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In 1832, a group of farmers, lawmakers, and other residents founded the New York State Agricultural Society to advance agricultural improvements and local fairs. This group held the first New York State Fair in Syracuse in 1841. It was an event that lasted two days and included shows, speeches, a plowing contest, along with opportunities to sample goods and equipment for the home and farm. The fair traveled from city to city, and Albany hosted the second. The New York State Fair would not add Indian Village until 1928. However, from 1842-1889, many towns in New York State would host the fair; some of these cities were the following:
In 1889, one hundred acres of land in Geddes, located to the north of Indian Village, was donated to the Agricultural Society by Syracuse Land Co. This transaction aided transportation of the fair due to the proximity of the railroad tracks. The Society began building permanent structures on the property, but the project quickly spiraled past their financial means. With the help from the state, a State Fair Commission, consisting of eleven members, officiated the fair beginning in 1899 and continued to grow.
The Indian Village site was officially completed in 1928, becoming the New York State Fairground location even today. Earl A. Bates, a Cornell professor, Chief Jesse Lyons, and other members of the Cornell Indian Board led the project. The design consisted of two main buildings, one for the homemakers and one for the farmers. In addition to leaving space for farming beans, corn, and squash, they built a bark house behind the other two buildings. An extension added a Turtle Mound reserved for performances by the Indians that included both dancing and games of lacrosse.
Wild West traditions carried on in the early years of Indian Village. Examples of this include:
mock Indian wedding ceremonies men becoming blood brothers to the Indians appointing with Indian names
Ceremonies were not the only custom traditions; the Soup House that opened in 1930 served Indian food at the Soup House. Managed by homemaker Minini Shenandoah, the menu consisted of some of the following items still offered today:
The New York State Fair Indian Village celebrated 50 years in 1975. A celebration included Jacqueline John was the Indian Village Princess, The Iroquois Band providing entertainment, and a traditional performance of the blood brother. Many improvements made over the years have been to preserve the site while maintaining accurate American Indian culture. In 2015, Governor Cuomo introduced a renovation plan costing $50 million. Included in this plan were the following renovations:
There are many memories made at the Great New York State Fair Indian Village, and it will continue to bring the history of the American Indians to all that visit it.
Continue reading related articles: History of the Bronx
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