Great New York State Fair

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Great New York State Fair
Great New York State Fair Logo.png
The fair in 2008
Status Active
Genre State Fair
Begins Second Wednesday before Labor Day
Ends Labor Day
Frequency Annual
Location(s) Empire Expo Center
581 State Fair Blvd
Syracuse, New York 13209[1]
Years active 176
Inaugurated September 29, 1841 (1841-09-29)
Founder New York State Agricultural Society
Attendance 1,279,010 (2018)
Website The Great New York State Fair

The Great New York State Fair is a 13-day showcase of agriculture, entertainment, education and technology. With midway rides, concessionaires, exhibits and concerts, it has become New York's largest annual event and an end-of-summer tradition for hundreds of thousands of families from all corners of the state. The first fair took place in Syracuse in 1841 and took permanent residence there in 1890.[2] It is the oldest and one of the largest state fairs in the United States, with nearly one million visitors annually.

The Great New York State Fair begins on the third or fourth Wednesday in August and runs for 13 days, ending on Labor Day.

It is held at the 375-acre (152 ha) Empire Expo Center on the shores of Onondaga Lake, in the town of Geddes, near the western border of Syracuse. It is within a 5-hour drive from Boston, 4-hour drive from New York City, Philadelphia, and Montreal and about 2.5-hour drive from Albany.[3] The grounds opening hours are usually between 7 am and 10 pm, while the exhibition buildings are usually open from 10 am to 10, with an exception of Labor Day when everything closes at 9 pm.[4]


Vegetables on display at the 1900 New York State Fair

In February 1832, The New York State Agricultural Society was founded in Albany by a group of farmers, legislators, and others to promote agricultural improvement and local fairs. The nation's first state fair was later held in Syracuse from September 29–30, 1841. Attendance was estimated at 10,000-15,000; features included speeches, animal exhibits, a plowing contest, and samples of manufactured farm and home goods. The second New York State Fair was held in Albany in 1842. Between 1842 and 1889, the fair traveled among 11 different cities: Albany, Auburn, Buffalo, Elmira, New York City, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Utica, and Watertown.[2]

In September 1890, the Syracuse Land Company donated a 100-acre (0.40 km2) tract of land in Geddes to the Agricultural Society. Crossed by railways that facilitated exhibit transport, the Onondaga County location became the fair's permanent home. In the late 1890s, The Agricultural Society turned to state government for relief from debt due to the construction of permanent buildings on the site. The state purchased the grounds in 1899, and assumed management of the fair the next year, creating an 11-member State Fair Commission appointed by the governor.[2]

View of the Manufacturers Building (now the Center of Progress Building) shortly after its completion

A $2-million long-term building plan was enacted in 1908, which would last for two decades. During this time, the Manufacturers and Liberal Arts Building, now the Center of Progress Building, was constructed. It was joined by the Dairy Products Building and Grange Building (now the Science & Industry Building) in 1910. The Coliseum was opened in 1923, initially serving as host to the World's Dairy Congress. To address a growing and nostalgic public interest in local history, the Iroquois village exhibit and an agricultural museum were opened in 1928.[2]

The fair was re-branded as the New York State Agricultural and Industrial Exposition in 1938, reflecting closer ties to industry, and included an extended 14-day schedule featuring popular entertainment acts.[2]

The fairgrounds were used as a military base during World War II between 1942 and 1947; during this period, no fair was held. A truncated fair returned in 1948, followed the next year by a six-day, full-scale exposition, with large crowds. By the end of the 1950s, the fair had expanded to nine days and achieved an attendance of over 500,000. The James E. Strates Midway was added during this time, with nationally known entertainers to attract families and teenagers. In 1967, the 1925 Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Pipe Organ was permanently installed in the Empire Theatre of the Art & Home Center where it has entertained audiences for over 50 years of music history at the fairgrounds.[2]

Postcard showing the New York State Exposition's main entrance in the 1940s.

