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The Fair's Written History...
A Historical Sketch of The Union Agricultural Society.
Written and Compiled by Martin Steinmetz, Fair Treasurer, April 1980
We are told that during the winter of 1838-1839 the farmers of Somers, being interested to see which school district of the town could show the largest group of oxen and steers, yoked up two hundred and ten pairs of cattle, and exhibited them as Somers Street. From this account we realize the extreme importance of cattle in the agriculture of that period. So great was the interest awakened by this show, that before it closed, it was agreed to organize a Society to promote similar exhibits, and for that purpose to meet at the house of Daniel Gowdy, at Hazardville, in Enfield. The organization was perfected, however, and the Inn of Alpheus Billings, in Somersville. The newly-organized Society was named The Cultural and Mechanic Arts Society.
The records of the Society fail to give the name of its founders, but the following list was later compiled by those who knew the founders, and while many of the later were still living, it is not claimed that the list is complete.
The first officers of which we have any records were: Col. Oliver Collins, Somers, President; Geer Terry, Enfield, Vice-President; Noah Pease, Ellington, Secretary; Samuel D. Chapin, Somers, Treasurer.
The first regular cattle show of the Society was held at Somerville, in the town of Somers, on the 23rd day of October, 1839. At that time the membership was confined to the towns of Somers, Enfield and Ellington. The next meeting of the Society was held at the Inn of Henry A. Abbe, in the Wallop District, in Enfield. At this meeting the territory of the Society was enlarged by the admission of the town of East Windsor. No attempt was made to hold the Fair in East Windsor until 1845, when it was voted to hold the Fair at Ireland (Irish Row), if suitable accommodations could be provided. As Irish Row (now Melrose) contained no tavern, suitable accommodations were not found, and the Fair was held just over the line, in Enfield, at the tavern of Henry A. Abbe. In 1848, however, a Fair was held at Broad Brook, in East Windsor.
For many years the annual exhibition of the Society was primarily a cattle show. As late as 1883, 80 yoke of oxen and steers were exhibited at Ellington, and Enfield furnished more than any other town. Today it is doubtful if a single yolk of cattle could be found in the four towns. No such economic revolution in agriculture has occurred before since the beginning of written history.
As the Society never had a race track, the exhibits of horses were always secondary to the exhibits of cattle. Classes for sheep, swine, poultry, pet stock, agricultural and horticultural produce and flowers were gradually added.
Women began exhibiting in 1843, and classes were established for domestic manufactures, fine arts and fancy work. A class for historical relics was later added. It became a custom for the secretaries, in their reports, to pay rather extravagant compliments to the ladies. At Broad Brook in 1856, the ladies were the "flowers of the village, with which the church was decorated to the great joy of the men."
Attending the fairs of the Society in the last century must have gone far towards making life worth living. After an "excellent" dinner at the hotel, the members of the Society marched to the church, preceded by a "fine band of music," and in the church listened, not only to the reports, but to an address by the pastor, who has recently been made an honorary member of the Society, and to "very fine music."
Financing the fairs has not always been an easy matter. The Society has never been willing to provide adequate sources of revenue, much to the vexation of the secretaries. In 1850 it was voted to charge Five Cents admission. The fee may have been collected in Ellington and Somers, but at Broad Brook, in 1852, the show of produce was not considered worth the price of admission. When the plan of charging admission was revised in 1909 and 1910, Ellington threatened to secede from the Union, if the plan was adopted. In 1853 Col. Augustus G. Hazard gave the Society $100. Other gifts were received from time to time. It was long customary, among many members, not to claim premiums. Annual appropriations have been received from the State since 1874. Rents for concessions, charges for parking, and sales of tags have added to the revenues in more recent years.
As early as 1850 it was proposed to hold the fairs in a fixed place, but the matter was dropped. In 1874 the question of a central location was again discussed. A committee was appointed that finally reported in 1876, and was discharged. What they reported we are not told. The subject was considered again in 1882. A strong effort at centralization was made in 1889, but at an adjourned meeting held at Broad Brook on February 11th, the plan was voted down 88 to 16. A motion to hold the fair for four years at White Oak Park, in Somersville, was indefinitely postponed in 1895. When the fair came to Enfield in 1914, it was held in Thompsonville. The people of that village wished to have it continue to be held there, but the members of the Society outside Enfield objected.
