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News Maryland Carroll County Westminster

Tracing the roots of Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair [Eagle Archive]

This week's annual Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair is in full swing at the Carroll County Agriculture Center on Ag Center Drive in Westminster.

The fair moved to Westminster in 1954, to the Ag Center, which was established as a private organization on March 20, 1954, by a group of visionary leaders, according to retired extension agent Robert L. Jones.

Charles F. Brehm, Charlotte Conway, Lester F. Stem, Walter V. Bennett, Violet M. Coshun, Landon C. Burns, Randall G. Spoerlein and Stewart D. Young purchased the land at the end of an old dirt lane off Gist Road, way outside of town, with their own money.

According to the fair's website, this is the 117th year for the fair as we know it today.

Its roots go back to a picnic held August 14, 1897, at the Otterdale Schoolhouse, in Taneytown, according to a history published in the 1997 fair guide.

According to my research, the first mention of a Carroll County "fair" occurs tangentially in the days immediately following the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-4, 1863.

In "Recollections," Dr. Joshua Hering describes, "A temporary camp was made in a field on the 'Fairground Hill,' immediately to the left of the turnpike."

Why this area, northeast of Colonial Avenue and East Main Street, was called "Fairground Hill" as early as 1863 remains a mystery.

Before 1865, the business of farming was, for the most part, a subsistence existence. Farmers were essentially self-sufficient.

But after the Civil War, farmers became increasingly "dependent on creditors, merchants, and railroads for their livelihoods. These relationships created opportunities for economic gain but also obligations, hardships, and risks that many farmers did not welcome," notes agriculture historian James I. Stewart of Reed College.

Certainly an agrarian-based community such as Carroll County had harvest "fairs" before the 1860s?

The first authoritative mention of an organized fair event occurs in 1869.

Historian Nancy Warner writes in her book, "Carroll County Maryland, A History," that on Jan. 11, 1869, the Carroll County Agricultural Society was organized "at a meeting at the Court House."

"Capital of $25,000 was raised through the sale of 500 shares of stock at $50.00 per share. Thirty acres of land was bought between the present Fair Street and Malcolm Drive…"

It is believed that the first fair after that January 1969 meeting took place that year on July 4. A "program of events" found in an 1871 publication of the American Sentinel refers to a "Grand Exhibition of Farm machinery under the auspices of the Carroll County Agriculture Society on the Fair Grounds, Westminster, MD…"

For more information on this year's fair, go to carrollcountyfair.com.

When he is not chowing down on delicious Carroll County Fair food, Kevin Dayhoff may be reached at kevindayhoff@gmail.com or @kevindayhoff on Twitter.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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