Fair Days in Windsor

Windsor Agricultural Society fair ad. WHS collections, 1987.46.1, gift of Edla Elder Danielson.

The Windsor Agricultural Society incorporated in February 1889 and held its first fair the following September. The event was held at the Windsor Town Hall and featured exhibitions of fruits, vegetables, poultry, decorative arts, butter, and even catsup and cider vinegar. In addition there were competitions between the village fire companies and a potato race. A premium booklet in the Society’s collection lists prize money ranging from twenty five cents to three dollars for each of the dozens of exhibit categories. By the time of the Third Annual Fair in 1891, the show was the “biggest kind of a success” with “four or five hundred teams [of horses and oxen] being about the grounds” and the exhibit hall “packed to suffocation all the afternoon.” [Hartford Courant, Sept. 11, 1891]

Clearly the fair needed room to grow. Although the Town Hall was conveniently located on the trolley line at the town green, the cattle show and horse racing needed a bigger venue. Orson Moore offered a tract of land on Capen Street to the Town of Windsor for a racing park, and the Moore’s Park Corporation organized in the spring of 1893. The land was wooded, but a “lovely spot for a park…in a grove just off the main street.” It was quite a task to remove the trees, stumps, and roots, but “the undertakers of the project went at the job full of determination” and they had a level track “second to none in New England” ready in time for the fair in September. [Hartford Courant, Sept. 11, 1893]

Windsor Agricultural Society fair ad (reverse side of previous image).

In 1900 an advertising leaflet (actually a folded card containing a free set of sewing and darning needles) exhorted Windsor women to submit “1000 Loaves of Bread and Cake, 1000 Pieces Fancy Work, and 1000 Paintings, Antiques, etc.… and Flowers in profusion” for exhibit and to help make the Eighth Annual Fair of the Windsor Agricultural Society bigger than ever. Whether the women contributed this many entries is unknown, but the fair organizers were eager to publicize the daily concerts by the Colt’s Armory Band from Hartford, the large cattle show, bicycle races, trained pigs and dogs in the side show, and the largest purses ever for the horse races.

Despite aggressive promotion, the 1900 fair was the last one sponsored by the Windsor Agricultural Society. Perhaps the participation and attendance were not enough to cover expenses for the stockholders. News reports indicate that fairs in other towns struggled with unpredictable weather, the increasing expenditures for prize money, and a demand for side shows and other entertainments. Indeed, at many fairs the horse racing was becoming the principal attraction and fair organizers despaired of the decreasing public interest in the agricultural exhibits and livestock shows.

The declining interest in local fairs was probably related to the broader decline in New England’s agricultural economy. Farmers faced strong competition from larger agricultural operations in the Midwest as well as increasing dominance of manufacturing and commercial businesses in the urban areas. Windsor, too, reflected these agricultural changes. Some old family farms were sold for development and others were taken over by first generation immigrants. Farmers adopted innovative techniques such as the tenting of shade tobacco and the use of mechanized equipment to increase productivity.

The Horace H. Ellsworth family was actively involved with Windsor fairs for many years. Mr. Ellsworth was President of the Windsor Agricultural Society, Mrs. Ellsworth judged floriculture exhibits, and their daughter Minnie won dozens of blue ribbons for her fair entries. WHS collections, 2007.9, gift of Joyce Banta.

The Great War – World War I – refocused American attention on the need to stimulate both the production and conservation of food. The Windsor Agricultural Association formed at the beginning of August 1918 and immediately decided to hold a genuine, old-fashioned fair in October. It called for exhibits of home-grown fruits and vegetables, canned products, and a children’s garden at Windsor Town Hall with silver loving cups and ribbons as prizes. Along with patriotic entertainment, the Red Cross and defense council mounted exhibits and officials promoted the slogan “Let Hartford County eat what Hartford County grows.” Within three years the crowds had again outgrown the Town Hall area and the WAA moved the fair to Sage Park (the former Moore Park). The 1920 fair was the last one held in Windsor, but local residents continue to this day to showcase their produce, handiwork, and livestock at other regional fairs.

Don’t forget to enjoy this year’s Northwest Park Country Fair in Windsor, CT on September 15!

 

By Barbara Goodwin, Librarian, 2012

2018-09-06T16:28:23+00:00