In only seven years since it was organized, has the Society failed to hold a fair. During the stress of the Civil War, the fairs were omitted in 1862 and 1864. A fair was held in Ellington in 1863, however, at which the ladies appeared "in great beauty and loveliness." No doubt the beauty and loveliness were enhanced by hoop skirts and water-falls. Notwithstanding the World War, full arrangements were made to hold the fair in Enfield in 1918, but the influenza, in a very fatal form, was raging, and at the request of the town health officer, the fair was given up, although some of the paraphernalia had arrived on the grounds. Enfield desired the fair the following year, but the Society declined to great the regular rotation and the fair was held in Ellington. The rotation of the fairs was not without interruptions in the early years. But when, after the Civil War, the fairs were resumed, the first was held at Broad Brook, in East Windsor, and since that date, the rotation has been East Windsor, Enfield, Ellington and Somers. No fairs were held in 1942, 1943, 1944 or 1945 due to restrictions and curtailments incurred by World War II. In 1946 the regular rotation proceeded with the fair in Enfield. Since 1868, the president has always been selected from the town in which the fair was to be held, and the vice-president from the town in which the fair was to be held in the following year.
In Enfield, on January 14, 1861, the name of the organization was changed to The Union Agricultural Society of Enfield, Somers, Ellington and East Windsor. At he May session of the legislature in 1870, a charter was granted to the Society. At a fair held in the "fine new Hazardville Institute Building," on October 22nd of that year, the charter was accepted. In later years the charter was completely forgotten; and the Society incorporated under the general laws in 1932. In 1934 it was voted to resume the old charter.
In the early years, the speech delivered at the fair was frequently ordered printed. In Somers in 1904, as the church was being redecorated, the formal session at the fair was omitted, and it has never been resumed. It was voted to hold a tonacco fair at Hazardville on February 3, 1874; but the records fail to show that the tobacco fair was ever held. In 1893 a two-day fair was held in Enfield. The attempt was made, on the second day, to introduce the European idea of a fair as the sale of produce at auction. Only a few things were offered for sale, however, and the experiment was never repeated. A Boys' and Girls' Department was organized in 1926 by Boyd R. Grant, Secretary, and at the fairs of recent years much space has been devoted to the work of school children and members of the 4-H Clubs. It has been a very important agent in bringing added interests to the fairs from the parents and older people.
It is impossible to mention all of those who have rendered devoted service to the Society. A few stand out conspicuously. Col. Augustus G. Hazard aided the Society by his gifts, when its revenue was very small. Myron F. Gowdy, of Somers, knew the founders, and was thoroughly familiar with the records of the Society. He have an historical address at the fair in 1868, which unfortunately cannot now be found. Charles A. Thompson, of Melrose, became Secretary in 1889, and Treasurer in 1893. From 1893 he held the office of Treasurer continuously until his death in 1941 – by far the longest record at that time of any one who has held office in the Society. For many years the exhibits of the Shakers were conspicuous; and no fair was complete without the cheeses manufactured by Mrs. Charity Hayes, of Enfield.
In 1950 the Agricultural Society held its first two-day fair in Enfield. In 1960, the Society bought a piece of land in Somers for a permanent fairgrounds. This is the first land owned by the Society and consists of approximately 41 acres.
Utility poles were put up for electric power in 1960, and two years later a permanent restroom facility was built and a well was installed. A tobacco shed was purchased by the fair committee in 1961 for the purpose of using the lumber to roof the restrooms, for fencing, and other needed items. Also at this time small animal cages were purchased and they are still in use today.
In 1964 the Society held its first three-day fair, the first ever held on a weekend. Talent shows, suppers, etc., were promoted to raise money for the fair. In the early 1960s, an in-ground scale was installed on the fairgrounds for the purpose of weighing in the drawing contestants. From 1964-1970 improvements were made to meet the changing times.
In 1971, a large steel building from the Keeney Mfg. Company complex was offered by the Keeney family to the Fair Association. The progressive offer from the Keeney family through the Wyandotte Corporation of Indiana, and the Corbin Gentry Corporation was finalized. Through the efforts of Stebbins Bros. of Somers, the building was dismantled and moved to the fairgrounds and reassembled, ready to be used for the 1973 season. Utilities including 200 amp underground electric service and water lines were brought into the building and two eight-foot glass showcases were donated by E.C. Allen's Sons Inc. of Enfield. The building has been named the Neelans-Patterson Hall.
A review and clarification of the fair boundary was completed in 1974.
The total membership of the Society in 1974 was approximately 450 members and brought up to date buy Martha M. Butler as directed by Officers of the Society at a Special Meeting held in Somers on February 20, 1974.
Throughout the mid and late seventies, many changes and improvements were made to the grounds to keep pace with the rapid growth of the fair.
