Grounds For Sculpture, the 35-acre sculpture park in Hamilton, was founded in 1992 on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds by J. Seward Johnson, to promote an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture for all people. In honor of its 15th anniversary year, it is launching a new project for individuals to be involved in the collection of reflections and remembrances of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. The first session takes place Saturday, January 20. Individuals who want to learn more about the project or would like to be considered as a contributor to the project are encouraged to attend.
The Domestic Arts Building, was an exhibit hall built in the 1920s to house displays of handicrafts, needlework, canned goods, and other practical arts relating to the home. The Motor Exhibits Building across the courtyard also dates from that period. The steel-framed museum building was constructed approximately 20 years later to shelter the exhibits of goats, rabbits, and other small livestock. It was moved to the current site from its former location in what is now the courtyard between the Domestic Arts and Motor Exhibits Building.
Fairs were held intermittently in Trenton Township since 1745 when King George II granted a royal charter for the purpose of buying and selling livestock and other merchandise. In the late 1880s local prominent businessmen, wanting to establish the fair as an annual event with a permanent location and a racetrack, organized the Inter-State Fair Association in 1888. More than 100 acres were purchased, which includes the present-day acreage of the sculpture park.
The Inter-State Fairs were a huge success. Special events held that first year included a shooting match between Annie Oakley and Miles Johnson, and demonstrations of horsemanship and lassoing by cowboys and Indians from Pawnee Bill’s Wild West Show.
Starting at the turn of the century, death-defying shows starring pioneers of aerial navigation, including Harriet Quimby, one of the first women to hold a pilot’s license, and automotive racing, were booked to entertain the crowds filling the grandstand. As horses were replaced by automobiles for transportation, cars became the main attraction on the fairground’s racetrack.
By the 1970s attendance was dwindling along with profits, and interest by the owner of the property turned from entertainment to development. In 1980 the land was sold and the New Jersey State Fair was held for the last time on this site.
Oral History Information Session, Saturday, January 20, 2 to 4 p.m., Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-586-0616. www.groundsforsculpture.org. New project for individuals to be involved in the collection of reflections and remembrances of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. In honor of GFS 15th anniversary. Register. www.groundsforsculpture.org or 609-586-0616.