Fairgrounds must say goodbye to 50-year-old horse arena

Those with memories of the horse barn are invited to come say goodbye.

Last week, the Bradford County Telegraph, reported on the flurry of activities that will be occurring over the next six months at the fairgrounds. Three new barns will be constructed and dedicated to cattle, swine and one for goats, poultry, and rabbits. 

These will be used not only during the week of the Bradford Agricultural Fair, but throughout the year for additional shows and sales. 

The other big project consuming time, money and land is the need to raise the entire midway and surrounding grounds at least 6 inches to withstand heavy rain events such as the fair experienced in 2021. Ditches will be closed, new drainage pipes installed, and hundreds of loads of dirt are being brought in to mix with the existing soil.

According to Fair Association President and retired Sheriff Bob Milner, there will also have to be a borrow pit dug on site for additional dirt. Unfortunately, there is little room for the borrow pit as the western most portion of the fairgrounds is considered a wetland by the water management district and must be left undisturbed. 

According to Milner, the only place left to dig the pit is the site housing the 50-year-old horse arena building originally built by members of the Bradford Roping Club, also known through the years as the Bradford Riding Club. Milner said he has spoken to past members and riders who all expressed sadness at seeing the building dismantled. However, Milner said several of them understood the situation the Fair Association is in and the need for improvements. 

The building had fallen into disrepair and was only being used by an average of five riders when the Fair Association gave notice in June that the riders would need to find another location. Milner said they have on the west side of Jacksonville. 

The Fair Association has always owned the land but allowed the riding and roping clubs to use the building at no charge.

“We realize the incredible sentimental value of the arena to a lot of former riders and therefore we want to give them an opportunity to take some last photos if they so desire. To that end, the entrance to the horse arena area will be open on two consecutive Saturdays, Dec. 17 and 24 for folks to take photographs, including with their horses if they so desire,” he said. 

The area surrounding the arena is being utilized daily by semi-trucks and heavy equipment, and the entrance gate to the arena will be locked at all times other than the two Saturdays. 

“Although this action is regrettable, we believe most citizens understand the need to make significant improvements to the buildings and grounds to enhance the experience of all future attendees at Fair Association sponsored events,” said Milner.

The three barns will not be completed in time for the 2023 Bradford Agricultural Fair to be held beginning March 7 but the work involving raising the soil should be completed by the end of the year.