Sunny, temperate weather helped the Howard County Fair set a one-day attendance record early in its eight-day run, but rain at the end of last week cut into the overall number of visitors.
Vaughn Turner, president of the Fair Association, estimated 80,000 to 90,000 people attended the 59th fair from Aug. 7 through Saturday, significantly improving on last year's 60,000 visitors.
"Sunday was the largest we ever had for attendance," he said, estimating 20,000 people crowded the fairgrounds Aug. 8. That day featured an antique auto show, pie eating and pretty animal contests, the grand-opening parade, and an "old-time" threshing demonstration.
The previous one-day record, set in 2002, was thought to be between 11,000 and 12,000 people.
Exact attendance numbers are not calculated, Turner said, because weeklong passes, free admission for children, seniors and members of the military on certain days, and other situations are not reflected in ticket sales.
After such a great start, "we all thought we were on track to break the [overall] record, but the rain did us in," Turner said. Thunderstorms later in the week kept people away and forced organizers to close the fairgrounds early Thursday and Saturday.
Every year, the fair features livestock shows, 4-H activities, demonstrations, midway rides and games, exhibits and entertainment.
The rides brought in less money than last year, Turner said, in part because of smaller Friday and Saturday crowds. But participation in animal shows, home arts contests and horse competitions was strong.
More than 800 categories of baked goods, canned foods, art projects and crafts drew thousands of entries to the home arts department. More than 200 of the entrants had never exhibited at the fair before, said Chi Chi Brown, a volunteer from Lisbon.
Donna Hoffman of Woodlawn said she was excited to enter the apple pie contest because "I never have the opportunity for someone to critique. ... I'm looking forward to getting some feedback."
Hoffman also volunteered in the adult crafts area, where she said she enjoys seeing what people bring in each year.
Farm crops made a comeback after last year's wet, cold summer led to a low number of entries, said Charles M. Coles Jr., the department superintendent.
"The quality of hay is up this year," he said. And people who do not have a lot of acres were bringing in eggs and sunflowers. "We're trying to expand to [invite] urban agriculture," he said.
Fruits, vegetables and honey also benefited from a good growing season.
Elsewhere, 10 horse shows drew riders throughout the week. A "play day," offering horseback games and races for all horse breeds, had so many entries Wednesday that they did not get through the schedule of events before a downpour ended the program about 6 p.m., Turner said.
Magicians, clowns, pig races and bands entertained each day. This was the first year chain-saw artist Mark Tyoe carved bears, birds and other figures while spectators watched. Tyoe is a member of the national Masters of the Chainsaw, a group of professional sculptors.
At the end of the week, Tyoe's works were auctioned, with proceeds going to a 4-H scholarship fund.
Such attractions have changed the face of the fair, said Brown, appealing to those who are not drawn solely by an interest in agriculture.
But, she said, the farm-related elements do continue: "It still has the feeling of an old-time fairground."