The County Fair
A New England Tradition That Keeps Getting Better
The county fair has been a part of New England tradition for over 150 years. The annual event is a celebration of all things agricultural, country and fun. The family-oriented atmosphere of county fairs make them one of the greatest events to attend anywhere throughout the summer months.
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Fairs have been around since the Roman times, when trade markets were a common occurrence. The American county fair really took off in the 19th century. These were mostly agricultural fairs and served as an information center for rural farmers. The county fair was the place where new equipment, feeds, techniques and information was displayed and debated by all the local farmers.
By the 1840’s, the fairs were so popular that state governments took notice. Agricultural boards were formed in most counties throughout New England. Each state provided the boards with money to run the fairs and they became annual events. Fairs became such a social occasion that it was common for farmers to make arrangements to have their farms taken care of by someone else for a day so they could attend the fair. These arrangements were made up to two months in advance so there wouldn’t be any complications.
Today, New England county fairs are still a huge seasonal event. Adults and children alike look forward to the five-to-seven day celebrations that have become as much a part of New England’s agricultural heritage as anything else. Upon entering the fairgrounds, the mouthwatering smells of fried dough, candy apples, cotton candy, sausages and French fries mix with the earthy smells of hay, grain and animals. It is a smell distinctive to the county fair and ingrained in the memories of all who attend.
The New England county fair hasn’t changed much in 150 years. Agriculture is still the primary focus, especially through the first few days of activity. Animal viewing, shows, judging, racing and equipment demonstrations as well as tractor and horse pulls fill the agenda. During this time baking, canning, cook-off and craft competitions also are held. These homemade competitions are a tradition older than the fair, and New England hasn’t forgotten them.
On top of the traditional, New England fairs have added some more recent touches. Carnival rides have become a staple of fairs, and are often the focus of children’s fair experiences. Live concerts and shows have also found their way into fair lineups. One of the most recent additions to the fair tradition has made itself at home and become one of the most popular annual events. This would be the infamous Demolition Derby.
Demo Day is often the busiest day at the fairgrounds. There are accounts of demo derbies taking place as early as the depression years but the event became explosively popular in the late 1950’s. The sole purpose of this event is for drivers to smash old cars into each other in the attempt to disable the competition. The winner is the last car running.
No matter what the event, a New England county fair has something for everyone. Locals and visitors alike can enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the county fair. Whatever the experience, it is sure to make an impression in you heart, and in your memory, for years to come.
– By Tabitha Fitzgerald
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