In 1976 a new 150 x 200-foot Drawing Ring with an announcers booth was constructed to replace the old ring that served for many years. Because of their many generous contributions of material and equipment to the Society over years, the Ring was dedicated to Simon and the late Herman Lipton, and is known as the Lipton Drawing Ring.
Also during the summer of 1976, Fair Officers and the Somers Rotary Club agreed to construct a pavilion to be used as a beer garden during fair time. After 1980, the pavilion will be turned over to the Union Agricultural Society to be used in the best interest and benefit of the fair.
In 1977, the fair continued to expand with the addition of two new 100 x 200-foot horse show rings, including an adjoining announcers building at the west end of the fairgrounds. This new facility helped increase the size and quality of the horse shows at fair time. These twin show rings have been dedicated to those people who, among others, donated construction materials, fill, and heavy equipment for this project. The Western Ring is named in memory of Ledger Starr of Enfield and the English Ring is dedicated in honor of Dick Hutton and Lee Pinney of Somers, and Dave Parker of Ellington.
Also, during the summer of 1977, a new 60 x 60-foot cattle show ring was constructed with fence posts donated by the four towns, and materials salvaged from the old horse show ring. Another large undertaking during 1977 was the drilling of a new well. The well is located in the pines area at the west end of the grounds to keep pace with expansion of facilities in that area as the old well was unable to handle the large increase in demand for water.
The new well supplies the restrooms, show rings and the pavilion, while the old well supplied drinking fountains and the east end of the grounds.
All of these new facilities require large amounts of electricity to function and consequently, underground cables were run to a new circuit breaker panel in the announcers building at the horse rings. Chain link fences with gates were installed around the power poles and boxes for the safety of fairgoers.
In 1977 a number of concrete blocks were bought for use as weights in the drawing contests. Some were donated by individuals and the remainder were purchased by the Society. The following year, 1978 saw continued expansion of the fairgrounds. After years of delay, a blacktop floor was installed in the Neelans-Patterson (steel) building in June. The work was done by some of the fair's directors, with the assistance of the four towns who supplied man and trucks to haul blacktop. A private contractor was hired to spread the material. In addition, the electrical systems were updated and changed by adding new underground service to more evenly distribute electricity, thus alleviating power distribution problems that plagued the fair for many years. New outdoor power panels were added to ease concession hookups at fair time, and new bleachers were constructed for spectator seating.
During the summer, approximately 1-1/2 acres of land on the north side of the grounds were cleared for horse show trailer parking with the cooperation of Della Construction who provided heavy equipment and manpower for this task.
It should be noted here that much of the construction work over the past few years has been the result of hard labor by a dedicated group of people interested in making our fair a continuing success. Many hours of their free time were spent laboring at the fairgrounds, and we sincerely appreciate their efforts. Without them, progress would be slow.
As noted earlier, various events were held over the years to raise money for the fair. With the addition of the new horse and drawing rings, the fair's officers voted to hold an annual Spring "Horse Show and Doodlebug Contest." The first one, held in May of 1978, was very successful and the second annual show held a year later was an even bigger success, raising a considerable sum of money for the fair.
Although many people are involved in making an event like this a success, special mention should be made of Stan Lombard for organizing the Doodlebug Show, and Ferd Schambach for organizing the Horse Show. They, along with their volunteer helpers manning food booths, assisting in the rings, announcing and helping out in general, deserve a large vote of thanks from the Fair Officers and Members for their generous contribution of time.
We hope that during the coming years, these shows will grow and prosper for the benefit of the Fair.
In 1979, significant changes took place. With the sharp increase in costs for goods and services, the Board of Directors with considerable regret, had no alternative but to institute a "per person" admission charge, thus becoming the last fair in the state to do so. In order to combat rising insurance costs and more frequent acts of vandalism, the Officers of the Society voted to begin fencing in the grounds. The south, east and north boundaries were done initially, with the balance of the north side and the west end to be completed at a future date. A "Home Improvement" loan was taken out to finance this project. The fence, along with the new individual admission charge, has helped our financial status considerably.
Other projects completed during 1979 were the construction of a "wash pad," for the various showmanship entries, and the construction of framed, wire fences to be placed around the various exhibit tables in the steel building to protect items on display. Also new that year was the implementation of a pre-entry system for exhibitors, eliminating confusion at entry time, and the mailing of all premium monies, eliminating the need for people having to pick them up.
We are presently investigating the possibility that the Four Town Fair may be the oldest in New England, and possibly the oldest in the country.