Between 1962 and 1966, the fair was officially known as New York State Exposition before being named the New York State Fair in 1967.[2]

The fair expanded to 10 days in 1978, and the buildings at the fairgrounds began to be rented during the off-season. The fair expanded to 12 days in 1990. During the 1980s and 1990s, fair officials responded to criticism of slim minority presence by adding gospel festivals and a Pan-African village display. Sign language interpreters were also added, and the grounds were made accessible to people with disabilities.[2]

On September 7, 1998, the fair closed one day early for the first time, due to the Syracuse Labor Day derecho. Two of the storm's three deaths occurred on the fairgrounds.[5]

In 2008, fair administration began to focus more on agriculture, with exhibits showcasing products made in New York State, such as the Pride of New York Marketplace and a permanent maple exhibit.[6] The fair changed its Chevy Court format to include two different performers each day in 2009.[7] The Syracuse Crunch hosted the first outdoor game in American Hockey League history on February 20, 2010 at the Fairgrounds and set a league attendance record with 21,508 fans.[8] A record of 206,000 fairgoers attend Chevy Court concerts during the 12 day run in 2010.[9]

A $50 million transformation of the Fairgrounds, the first major renovation the Fairgrounds had seen in over 100 years, was announced January 21, 2015.[10]

Chevy Court's most recent attendance record was set September 6, 2015 with 36,900 people attending a performance by the Steve Miller Band.[11]

The Fair's previous 2001 attendance record was broken on September 5, 2016, with 1,117,630 Fairgoers visiting the Fair. The 2016 Fair also broke three attendance records and had four days over 100,000 - the most ever.[12][13]


Governor Cuomo announced a transformation of the Fairgrounds in 2015 that included a sweeping redesign of the Fairgrounds that included taking out what was previously the 17,000 seat Grandstand and mile-long dirt track. This marked the first major transformation the Fairgrounds had seen in 100 years.[14]

The transformation including rebuilding the main gate, making it reminiscent of the 1840 carriage entrance. The brand-new Main Gate is ADA-compliant and technologically equipped for faster ticketing and admissions.[15]

The midway received a new layout that now included 15 acres. The Midway’s new asphalt pad is the size of over 10 football fields with more room and better layout for rides and attractions. Improvements include a Kiddieland area, phone charging stations, shaded rest areas, and underground electric/water/sewer for vendors.[16]

A new Empire RV Park was added, included 313 RV sited, fully equipped with sewer, electric and water hookups. The new Empire RV Park is spacious, secure and organized and makes the Fairgrounds accessible year-round for distant travelers. Features include a new grid layout, camera and blue light systems, and online reservations.[17]

The redesign also included preserving the Historic Quad which includes five of the oldest buildings around an open park setting. Commercial vendors were removed from the Quad to restore the park as a relaxing space to gather and rest, with more seating and better signage.[18]

A new curbed median was added along Hiawatha Street with trees, shrubs and new lighting.[19]

A new entrance along Bridge Street, Gate 11A, ties in with the larger Onondaga Lake West Revitalization Project. Pedestrians can access Gate 11A via a new walkway and viewing platform leading past the Historic Quad to the Crossroads.[20]

In 2016, Governor Cuomo appointed a Task Force to determine how an addition $50 million for Phase Two of the Fairgrounds would be spent.[21]


Chevy Court[edit]

Chevy Court is an open-air concert theater. In 2009, the fair changed its format to feature two different national performing artists every day, rather than having the same artist perform twice on the same date, in order to attract additional people to the fair with acts appealing to different audiences.[7] Chevy Court performances attracted an estimated 150,000 people in 2009[22] and more than 170,000 in 2010 and over 200,000 in 2011. The stage has hosted Lady Antebellum, Bruno Mars, REO Speedwagon, and many others. The Syracuse New Times, a regional arts and entertainment publication, named Chevy Court the best free concert venue in Central New York in 2009, 2010 and 2012, and best state fair attraction in 2011. In 2015, suggested that Chevy Court be named the "Best Free Concert Series in America." [23] The Fair was also the recipient of the People's Choice Syracuse Area Music Award in 2016 for Best Festival.[24]


Amusement rides on the Midway.

The Midway features several rides, funhouses, games, and concession stands. The 2014 Fair brought the first new midway to the Fair in over 70 years, provided by Wade Shows. This change brought new rides, concession stands, and games to the fair. Wade Shows offers promotions to Fairgoers such as dollar ride specials and a Mega Pass which can be used by one person for the entire fair's duration.[25] In addition to the Midway is the Kiddie Midway which features rides and games for younger fairgoers. Approximately 100 rides are located in both the Midway and Kiddie Midway.



