This article is excerpted from Hydro History, published in 1998 by the Hydro Historical Society.
HYDRO FREE FAIR
Although Hydro’s Fair tradition began in 1904 with the “Hydro Harvest Festival,” the actual history of the Hydro Free Fair is dated back to the fair of 1907. The adage, “Great oaks from little acorns grow,” finds Hydro’s growth in the show and exhibit ring.
In that year the infant venture was held on Main Street with agricultural exhibits in a vacant lot. This was the opening day of what later became a regular annual fair. The day dawned clear and cool, and the crowds grew as the hours advanced.
The highlight of the event was a big parade led by Robert Stockton riding a finely groomed horse and accompanied by Miss Goldie Spiker on the beautiful Arabian stallion owned by W. H. Henke. Then came the parade which included wagons and buggies, horseback riders, floats built by local business houses and farmers and a large number of school children marching and blowing tin horns. Premiums were paid by donations from the citizens.
In 1908 the Hydro Fair Association was organized. In those early days particular emphasis was placed on horses and mules, a major industry at that time. From 1911-1914 Hydro agricultural exhibits were so fine that they took first prizes at the State Fair. Among the special attractions of those early years were aero-plane rides, balloon ascensions and a 270-pound cake baked by E. G. Pyle of the Blue Ribbon Bakery. The balloon ascension took place from the location where city hall now stands. A large, heavy cloth balloon was filled with smoke and the more smoke it held, the lighter it became and the farther it would sail when released into the air. A tub or metal basket was attached to the balloon with ropes for a man to go up in. There was always speculation as to where the bal-loon would come down, and it always did with no one ever reported injured.
It was not uncommon in the early days for a farmer to bring in enough watermelons for everyone to help themselves and eat to their fill. Another attraction was the greased pole that kept quite a number of the small boys busy and the larger boys out of mischief. There was also roping contests and shooting matches with neigh-boring gun clubs participating. Excursion trains brought in people from Oklahoma City, El Reno, Okeene, Anadarko, Geary and Weatherford. There would be ball games in the evening.
Time, pains nor money would be spared to make this the most elaborate celebration ever held in Caddo County or even the neighboring counties of Blaine or Custer. The only interruption in the history of the Free Fair occurred during World War I. The fair continued to be held during World War II.
In 1923 and 1924 the fair exhibits were moved to the communi-ty building on South Broadway (at the corner of 5th and Broadway on the east side of the street). In 1924 W. R. Light, the president of the fair association, conceived the idea of moving the fair to the city park but met with major opposition. In 1925 J. D. Wells became president and, against vigorous protest, moved the fair to the park. That summer a five-town chautauqua netted a large part of the money used to build the exhibit hall.
With the success of the first park fair, facilities were rapidly improved. Sheds and pens were built for the livestock, and each year at fair time a temporary outdoor auditorium was erected. In 1935 the current community building was constructed as a WPA project and has been used for exhibits and programs ever since.
The fair continued to grow until it was the largest of its kind in Caddo County and surrounding counties and soon became espe-cially famous for its horse show. Disturbed by the problems with carnival companies hired each year to provide the midway for the fair, the Hydro Amusement Company was formed in 1955 and the entire fair returned to the hands of the Hydro citizens. Business houses and citizens built and manned the game booths. Several rides were purchased, and several more were built by locals.
The first ever “Home Talent Carnival” was a roaring success. Fair-goers were delighted with the safe atmosphere and unrigged games.
In the early days it was not uncommon to have a wedding as part of the entertainment. The first couple to marry at the fair was Claude Bixler and Adella Fields. The couple was always kept a big secret and had everyone guessing who it would be. They were presented wedding gifts by some of the local merchants. The couple to marry at the 1934 fair was Miss Lorene McIntyre and Ralph McPhearson.
Through the vears the Amusement Company, a project of the Community Club, has expanded the original offerings and added many new rides including the merry-go-round, two ferris wheels and kiddie train. All games and concessions continue to be operated by local business houses and community-minded citizens. The week before the fair the locals drop their many regular chores and work nearly round the clock getting everything ready for the three-day affair.
The 1980s saw a continued growth with the octopus being added and the premium money doubled. The green machine, a kiddie-car umbrella ride, and a swinging airplane ride were also purchased. In 1987 a new livestock barn was built, and in 1988 a new storage building named for one of the enthusiastic backers, Ralph Baker, was constructed. Another ride that was added in 1997 was the Hustler. Besides the rides there are now about 20 other amusements on the midway that give out as many as 8,000 novelty items as prizes and several food booths for the hungry or thirsty fair-goers.
Because of the continuing community involvement, it can truly claim to be not only the oldest, but the BEST fair in this area of Oklahoma.
Written and published in 1990 by Lura Nell Tolle for the Hydro Review, then updated for this book in 1998.
Submitted by Ramona (Armstrong) Duff