entertainment was of the homegrown variety, mainly consisting of the Harmony Brass Band, with a social dance and supper on the last night. The San Diego Union reported, "Attendance on the second day was so great that long before noon, not a vehicle of any description, not a saddle horse could be had in town for love nor money."
During the Fair that year, the county's first agricultural society was formed. An 11-member board of directors was chosen, headed by Frank Kimball, a key player in Fair causes through the rest of the century. The board also included two women.
No record appears in The San Diego Union of county agricultural fairs in 1882 or 1883, but in 1884, another county fair was put together, aided greatly by a state subsidy of $1,500. This encouraged exhibitions to come from as far away as Julian "...in wagons at great cost of time, labor, and money."
The city of San Diego hosted the Fair in 1885 in Armory Hall. It was in the same location the following year, but in subsequent years, the Fair went to locations all over San Diego County. Oceanside played host in 1888, and the following year the itinerant event moved to Escondido. In 1889 and 1890, horse races, which were once an integral part of the Fair each fall, were judged by the legendary Wyatt Earp.
The San Diego Union convinced some local merchants to pitch in dollars and San Diego hosted the Fair again in 1891. It was in Escondido in 1892, returned to San Diego in 1893 and was renamed the San Diego Agricultural Association in 1894.