BACK IN THE DAY — FAIR VISITORS
- May 18, 2012
- on 5/18/2012
- MoJo: want2dish
You never know who you’ll see at the Great Frederick Fair. And this year’s 150th edition of the local event promises to be no exception.
This weekend, May 19 and May 20, The Agricultural Society of Frederick County, incorporated June 3, 1854, invites the public to a free two-day event, with activities and demonstrations as they might have been seen 150 years ago. The fair will be held in September, however, this added weekend of pure fun will show how the fair has evolved over the last century and a half.
A look back through the past, shows that this agricultural extravaganza has drawn celebrities, well known in the political and entertainment arenas. In the past, not only has the fair given Fredericktonians an opportunity to see neighbors and friends they may only see on special occasions, but fairgoers have rubbed elbows with the likes of senators, governors, and even a U.S. president or two. And this doesn’t count the hundreds of national celebrities who have graced the stage at the grandstand attractions.
The first exhibition, called the “Cattle Show,” was actually held in 1822, the first in Frederick and the second ever held in Maryland. The event was organized by the Agricultural Society of Frederick County, which had formed in May 1820. According to the writings of Thomas J.C. Williams, a local judge and historian, who died in 1929, the fair was held at George Creager’s Tavern, about two miles east of Frederick at the Monocacy Bridge. Subsequent fairs, although held sporadically, were held at “Mrs. Cookerly’s Tavern,” also at the Monocacy Bridge, in Libertytown, and eventually at the barrack’s grounds on South Market Street, which is now the Maryland School for the Deaf. In these early years, several Frederick groups took over planning the fairs.
When the Agricultural Society incorporated on June 3, 1854, members began searching for a permanent location of the event, which would be held yearly. There were several interruptions over the years, due mainly to the Civil War and then some due to crop failure and “unusual weather conditions” preventing the agriculture community to participate. In September 1867, the Society purchased the first 19 acres of property on East Patrick Street for $4,500, and the first fair was held there on Oct. 20-24, 1868.
Since then, according to Williams, “The Frederick Fair has enjoyed an enviable reputation, being universally acknowledged as the leading fair in Maryland, and is probably not surpassed by any fair in the country for the diversity of exhibits and variety of attractions. Annually it is patronized by hundreds of persons, who come from all parts of the country.”
Because of the glowing reputation that had been established, in 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant, accompanied by the Secretary of the Navy and the Postmaster General joined Frederick fairgoers spending two days at the fair.
In 1877, according to Williams’ writings, President Rutherford B. Hayes and his Washington entourage spent a day at the fair and “was greeted by thousands of people from all sections of the country.
Another prestigious visitor to Frederick was Horace Greeley, who founded and edited the New York Tribune and was called “the greatest editor of his day.” Greeley, a politician and outspoken opponent of slavery, also founded the Liberal Republican Party, and was in Frederick for the fair in 1871, where he delivered an address on agricultural topics. It was at this fair that the half-mile race track was first used and according to Williams, “has been regarded as one of the fastest half-mile tracks in the country.”
Today, as in the past, people from all over the country attend the Great Frederick Fair. Although there are always well-known visitors, the fair remains the educational tool it was originally meant to be. When Frederick was first established, it drew emigrants because it was one of the most fertile agricultural counties in the state.
“While the fertile valleys and plains annually yield an increase in response to the labor expended in the tilling of the soil, it became apparent that greater benefit would result from cooperation… and a marked awakening among the agricultural population of the county,” noted Williams. He said of the 1909 Great Frederick Fair, “the fair had not an equal anywhere for variety and excellence of character of every feature which goes to the making of a successful fair.”
The Great Frederick Fair has maintained this “excellence of character” throughout its existence. This weekend, you can take a step back in time and see the vintage equipment, demonstrations as they might have been in the late 1800s, taste food that was offered then, although, then many fairgoers brought their own picnics and enjoyed family picnics right on the fairgrounds. Both days there will be music, square dancing, and just a lot of fun for the whole family. To see a schedule of events this weekend, go to www.thegreatfrederickfair.com/ and take a walk through the past. It promises to be a good time for everyone.
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