The 124th edition of the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair will be held this year starting Saturday and running though Aug. 6 at Carroll County Agriculture Center at 706 Agriculture Center Dr., Westminster, MD 21157.
Ever since the 1800s, the week at the end of July and the beginning of August has been the highlight of the agriculture community’s calendar because that is traditionally when the county agricultural fair has taken place in Carroll County.
End of summer harvest festivals and ‘fairs’ are a tradition that is as old as the history of agriculture itself. In the United States, 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.
Last year, the year of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, there was nothing traditional about anything. The fair was held in the first week of August in a greatly abbreviated format. Last year the Fair Board made a tough decision and hosted the 123rd fair only for exhibitors and their immediate family members. Remember, at the time of the fair last year the various vaccines were months away – and not available until December 2020.
When I wrote about the fair last year, I suggested that the theme song for the 2020 fair ought to have been from the Grateful Dead’s second album, “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been.” Attending the annual agricultural fair in Carroll and Frederick counties has been a tradition in my family since the 1800s and I have written countless articles about the fair over the years. Some of this discussion has been published before.
Some of my research goes back as far as the 1960s when I wrote about the fair for my 4-H yearbook and “How I spent my summer vacation” reports for Carroll County Public Schools.
According to the June 2 Times article, the plan this year “is to hold the fair without limitations, said Jim Weishaar, chair of the Fair Board … In a traditional year, he said, depending on the weather, anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 spectators will visit the Ag Center grounds during fair week. Last year, attendance was ‘very small,’ Weishaar said, as restrictions limited the fair to just exhibitors and their families, and forced the cancellation of the biggest attractions.
“The main purpose of the fair is to showcase Carroll County 4-H and FFA members exhibiting project areas ranging from livestock, crafts and gardening to technology and fine arts. Over the years it evolved into one of Carroll’s signature entertainment events …”
This year’s entertainment schedule features country music legend Neal McCoy. According to the fair’s website, the entertainment on Aug. 5th is McCoy, who will take the Finch Stage at 8 p.m.
“Other scheduled entertainment,” according to the Times article, “includes a tractor pull, vintage farm stock racing … A car demolition derby wraps things up Aug. 7 at 5 p.m., after the fair has officially closed …”
Historically, according to current 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 to be further researched. According to oral tradition, another name for Fairground Hill was “Liberty Heights.”
Historian Nancy Warner writes in her book, “Carroll County Maryland, A History,” 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 the Jan. 1869 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 …”
Throughout history, Carroll countians have come together to celebrate family and friendships at dances, suppers, picnics, parades, singing and theater events, church socials or end of summer harvest celebrations.
Of course, the carnival and fair food fulfills an important part of the Carroll County (and my) nutrition pyramid and the rides and entertainment are a great diversion from summer chores.
Arts programs and cultural events, fairs and carnivals add to our sense of community and quality of life by bringing people together for a shared experience and contribute to a community’s broader sense of vibrancy, optimism, and self-worth.
More information about this year’s fair is available at www.carrollcountyfair.com/index.asp.
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Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.