Driving down a rocky single-lane driveway off Daisy Road in Woodbine, two walls of fresh green cornstalks stand close to 10 feet tall, divided straight down the middle. A simple, two-story white farmhouse with forest green shutters sits to the left at the end of the graveled path, surrounded by a small flower garden and a few red barns, where cows rest quietly, seemingly recovering from their 3:30 a.m. wakeup call for the day's milking.
Inside, at the head of the kitchen table, sits 85-year-old farmer David Patrick — the same farmer who has been a part of the Howard County Fair since its debut in August 1946.
"There was no midway or rides until much later," Patrick said, referring to the isles of concession stands stockpiled with burgers, hot dogs, fried chicken and sweet treats such as cotton candy, caramel apples and ice cream. "It was more of a showing of the cattle. It's amazing how Howard County fairs have grown to what they have nowadays, like bull rides and demolition derbies."
The 70th Howard County Fair starts Saturday, and Fair President Mickey Day said this year's eight-day event includes tractor pulls, skid loader rodeos, parades and a combine demolition derby.
"Entertainment-wise, the amusement rides have also changed, going from the little merry go 'round and the little helicopters that went up and down to the loop de loops and all the swings," Day said. "The one thing that we try to keep very consistent is keeping this a family atmosphere, a place where anybody feels safe to bring their family."
The first fair was held at Brendel's Manor Park in West Friendship, where farming families gathered for the Farm Bureau Picnic. Before the fair, Patrick said, there was the Farmers Field Day at the Howard County Hunt Club.
"I was a member of the 4-H Club and we had a breed field day," Patrick said. "We had red and white cows called Ayrshires, and we showed at this field day every year."
Farmers engaged in friendly competition as they showed their cattle, with some taking home prizes.
Having lived in the same house on the same 93-acre dairy farm since he was born in 1930, Patrick said agriculture and cattle have played a large role in his life, as his family tended to crops, plowed fields and raised cattle.
"We were poor people but didn't know it," Patrick said. "We had decent clothes, a decent car, plenty to eat and had a job, so we felt that that was what was necessary. In 1941, my father bought two registered heifers for me for my 4-H club project that he really couldn't afford to buy, but he did and I felt a little bit of an obligation to him because I loved the farm."
Alongside his father, Patrick learned to clip, trim and shine horns for cattle, preparing them for show at local farming events, including the Maryland State Fair and the All-American Dairy Show in Harrisburg, Pa. When he heard about the first Howard County Fair five years later, Patrick said "it fit right in" to his love of farm life.
According to the Howard County Fair Association, the first fair offered more than $2,700 in prizes, including first-prize premiums ranging from 75 cents for canned goods to $20 for the best two-horse team.
Patrick said exhibiting the animals at the first fair was different than the current West Friendship fairgrounds, where stable space is provided for cattle, livestock and poultry competitors.
"There were no buildings to put the show in like we have now," he said. "It was an open field. … We ended up having to tie animals to trees at the first fair because there weren't enough spaces to tie them to. They put a rope around the ring so you knew where you were supposed to walk your animal."
Water pumps and hoses were also sparse, Patrick said, leaving farmers carrying pales of water to and from their posts. Later, when participants worked up an appetite, they made their way to the one and only food booth.
Building on success
The first fair earned roughly $2,000, according to the county's fair association. Afterward, a fair board was created and found a different location for the second fair at Ellicott City High School in 1947.
Over the next five years, the fair was held in different areas of the county, from Laurel Raceway in 1948 and 1949, back to Brendel's Park in 1950 to Ellicott City High School, once again, in 1951 and 1952.
Patrick said he continued showing his cattle, with the help of the third Howard County Fair president, Harvey Hill, and his son, Buddy, who helped Patrick clip his cattle during the bustling competitions.
The Hill family, who had their own cattle to present, included daughter and current Glenwood resident Kitty Eyre, 90, who also attended the first fair.
"Being a farm family, naturally, the fair was a big occasion once it got started," Eyre said. "All my family was 4-H kids. Farm life is second to none. I helped with the milking of the cows when I was [younger]."
On the Hill's Wauwatosa Farm in Daisy, Eyre and her six siblings milked cows, gathered hay and raised cattle for competition — a highlight of the first fair for then-20-year-old Eyre.
"We showed Ayrshire [cattle] and that was a lesser breed, so there wasn't as much competition as there were with other breeds," she said. "Competition has become more stringent [and] the breeds have improved. The quality of animals today is so much better than it used to be."
Eyre said she enjoyed "the freedom of coming and going" in a county that was once rural and, now, more citified. After attending last year's 69th county fair, Eyre said she was pleased to see how the fair has grown and continues to thrive.
"It was the first year I really enjoyed the fair from the eyes of a visitor," Eyre said. "It struck me as being so nice. It was educational as well as giving farmers a chance to show their cattle."
Rather than showing cattle and eagerly waiting for the competition results as she once did years ago, Eyre said last year she toured the stables and exhibit halls with displays from 4-H members and farmers throughout the county.
"They had not only dairy cattle, but also pigs and goats and all kinds of animals," she said. "They had exhibits that showed animals when they were born and little. I got so much more out of it this past year than I think I ever had."
As Eyre plans to visit this year's Howard County Fair, Patrick said his two great-grandsons are carrying on the Patrick family tradition by showing 26 young cows, or heifers. Though he won't be showing cattle himself, Patrick will be helping them haul and feed the cattle. Patrick remains one of the three dairy farmers in Howard County and has attended all but one Howard County Fair.
"I think the Howard County Fair is one of the prettiest fairs," Patrick said. "The way it's kept, the buildings and the grass are always painted and mowed. It's one of the best around. It has changed, and I think it's for the better."