Grounds For Sculpture is located on a site that was formerly part of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds. 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 twenty 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 allowing them for the purpose of buying and selling livestock and other merchandise. This charter provided for the first fair in Colonial America. The twice-a-year event, held in April and October, lasted until the township charter was surrendered five years later. In 1797 State Legislature banned all fairs until a revision was sought by the State Agricultural Society in 1858. Fairs were held sporadically in the mid-1880s by various agricultural organizations at locations in the Trenton area and thoroughbred horse racing was billed as a main attraction.
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 one hundred acres were purchased, which includes the present-day acreage of the sculpture park.
The Inter-State Fairs were a huge success, drawing crowds to view the displays of various breeds of horses, cattle and other livestock, agricultural products and farming equipment, culinary arts and needlework. Midway attractions, entertainment featuring daredevil stunts, and horse races were always popular with the spectators. 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. Parachutists jumping from hot-air balloons thrilled audiences in the 1890s. 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.
"Lucky" Teter and his Hell Drivers made the headlines in the 1930s; in the sixties it was midget car races and a 200-mile race for Indianapolis cars and drivers. The area referred to as the "sculpture pad" in Grounds For Sculpture brochures was originally the foundation for the grandstand extension.
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.
1745 . Original Fair Charter given by King George II.
1750 . Surrender of Borough Charter.
1777. Elkanah Watson (Father of the American County Fair)—First visit to Trenton, N.J.
1858. State Agricultural Society—Fair Revival—3 Day Event.
1866. Central Agricultural Society of N.J. purchase of land for New Jersey State Fairgrounds—Staged the first Fair at this site.
1867. Opening of Permanent Exhibition Buildings & a mile-long Race Track—Billed as "Finest Exhibition of Race Horses in the East".
1871. Land sold to Henry W. Smith—Established Fashion Stud Farm .
1885. Mercer County Board of Agriculture holds First Fair on Old Trenton Baseball Club Grounds.
1886. Second Annual Mercer County Agricultural Fair Association Exhibition.
1887. Mercer County Board of Agriculture revived the Fair—Agricultural displays only—No more racing!.
1888. Formation of Inter-State Fair Association—Inspired by John Taylor (Trenton Businessman, Head of the Board of Trade, Civic Leader, Founder of the Taylor Opera House). New Jersey State Fair Opens—Complete with a Grandstand and Half-Mile Track—Two Exhibition Buildings erected for Opening—50,000 in attendance. Belva Ann Bennet Lockwood (Suffragist—1st Woman Pres. Candidate) gives campaign speech. Annie Oakley vs. Miles Johnson shooting match—Annie Oakley wins! Pawnee Bill's Wild West Show Cowboys in an Exhibition of Horsemanship & Lassooing!.
1888 & 1899. John Guild Muirhead (leader of Trenton's pottery industry)—Manager of the Fair.
1891. The Great Interstate Fair—Trenton, N.J.—"Unapproached in Excellence of Exhibits and Magnitude of Attendance".
1893. Public Schools Declare "Big Thursday" and "Children's Day" official Holidays in area schools.
1895. The Great Interstate Fair—Trenton, N.J.—"Agricultural Circus of the East".
1900. Fair features the First Novelty Series of Automobile Races.
1905. The Lewis Airship makes daily flights from the Fair to the Broad St. Bank Building.
1909. First Exhibition Airplane Flights—Billy Taylor booked Grandstand Shows—Wright Brothers and Ralph Johnstone perform aerial stunts. Three Dollar Prize given to "Largest Cat of Any Kind"—One Dollar Prize for "Best Nightengale" --Three Dollar Prize for "Best Colony of Italian Bees"—Fifty Cents went to "Best Pen Wiper".
1911. Harriet Quimby (magazine editor & daring flier) performs aerial stunts—She was distinguished as one of only two women with an aviator license at that time.
1921. New Jersey Exhibition Building erected to house State Department Exhibitions.
1927. Trenton Fair—"Mammouth Exposition's 40th Year".
1928. Exhibition of Flying Craft organized by Trans-Atlantic flier Clarence D. Chamberlin.
1937. New Jersey State Fair—Golden Jubilee Year—50th Anniversary Celebration.
1938. Lucky Teter and His Hell Drivers perform auto stunts—Teter billed as "King of Daredevils" with "World's Greatest Thrill Show".
1939. Fair sold to George A. Hamid (amusement promoter).
1945. 200th Anniversary of First Trenton Fair—Organized by George A. Hamid. 4-H Club Dedication of their new Exhibition Building. Thomas Edison Exhibition featured—Early Inventions on display..
1950. Grandstand features radio celebrity Johnny Olsen and singer Roy Acuff & His Rocky Mountain Boys/Girls along with the cast of the Grand Ole Opry.
1964. 77th Annual State Fair features Celebration of New Jersey's 300th Birthday—Opening Day billed as "Tercentenary Day". First Miss N.J. State Fair Crowned. Tercentenary Historical Building & Civil War Building feature special Exhibitions. Dick Clark & Bobby Vinton are featured entertainers. Horse Shows featured in Coliseum. Closing Event was a 200 mile race for Indianapolis race cars.
1966. "The State Fair with the World's Fair Flair"—N.J. State Fair Buildings get a $250,000 "face-lift" with 60s bright Gold & Green checkerboard facades and new outdoor lighting systems.
1966. Action Exhibits & Demonstations replace "still-type" Exhibits. First Dog Show at Fair.
1967. "Authentic Vietnam Village" provided by U.S. Recruiting Service was featured exhibit at Fair. "Your Stake in the Atom"—U.S. Atomic Energy Commission Exhibit—Live demos on uses of nuclear power—Remote control hands a popular display in Atomic Exhibit. Golden Knights of Fort Bragg, N.C., The Bolling Air Base Pipe Band and Drill Team, and Your Father's Mustache Banjo Band were featured performers. Ladies Day coincides with Arnold Constable Day—Fashion Show featured.
1971. Trenton International Speedway—Marlboro Championship Trial Race.
1974. State Fair in Decline!—Urban Decay, Race Relations, and competition with Great Adventure cited as causes—George Hamid Jr. petitions Governor Brendan T. Byrne for State subsidy.
1980. Louis Traiman Auction Co. of Philadelphia auctions off N.J. State Fairgrounds—Bids are really low—Stryker Machine Products buys 5 1/2 acre Hamilton Township tract of Fairgrounds property.
1984. Atlantic Foundation purchases old Fairgrounds property adjacent to the Johnson Atelier.
1988. Grounds For Sculpture receives Preliminary Site Plan Approval.
1989. Construction begins on Grounds For Sculpture.