Berkeley County Youth Fair: The First of Its Kind

By: Bonnie Williamson

The Berkeley County Youth Fair has the distinction of being the only youth fair at the county level in the country. The fair has been a tradition for many families for more than 68 years. It’s located at 2419 Golf Course Road in Martinsburg and takes place from August 1st to August 8th.
The fair has a long history, according to Doug Hovatter, 4-H agent and West Virginia University associate professor, which he has documented. The first Berkeley County Fair, not yet strictly a youth fair, was held in 1916 in a county school.

The fair was only a one-day event with fifteen exhibitors and twelve winning prizes. The fair was held this way until 1921. The Berkeley County Fair became an association and expanded the fair to a two-day event. Eighty exhibitors participated with sixty winning prizes.

Berkeley County Youth Fair

The 1922 Berkeley County Fair Association secured a Community Athletic Field from the City of Martinsburg. Sufficient land was leased adjoining this field and three buildings were erected, including a livestock stable, a building to house fancy work, etc., and a Grand Stand. They held the Fair September 25 to September 28, 1922. The Berkeley County Fair continued with success but started to decline in 1928. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Berkeley County 4-H Club Fairs were held in different parts of the county.

In 1940 at Camp Frame 4-H Camp, 3 miles west of Hedgesville, a 4-H Youth Fair, was held. Not much fair activity during the war years of 1941-46. In the late 1940s, the late Golan Saufl ey and County Agent W.M. McClung came up with the idea to have a Youth Fair. They met with various youth organizations and the dream of a Berkeley County Youth Fair became a reality in 1947. The fair was incorporated on May 4, 1950. The first few years of the fair exhibits were presented in a rented tent on the parking lot between the Martinsburg High School and Cobourn Field. The next year, the board of education built a metal building at the corner of Raleigh and Buxton Streets. The exhibits were set up in this long metal building. The Boy Scouts set up model camping sites. There was tractor driving contest. In 1981, the fair moved to its present location. In 1960, the first Miss Youth Fair Contest was held.

These days, the fair is well attended. “We get about 5,000 people a night at the fair,” says Dawn Pingley, president of the fair. “It is completely volunteer driven. Volunteers make it happen every year.”

Participants are 4-H members, FFA members, Boy and Girl Scouts and members of Boys and Girls Clubs, and FCCLA members, ages 9 to 21. They exhibit their indoor projects such as sewing, cooking and projects with electricity, and animals. The market steers, hogs, sheep and goats are sold on Friday evening. This year’s theme is Berkeley County Youth Fair is West Virginia Proud. “Our young people work very hard. They are proud of the county and the state. Many families use their vacation time for the fair,” Pingley says. Pingley continues, “Even though poultry exhibits/shows have been banned throughout the state of West Virginia, due to an avian influenza outbreak nationwide, the Berkeley County Youth Fair is still giving the opportunity for the poultry exhibitors to participate in the fair by decorating their chicken cages, participating in a poultry skill-athon and other events centered around poultry. Just because the live chickens won’t be at the 2015 fair, this can be a great learning opportunity for the youth and for the public.”

There’s something going on every night at the fair from line dancing, and tractor pulls, to bull riding, to the carnival. Contests abound. Attendees can test their skills at a donut eating competition or try to eat the most watermelons. “On Wednesday night, country singer RaeLynn will perform. She was a runner-up on ‘The Voice’ television show,” Pingley says. RaeLynn had a top 20 hit song, “God Made Girls.”

The Berkeley County Youth Fair members are also dedicated to helping the community with the “Give Back to the Community Project.”

“We have partnered with the Martinsburg Rotary Club and the Sunrise Rotary Club in a Food Drive to benefit CCAP Loaves and Fishes and a School Supply Drive to benefit Burke Street Promise Neighborhood,” Pingley says. “During the week of the fair, non-perishable food items and school supplies can be dropped off at the fair office on fair grounds during the day or at the Rotary Club’s tent located across from the fair office from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. This is a great opportunity for everyone in the community to get involved and donate some much needed items for two local benefits.”

Young people participating at the fair have nothing but praise for it, and come back year after year. “The fair is a ton of fun and I look forward to it every year,” says 17-year-old Elizabeth Lynch of Martinsburg.

Lynch, a 4-H and FFA member, participates in a number of events from woodworking to cooking, but her main love is horses. She owns two horses, Buck, she calls her old man and Connor, who will be part of the fair. Lynch will be a senior at Musselman High School, and hopes to become an equine veterinarian. “The fair is like a gigantic family to me. I love watching kids there. They are always smiling and happy,” she says.

Another fair participant, 15-yearold Frank Burner of Inwood, is a member of the Berkeley County Livestock Judging team and enters animals in the hog and goat shows. He is also a 4-H and FFA member and student at Musselman High School.

“The fair has a very friendly atmosphere. It has a lot of great role models. It’s a real learning experience,” he says.

Bucky Hess of Bunker Hill, who owns Bucky’s Limited Auto Body, has been a strong supporter of the fair for years. “For farm kids, the fair is as good as it gets. I am their number one supporter. I buy their animals and am glad to do it,” Hess says. Hovatter sums up the fair this way.

“The mission of the Berkeley County Youth Fair is positive youth development by working to strengthen and expand young people’s capacities, knowledge and skills through education, training, showmanship and competition to enable them to become productive and contributing citizens of their community, their state, their nation, and their world.”

There so much to do and see and a lot of fun at the fair, so make it your own tradition. For more information on the Berkeley County Youth Fair, visit the website at or email

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