Note: This is the first of two installments looking at the history of the Deerfield Valley Farmers’ Day Fair. Julie Moore is president of the Historical Society of Wilmington.
DEERFIELD VALLEY- An agricultural boom once took place here in Wilmington and the Deerfield Valley. And when I say boom, I’m not talking just a couple of farms with milking cows. Wilmington had its very own creamery called the Deerfield Valley Creamery, which once produced 120,000-plus pounds of butter in one year. Besides milk, cream, and eggs, local farmers from Wilmington and surrounding towns were raising wheat, oat, barley, corn, and apples, to name a few crops, along with their livestock.
With all these agricultural opportunities why not hold a country fair for all to exhibit their goods for others to enjoy? That’s just what happened in Wilmington.
In researching the history of Wilmington fairs I came across lots of interesting facts. Fairs in Wilmington date back to the mid-1800s at which time the Wilmington Agricultural Society was putting on the exhibits (fairs) until at least 1894. The word “exhibit” was actually used more than the word “fair” in the early years.
During the earlier years it was something of a contest for fairgoers as the town was divided into two sections, the northern and the eastern, for the purpose of competing to see who had the largest team of oxen. At one point in 1859, the northern team had 61 pairs of oxen while the eastern team had 53 pairs. That same year, after the fair, one such ox was returning home with his owner to Dover when he turned on the man, Benjamin Converse. Word has it the ox returned home but the owner never made it. Mr. Converse is buried in Dover near Cheney Brook with a marker indicating the cause of his death.
Eventually the Victory Grange took over the exhibitions for a few years. Records from 1913 through 1934 show that in 1913, a meeting was held at the Victory Grange Hall during which time it was voted to hold an exhibition of fruit, vegetables, household and fancy articles, etc., at Memorial Hall. The group met again on September 5, prior to the exhibition, and voted to have a livestock exhibit in connection with what they had already planned.
The Deerfield Valley Times, dated October 3,1913, reported some of the items exhibited at Memorial Hall. Under the category “Antiques & Relics” were a violin that dated back to 1735, a Bible that was 170 years old, and a 200-year-old shawl. The merchants of the town also displayed items that they took particular pride in. Parmelee & Howe displayed canned goods and saws; Allen, neckwear and dresses; Wilder, jewelry; Ware, winter goods; and Barber, shoes. These were just a few of the merchants who would display items.
Following the exhibition of 1913, a meeting of the officers was held on October 7, 1913, at which decisions were made on the future of the local exhibition. Besides the officers there were many other interested parties present, who were there to discuss the great success of the exhibition. During this meeting they voted to make it an annual event. At the following meeting, bylaws were written and it was decided to hold the next year’s event the first Wednesday after the Brattleboro Fair. Officers, committees, and judges for each department were voted on and premiums were discussed. Fred May was elected president and H.B. Ware was elected vice president.
Annual meetings and most of the other meetings were usually held during the day. They might last all day long and would be held either at the Town Hall, the Grange building or at someone’s home. The wives would sometimes prepare meals for the members who would adjourn the meeting to indulge themselves with the delicious meals. Annual meetings were usually held in the first part of October to discuss what they needed to do before the next year’s event and officers were usually elected at this time.
During a meeting at the Grange on February 10, 1915, six men were chosen to act as police and three other men as marshals. At that same meeting, Mrs. Merle Moore and Mrs. Ernest Carpenter were appointed to be in charge of the baby parade. Prior to this, in 1888, according to an article written by Margaret Greene for The Times, there were 12 babies entered into a competition for the best looking baby under 18 months old. The cash prize was awarded to the baby’s mother.
You name it, and there were judges for it: everything from doilies, aprons, and pin cushions to waist-underwear; and there were usually three judges for every two items. The same was the case for fruits and vegetables.
On September 7, 1915, the officers met again at Town Hall. The secretary and assistant secretary were advised they could appoint an extra committee for apple judging to help the three previously appointed judges. They also voted to let Mr. Buckley (no first name was recorded) know they were not in favor of having a ball game the day of the exhibition.