Agriculture is a large component of New York State, and a big part of the fair as well. The fairgrounds host a variety of displays, events, competitions, and attractions that teach fairgoers the importance of agriculture.

In 2011, the fair had over 14,000 animals entered to be exhibited including horses, dairy cattle, rabbits, and dairy goats. In addition to animal entries, 2014 brought in over 10,000 agricultural entries including antique tractors, beverages, Christmas trees, flowers, forage, grain, and 4-H.[26]

The fair also aims to promote New York-grown products and foods. In 2008, the "Pride of New York Marketplace" occupied a permanent structure at the main entrance to the fairgrounds. The Marketplace is stocked with foods made in every corner of New York State including gourmet sauces, syrups, and pastas.[27]

In 2013, the fair brought a new attraction to allow Fairgoers to sample different products from vendors in all regions of the state in the "Taste NY" tent. Each day, up to a dozen different food and beverage vendors would offer samples of their products.

Buildings and exhibits[edit]

Center of Progress Building[edit]

The Center of Progress Building is one of the largest of the 110 buildings on the fairgrounds. The building is located just inside the fair's main gate, along the perimeter of Chevy Court. This building hosts up to 250 vendors and concessionaires and has recently become home of the fair's 180-ton sand sculpture.

Sand sculpture[edit]

The Center of Progress Building is the home of the massive, 180-ton sand sculpture, which features a team of sculptors working to create the sculpture throughout each of the 12 days of the fair. In 2011, the fair received positive feedback as they paid respect to the victims of 9/11 with a sand sculpture recognizing the 10 years that had passed since the terrorist attacks.[28] Past sand sculpture themes have included The Beatles, Syracuse University, USS New York, Dr. Seuss, and The Olympics.[29]


The State Fair Coliseum was built in 1923 and its first event was the World's Dairy Congress. Five thousand people came to view the various bovines which included numerous colors and breeds. Dairy cattle were brought in from 40 different countries. In 1947-48 Syracuse University basketball team held their games there and in 1949-1952 the NBA Syracuse Nats called this home. The 1949 game set all-time records for the most points, most fouls, most free throws, most missed free throws, most overtimes, and longest game; most records still hold.[30]

During the fair, the Coliseum is used mainly for the multi-breed horse shows which include breeds such as Pinto's, Arabians, Miniature horses, Quarter horses, Morgan, and Appaloosas, hunter/jumpers as well as the draft breeds and the heavy and light horse pulls. This arena also accommodates the Holstein Dairy Cattle Show on the dairy day, the 4-H agility dog show, and a variety of shows on Labor Day.

The Syracuse Stars hockey team played their games in the Coliseum and won the Calder Cup in the Inaugural Season of (what is now) the American Hockey League. The Midstate Stampede, a youth hockey team, also played in the Coliseum until the ice was removed around 2013. The Syracuse Hornets also played at the Coliseum, but due to financial troubles, the team folded after only 10 games.

Horticulture Building[edit]

This large, graceful structure includes an intricately designed entrance and is fronted by the fountain in the State Park reflecting pool. It is located in proximity to the fair's veterans' memorials and the 9-11 memorials. During the fair, it hosts many horticultural exhibits and concessionaires including the famous $1 baked potato booth, the New York Maple Center, and produce, flower, and apple exhibits.[31] A wide variety of additional events are held at the building throughout the year. It includes the fair's New York Café, which operates during the fair and selected events. Horticulture Building also hosts the Taste NY where visitors can try some food and drink samples for free and by their favorite products on the spot.[32]

Dairy Products Building[edit]

Ten vendors are located in this family-oriented building during the fair. Major attractions include a butter sculpture at the building's center, and chocolate or plain milk sold at the Milk Bar for 25 cents.[31] In 2012, 403,189 cups of milk were sold to fairgoers, breaking an all-time record at the New York State Fair. Other attractions include Dairy Princesses, free entertainment on center stage, and samples of fudge, baked goods, yogurt, chocolate covered strawberries, milkshakes, and pints of ice cream.

Butter sculpture[edit]

Located in the center of the Dairy Products Building is the rotating butter sculpture, comprising 800 pounds (360 kg) of unsalted butter. The sculpture has been a feature at the fair since 1969. Once the fair is over, the butter is converted to biofuel to fuel college buses by students of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse. The butter sculpture is sponsored by the American Dairy Association and Dairy Council.[33]

Dairy Cattle Barn[edit]

During the twelve days of the fair, the Dairy Cattle Barn is used by dairy cattle exhibitors. During the off season, it is utilized as an exhibit building and hosts many trade shows for both the public and various industrial groups.

