As the annual Belchertown Fair and the Eastern States Exposition take place in the Pioneer Valley, we are reminded that annual fairs are a long standing tradition that may have its roots right here in western Massachusetts.
In 1762 Brigadier General Timothy Ruggles established what became one of the oldest, if not the oldest, town fair in the nation in Hardwick, a town on the eastern side of the Quabbin Reservoir with a bucolic town center that looks much like it did in the 18th century.
My girlfriend and I visited the Hardwick Fair for the first time this year. We parked on a grassy field near the town center and had to navigate a procession of old tractors before getting to the town common. There were a lot of food venders to choose from for lunch; We checked out the different blue-ribbon fruits, vegetables, breads, preserves, and quilts; and we learned a bit about blacksmiths and post and beam construction from the respective demonstrations.
Under a tent across the street from the town common, young people were walking cows while an emcee pointed out its various features for the audience and judges. While we didn’t pay much attention to the cow show, we did pay much attention to where we stepped.
As the oldest town fair in the nation, I found it fitting that the Hardwick Fair was more of an agricultural event than anything else. Back in the day, all town fairs were purely agricultural events. While today’s fairs all have agricultural components, the Hardwick Fair doesn’t stray from its roots. You won’t find big name music acts or carnival rides that you will find at other town fairs, which isn’t to say that those components aren’t worthwhile.
Since General Ruggles established what may very well be the nation’s first town fair, many cities and towns have established long proud traditions of holding an annual town fair, like the Cummington Fair and Belchertown Fair. The 145th Cummington Fair was held in August and the 156th Belchertown Town Fair will be held this weekend. There are other Pioneer Valley towns that hold an annual fair, as well.
I’ve never been to the Cummington Fair, but I have been to the Belchertown Fair on numerous occasions. Belchertown boasts a spectacular town common that the Belchertown Fair Committee puts to good use during the three days of the town’s annual fair. There is also an impressive parade that gets the party started, carnival rides, games, great food, and plenty of agricultural activities. What really makes the Belchertown Fair special, however, is the people. It is always well-attended.
There are also regional fairs that cost money to get into, such as the Three-County Fair in Northampton, which was held earlier this month, and the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, which is colloquially known as the “Big E” and will run until September 29.
General Ruggles ended up fleeing what became the United States of America in 1785 because of his loyalty to the British Crown. Regardless, he certainly helped establish what became a great American tradition right here in western Massachusetts.
If you are planning on buying or selling a home in the Pioneer Valley, make your first call to Michael Seward at 413-531-7129.
Video of the 154th Belchertown Fair Parade