The Star-News


Off to a fair start

Sat, Sep 01 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Alana Coons

Editor’s note: National City celebrates its 125th anniversary this year. Following is the first in a series of stories highlighting the city’s history.

Below the surface of bustling National City lies the story of olive orchards, grand Victorian homes, great wealth and the coming of the first railroad. 
Founded in 1868 by Frank Kimball, National City is credited with multiple distinguished firsts. On the county level, the San Diego County Fair originated here, the first novel published was by a National City pioneer, the first free kindergarten opened here, the first automobile was built here and the first railroad terminus was located here.
National City is celebrating its 125th anniversary of incorporation this year and is the second oldest city in San Diego County. The city has made many significant contributions to the San Diego region, to the state and even nationally, with a long list of contributions that we still benefit from, but for those whose favorite time of year revolves around the festivities of what is now known simply as the Del Mar Fair, they can thank National City. 
Discussions for a countywide fair began in October of 1879 at the Grange Hall in National City.  The Grange was an important group in these pioneering days, their job was to promote the economic and political well being of the community with an emphasis on agriculture and horticulture. 
The minutes of October and November of 1879 as taken by Sarah Kimball, wife of National City founder Frank Kimball, record action items that are the start of the momentous event. In October: “each member to come prepared … in regard to the best exhibit of one or any number of articles they will make, should it be deemed practical to hold a fair in this county the coming year.”  And it was the next month at the Grange November meeting that members decided, “If the same care was taken in collecting and preparing of specimens as by the Philadelphians at the centennial exhibition we could make equally good a showing.”
And thus a tradition lasting to this day was begun when the National Ranch Grange, Number 235, voted unanimously to conduct the first San Diego County Fair and that it would be held in National City.
Much had to be done now that the momentous decision had been made. Planning, promotion, organizing would be immense, the fair would be held at Grange Hall and that required improvements too, with buildings added, including a horticultural hall.
In a day when people learned of events and items of importance very differently than today, Frank Kimball was in charge of promotion. A telegraph line was connected to the fair office, invitations sent to other granges, and advertising was placed in newspapers locally and in major cities like San Francisco. Kimball’s early September entries to his diary read, “Mailed fair posters to 18 post offices in San Diego County.” From that time on, there are few entries because of the all-consuming time the fair required. But on the big day, Sept. 24, 1880, he did not fail to note the historic occasion, “Fair opened at 8 a.m. More people than ever anticipated.”
And what an event it was! The San Diego Union reported extensively: “People were not prepared to witness such a scene as awaited them: fruits, vegetables, embroidery work, hair and fern work, shell work and different types of paintings. Ball games were held at the foot of 7th Avenue. Some of the finest horses in the state have been brought for display, no racing. Visitors from granges 700 miles away came to National City and had to wait their turn to see the displays. ...Everybody and his wife went to National City. A fine moonlit night for the drive back to San Diego. The Kimball’s courteously refrained from any competition but Frank Kimball had an olive display and Mrs. Kimball displayed a jar of almost too clear honey. ”
With the huge success of the fair, the decision was made to hold a county fair annually. 
So, on Sept. 22, 2012, when you join the anniversary celebrations at Kimball Park, and are having a grand old time in the great tradition of this city, go ahead and take just a moment to remember those who have dedicated themselves through the decades and take pride in the many accomplishments these 125 years signify, among them the founding of the San Diego County Fair.


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