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W.T. Pitts started the Street Fair all by himself

Dibbles Dabbles

October 26, 2011
By Billie Dibble - Westfield Historian, 1975-2006 (editorial@westfieldrepublican.com)

The story of W.T. Pitts, enterprising Westfield merchant, and the Street Fair reminds me of the tale of "The Little Red Hen." It seems that away back in the fall of 1894 Mr. Pitts offered to pay the railroad fair of any business man who would accompany him to Painesville, Ohio, to observe how that town conducted its street fair. No one would go with him, so he went by himself. When he returned he called a meeting of the businessmen of the town to share his enthusiasm. Only nine men attended the meeting and they were only lukewarm and so the scheme was shelved indefinitely, or so they though. But Mr. Pitts said, "If they won't sponsor a street fair, I will do it myself." And he did. The Westfield Republican of Oct. 17, 1894 announced that a miniature Street Fair would be held Saturday, Oct. 27, by W.T. Pitts in front of the Racket Store. Thirty dollars of merchandise was offered for prizes for the "best" in many categories such as the best gallon crock of butter, the largest and heaviest potato, the five largest apples, the prettiest doll exhibited by a girl under 12 years of age. R.G. Robertson won the prize for writing W.T. Pitts' name the most times on a regulation size post card sent through the mail. He wrote the name 984 times. I wonder who counted the names? People who had something interesting to display brought them to the store even though there were no prizes offered for their specialties. Ross Knight exhibited his collection of coins, medals, and script. Ernest Isham's guinea pigs were quite an attraction as was Seymour Van Tassel's pair of darling pug puppies. W.T. Pitts advertised a long list of special prices for his goods such as calicoes at 3 cents a yard and pocket knives for 10 cents each. As the large crowd gathered, Mr. Pitts found that even his 11 extra clerks were finding it difficult to take care of the customers. Other merchants tried to entice the crowds into their places of business, but the Pitts Store and the street in front of the Racket Store were by far the most popular places in town. The Oct. 31 paper reported that Pitts' Street Fair had succeeded beyond all expectations, and in answer to the question, "Who will reap the profits of the fair?" Mr. Pitts answered, "I will." And he did. The next year Westfield's First Annual Free Street Fair was advertised for Oct. 17, 1895 with about 40 businessmen as sponsors, each one announcing a number of prizes and special sales. Some of the strange offers were $1 from F. Winkelman for the best tame coon and $1 from Dr. Bissell, dentist, for the oldest set of false teeth shown at his office on fair day. Mrs. G.B. Hale, manager of the Western Union Telegraph office, offered 50 cents to the man or boy who would clime the large pole in front of the telegraph office and retrieve a paper fastened at a proper distance from the ground. "P.S. J.C. Hale, clerk in charge, says bloomers will not be barred." (Were there woman's libbers at that early date?) After that Street Fair proved to be a big success, all interested were invited to meet at the office of Wm. Russell to take the first steps toward making a permanent Street Fair Association. Many attended that meeting. Officers elected were John Spencer, president; Byron Fenner, vice-president; William Russell, secretary; and D.K. Falvay, treasurer. Again, in 1896, the Street Fair was an exciting and profitable event. The prize offered by I.E. Jones at the Corner Drug Store, for the prettiest girl baby went to Mrs. A.R. Gollnitz. The smallest pig was shown in a bird cage and the "Hayseed Band" was a surprise and a success. Cora Ottaway won the grand prize of an Art Splendid Coal Stove from W.W. Gibbs and Co. Representatives from Dunkirk came to observe how we ran our Street Fair. Again in 1897, the fair was a great success and Westfield was named "The Pioneer Street Fair Town of the state." In 1898 the Street Fair was still going strong but in 1901 W.T. Pitts advertised a Harvest Home Sale, "We institute this movement of a Harvest Home Sale as a fitting substitute for the once popular and advantageous Street Fair scheme of low prices and seasonable goods such as the public wants in October and November." Marybelle Beigh is the current Public Historian for the Town and Village of Westfield. Her office is located at 3 East Main Street in Westfield, N.Y, 14787 - inside Parkview Ice Cream Parlor. Her scheduled office hours are Monday through Friday 9 to 11 a.m.; other hours by appointment. Beigh can be reached at westfieldhistorian@fairpoint.net or by calling 326-2457 (office), 326-6171 (home) or 397-9254 (cell).

Article Photos

Photo courtesy Patterson Library, Sherman Photo Collection
The storefront of W.T. Pitts, who organized the first Street Fair back in 1894.

 
 

 

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