Science & Industry Building[edit]

This century-old structure serves as an anchor for Chevy Court. During the fair, the building hosts a variety of health and safety-related exhibitions.[31]

Art & Home Center[edit]

The Art & Home Center is home to a recently renovated demonstration kitchen, which has been the host of several celebrity cooking demonstrations by such notable chefs as Adam Richman, Bobby Flay, and Mario Batali. The Art & Home Center is the hub of all culinary, art, and craft exhibitions with New York's artists displaying their work in fine arts, photography, woodworking, quilting, and needle work.[31] Each year, the Art & Home Center hosts its annual Women’s Day Luncheon. In 2009, the building celebrated its 75th anniversary by celebrating the life of suffragette Harriet May Mills, whom the building is dedicated to.[34] The building also hosts a display of operating model trains and circus trains during each year's fair. In 1966 the Empire State Theatre & Musical Instrument Museum[35] was established featuring an extensive collection of pianos, organs, phonographs, vintage motion picture projectors, and movie palace artifacts, many of which are on permanent display.

The Art & Home Center contains the Empire Theatre. In addition to being home to local theatrical productions meetings and seminars, the theatre is home to a 1925 Wurlitzer Co. 3 manual 11 rank theatre pipe organ, opus 1143, which was moved from the RKO Keiths Theatre in downtown Syracuse in 1966.

International Building[edit]

This building serves as a staple for food enthusiasts during the fair, where fairgoers can choose foods from select countries around the world. In 2010, the International Building was redesigned to feature more seating and a new New York Beer and Wine Pub.[36] In 2015, the International Building added a new Vegan and Vegetarian vendor, which was the first of its kind at the State Fair.[37]

Youth Building[edit]

An educational building meant to "edutain" youth and families attending the fair. Upstairs serves as a dormitory for 4-H and FFA youth that are competing at the fair. There are 800 beds, lockers, full shower/bathroom facilities, and laundry. Downstairs has a variety of interactive sections for the youth to participate in, including a newsroom, demo kitchen, animal husbandry, crafts, and GPS mapping.

State Park at the Fair[edit]

Located within the fairgrounds is the one-acre (0.40 ha)[38] "State Park at the Fair", billed as the smallest park operated by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.[39] The park was first opened in 1974 during celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the New York State Council of Parks.[40] The facility is located in front of the Horticulture Building and aims to recreate a park-like setting within the fair, including a reflecting pool and mini-golf course. Exhibits within the park demonstrate features and activities available at New York's state parks and historic sites; additional exhibits have included live birds of prey and boating safety demonstrations.[41]

Attendance records[edit]

Day Attendance[42] Year
Wednesday 67,974 2017
Thursday 74,385 2000
Friday 92,782 2001
Saturday 115,324 2010
Sunday 123,206 2017
Monday 88,943 2017
Tuesday 102,136 1972
Wednesday 112,706 1972
Thursday 90,036 2016
Friday 111,390 2016
Saturday 121,203 2017
Sunday 119,726 1985
Monday 124,819 2017
Total Attendance 1,161,912 2017

Future Dates[edit]

  • 2019: August 21 - September 2
  • 2020: August 26 - September 7

New York State Fairgrounds[edit]

The 375-acre (1.52 km2) fairgrounds complex operates year-round and annually hosts more than 500 non-fair events.[43] These range from major entertainment and sporting events to a variety of equestrian competitions, consumer shows, community events, and meetings.

The Syracuse Nationals, one of the top five classic car shows in the country,[44] draws nearly 80,000 people to its weekend event at the fairgrounds. Nearly 70 percent of attendees are 35 to 65 years old, making it one of the largest gatherings of baby boomers in the Northeast.[45]The fairgrounds is a key player in New York's equine industry, hosting more than 40 horse events each year, including some of the most prestigious competitions in the Northeast.[46] In 2015, 65 trade and consumer shows brought nearly 400,000 people to the fairgrounds. A total of 50 entertainment events ranging from major rock concerts to theater pipe organ concerts attracted 133,235 people.[47]


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External links[edit]