This would change in future years because Cy Lavoy was quoted in the 2007 Historical Society of Wilmington newsletter as playing baseball every fair day for years until they ran out of players because the guys started playing softball. Eugene “Rummy” Sullivan told me the ball games were an afternoon tradition during the fair.
On February 22, 1916, during a meeting, the committee also voted to ask the town for an appropriation of $125 to help with fair expenses.
At a meeting on October 2, 1916, the board voted that the old board of officers be elected for the following year. They also voted to give L.H. Adams, the secretary, $5 for his work. By the year 1924 he was making $25 and the treasurer was making $5.
There was no record of holding a fair in the year 1917 (wartime) and when they resumed meeting on August 10,1918, there was considerable discussion about whether they would have one that year. According to the minutes, providing nothing occurred, the date was set for the first Wednesday of October. Plain narrow ribbon would be used for premiums instead of ordering ribbons.
The meeting for October 1918 was postponed until December 21 due to a quarantine. The annual meeting, October 31,1919, was held at the Grange Hall. F.H. Fitch was elected president. It was voted that if the reunion (Old Home Week) was held in 1920 that the Farmers’ Day Exhibition would not be held. The next meeting wasn’t held until June 17, 1921 at which time the officers voted to have a properly marked box placed where attendees could contribute toward the expenses.
On November 3, 1922, it was voted that the fair managers hire the land now owned by the town and the adjoining school grounds if they could come up with a satisfactory agreement with the selectmen. The following May they voted again to hire the land owned by the town for $20.
On June 26, 1924, during the officers’ meeting, it was the sentiment of those present that a band be secured. In later years my mother, Florence Boyd Crafts, remembers listening when Dick Perry from Dunham’s Shoe Store would bring his band from Brattleboro to play in the bandstand.
On September 19, 1924, the board determined local car dealers were going to be charged 50 cents per car for space to exhibit, out-of-town dealers $2 per car! They also voted the association be insured for $200 against rain.
During the meeting held on April 14, 1925, secretary Leslie Adams was instructed to purchase 750 boys’ and girls’ premium lists to be distributed to the schools. During the next meeting on June 25, plans were shown for a community building and gymnasium. At this same meeting E.A. Estabrook, Harold Whitney, and Harold Wheeler were elected to see about building some sheds on the fairgrounds.
At the 1925 annual meeting it was voted to increase the admission to 35 cents for adults, children 12 and under free, and 25 cents for automobiles. W.D. Adams was voted in as president. On May 24, 1926, Fred May was elected as president because Adams declined to serve. During this same meeting it was voted to omit holding the Farmers’ Day exhibition in 1926. The following year it was voted to cut premiums to 25 cents for first place and 15 cents for second place, except on pets.
A bill from Fuller Regalia & Costume Co., of Worcester, MA,was included in the book of minutes dated September 26, 1929, for 250 premium ribbons that were ordered at 9 1/2 cents each, and 10 officers badges’ at 22 cents each.
On May 5, 1930, the board voted not to hold the annual exhibition for that year. This would have been another reunion year. On October 13, 1930, at the annual meeting, a committee of three was elected to investigate the matter of putting up a building for the boys’ and girls’ exhibits and report back in one week. They met again on October 20, 1930 and voted to go ahead with the building that would later be known as Haynes Hall.
A July 3, 1931, newspaper clipping reports about the opening and dedication of the new Haynes Hall. Two hundred people in attendance, from Wilmington and surrounding towns, filled the capacity of the new hall. On the school end of the building was an enclosed bandstand. Rummy Sullivan can remember when he would play there with the school band. They would play from 10 am to noon and again from 1 to 2 pm and never play the same song twice. The money used to build the exhibit hall came from the C.C. Haynes Fund, and approximately $1,500 was spent. Before he died, Haynes set up a trust for the benefit of agricultural purposes. The hall continues to be used for the the boys’ and girls’ exhibits today. The members of the Wilmington Baptist church have used the end of the hall as a concession stand, too.
The last entry in the secretary’s book is dated September 8, 1934. It was voted they have the “Wright Brothers” come with their ponies and to have a ferris wheel without the association being liable for any damage caused by an accident. I’m not sure what transpired with this as it was the last of the minutes.