The Greene County Fair is the oldest, continuous running county fair west of the Alleghenies
The first fair was held on the lawn of the Court House in 1839 and then for a number of years on Fair Street in Xenia. When even more room was necessary, the current property on Fairground Road was established.
The grounds have undergone many changes and expansions over the years, including new buildings constructed after the tornado in 2000 damaged many structures.
The grounds are used year-around with the horses trotting around the track and other activities including the Hamvention which attracts hundreds of folks enjoying our fairground,
The grandstand is offers an excellent view for the tractor pulls. Garden size tractors to the very largest are seen on the track pulling weights. Even folks who don’t own tractors enjoy watching the weights added to the sled and the tractor drivers competing to see which tractor can pull the greatest weight.
Then there are the harness races. Year around, if you drive past the fairgrounds, horses and their drivers are seen going around the track for exercise and training.
There have been several horses which have raced on the track which have been notable in the annals of racing.
One of those was a horse named Ray Henley.
In the early days of racing, the competition was for time and not competition. Ray Henley holds the track record of 2.01 ¾.
The pacer was so revered by those in the business, that a special race was named in his honor at the Greene County Fair.
1939 was the Centennial celebration of the Greene County Fair. Many special activities were planned including a pageant called “From Wilderness to Wings”. This was done by local residents and staged nightly during the fair week. This was a review of the history of Greene County along with other U. S. history as it related to the county.
Another special event was planned for that Centennial fair. Ray Henley would race on the Xenia track once again.
It was not without a great deal of persuasion that the owner, E. B. Avery of Woodstock, New Brunswick, Canada agreed to bring the horse down to run for the Fair Centennial.
Before Avery owned the horse, Joe Hagler had been the owner and trainer for several years and it was while Hagler owned the horse that the pacer set the unbeatable record.
In 1939, Ray Henley was twelve years old, but still racing once or twice a week. When his owner was invited to come he said he had never been that far south, but perhaps he would even be able to purchase another horse or two while he was in the area.
The Fair Board had to provide some serious incentives, however.
The free-for-all pace had been designated the “Ray Henley Purse” and it was in this particular race that the board wanted Ray Henley to race.
After weeks of negotiations the owner was promised an undisclosed sum of money, win or lose. If the horse won the race, the owner stood to get an additional purse of $300.
When all the papers were signed for the visit, the owner said the horse might race in two races a week, but it depended on how he did in the free-for-all. The owner stated that “He is in the pink of condition absolutely sound and jogging every day.”
This race would be the opening race of the fair, and perhaps was the most attended, since Ray Henley was so well loved by the folks in Greene County
In 1939 for the centennial there would be a total of twelve events, the most ever held at the Fair until that time. Guaranteed purses would be as high at $3,600, more than ever offered before. This amount did not include the additional amount given to Ray Henley’s owner for bringing the horse.
The program included the four colt series for two and three year-old trotters and pacers and the fourth and final day will offer a handicap trot and pace for a $400 purse. In this event all horses of every classification would be eligible to complete and would be handicapped at the time of entry. The winner of each dash was penalized 40 feet with a limit of 130 feet under the handicap plan.
I don’t know if Ray Henley won the race or not, but that did not matter to the fans, they were so happy to see the famed horse back on the old track.
Eventually, the horse was no longer being entered in races. Joe Hagler, his first owner and trainer, acquired the horse and brought him back to Greene County. At the age of 32, Ray Henley enjoyed a much-needed rest grazing in the field. For several years there was a sign at the farm which said “Home of Ray Henley 2.01 ¾”.
The Greene County Fair has been an ongoing tradition for nearly 180 years. The next time you see horses running around the track perhaps you will remember the story of record holder Ray Henley.
Joan Baxter is a county resident and long-time history columnist.