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The American County Fair Tradition

Updated on March 25, 2018
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle's interest in California history was rekindled when she began leading tours at a local museum in an 1850s gold rush town.

Getting things ready before the crowds arrive.
Getting things ready before the crowds arrive. | Source

The Same as Always (and That's a Good Thing)

County fairs spring up across the USA usually in late summer or early Fall.

In small rural areas of California like Mariposa County, the fair is eagerly anticipated. The fair theme for in 2009 was "A Fair to Remember" and what made it so memorable was that it was pretty much the same as all small county fairs have been for generations across the USA. This annual event in Mariposa County is more than 80 years old and things are pretty much the same as they have always been. American county fairs seem to be built of similar basic elements.

Due to state budget cutbacks, California no longer contributes funds to county fairs. Small fairs like this one are scrambling to find ways to fund the events. Though community fundraisers and popular support have kept the tradition alive, there may be changes in the future. But for now the fair seems safe, with only a few changes.

Non-scary dragon ride similar to the Tilt-a-Hurl.
Non-scary dragon ride similar to the Tilt-a-Hurl. | Source

Americana

County fairs across the US began with groups of rural people coming together to celebrate the harvest, to compete in friendly contests and to socialize with their country neighbors. Local farmers brought their prize animals and best produce to earn bragging rights. Local merchants, crafters and home cooks brought their products to sell.

All of these aspects and more, still bring the crowds to the fairgrounds.

Life is Good!

What's not to like?
What's not to like? | Source

What is it About?

It's About the Food

There's cotton candy, corn-dogs, cinnamon rolls, and a hot dog stand that is run by the high school football team boosters. It's almost considered to be considered unpatriotic to pass up the fair food.

You can buy a giant pretzel or a grilled corn-on-the cob for eight times the the price you could make it at home, but somehow it seems worth every penny when you are munching your snack and wandering among the exhibits.

It's About the Fun

There are games of skill and a quite a bit of luck. There are watermelon seed-spitting contests. There are square dancing demonstrations, knitting contests, trike races for the tykes and, of course, the dachshund races running on all fours and in all directions.

It's About the Entertainment

There are wandering clowns, jugglers, face painters and balloon artists.

Freshly grown

Winning vegetables.
Winning vegetables. | Source

And There's More

It's About the Produce

There are exhibits of prize pumpkins, produce, flower arrangements, bonsai trees, canned vegetables, and baked goods.

It's About the Arts and Crafts

There are photo exhibits, paintings, drawings, woodcarvings, quilts, clothing and collections all created or assembled by the hands of county residents.

Prize ribbons seem to be scattered across the displays by a generous hand.

The pumpkin contest.
The pumpkin contest. | Source

It's about the Promotions

In front of photo displays swagged with crepe paper streamers, are booths with tables full of literature .

Sitting behind the tables are earnest and smiling people giving out candy and pens and totebags.

They are promoting recycling, volunteerism, community projects, tourism, solar energy, Boy Scouts, Republicans, Democrats, or Jesus.

Ponies off to the riding area.
Ponies off to the riding area. | Source

We Still Have Cowboys

Cowboys come in all sizes.
Cowboys come in all sizes. | Source

It's About the Special Events

There are cowboys and horses doing rodeo stuff, and good old boys (and girls) crashing good old cars into each other in the demolition derby.

People pay extra to watch the cars crash into each other while inhaling potent exhaust fumes as the drivers do their impressions of crash dummies.

It's About the Rides

The kids wait all year for the carnival rides. There are no rides taller than the Eiffel Tower with names like "Unspeakable Plunge of Terrible Horror "or "Tempting Triple Death" at this fair.

I think the liability insurance on such things have made the fair people tame down some of the rides over the past few years.

Most of the rides just twirl around real fast and make you hurl if you are over eighteen. They are safe for kids.

Cattle barns have a distinct aura

Mama cow looks after her newborn in a cool corner of the barn.
Mama cow looks after her newborn in a cool corner of the barn. | Source
A summer buzz for a lamb.
A summer buzz for a lamb. | Source

It's about the Animals

Of course there are animals.

In many minds animals are the most important reason to have a county fair.

There are curious goats, trimmed up sheep, smiling hogs and beefy cattle as well as spiffy poultry and brushed-up bunnies .

The kids show off the animals they have cared for all year, hoping to get a good price at the auction. They are all hard-working winners.

It Doesn't Have Everything

As I said, it is a small fair.

There are no internationally known has-been bands playing, only several local semi-amateur groups which sound pretty good if you like country-rock and genuine enthusiasm.

There are no huge pavilions filled with butter sculptures.

There is not enough butter in the county to supply that kind of exhibit here, after supplying all of the fast food vendors with several thousand pounds.

Besides, the weather is often quite warm on Labor Day Weekend --butter melting weather.

Friendly goats like a lttle attention.
Friendly goats like a lttle attention.

There no roving gangs or threatening characters at our small county fair.

It's small enough that residents will recognize lots of neighbors.

There are characters, but they aren't particularly scary.

You will see cowboys with numbered signs on their backs, old ladies wearing balloon hats and cliques of teens with strange clothing and unique hairstyles.

OK, the ladies in balloon hats are a little scary.

Rodeo Cowboys Appreciate the Poultry Exhibits, Too

Source

There are Sheriff's deputies, Highway Patrol officers, Firefighters and other officials and emergency personnel on hand-- but the fair goers are quite well-behaved.

Mostly the officers are handing out pencils, CD holders, badge pins and an assortment of kid attractive items.

There are rarely any disrupting or disturbing incidents at the fairgrounds there is zero tolerance for any behavior that is anti-fun.

The beer garden sponsored by a local service club, does a good business, and the wine stand operated by another service group takes in profits for their special community projects.

Lookit That!

Source

It's About the People

The best part is, you talk to a lot of people you haven't seen for awhile.

You see some of them admiring pigeons.

You see some of them eating deep fried artichoke hearts.

The local, surprisingly good symphony orchestra plays classical pop music before the fireworks signal the end of the three and a half day annual event.

Everyone is smiling. We will remember it again next year.

It will be the same . . . we hope.

Comments

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    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      3 years ago from California Gold Country

      It's happening again!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      4 years ago from California Gold Country

      I think they are still very important events in rural areas. Fairs promote a sense of community by bringing people together. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      4 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Many community fairs around here. Have been going to them for a long time, so fun.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      7 years ago from California Gold Country

      Fair time is coming again. There will be a fair this year but California has cut funding to most small fairs in the state. Will there be one in 2012? Community groups are coming together to try to make sure there it will continue. (Which is how it should be.) This is the BIGgest thing that happens in this small county, and I don't think people will let it die, even if it has to be scaled back some.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks for commenting, GogiJuice. When I was a kid we went to the Los Angeles County fair. One great thing about it was that it was considered an "educational experience" so it was an excused absence from school in early September. It was a huge fair. Small county fairs have a different feel-- and you see so many people you know.

    • GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

      GojiJuiceGoodness 

      8 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

      This looks so interesting! Although I have always lived in Virginia, our family went to the West Virginia state fair because it's closer. I haven't been since I was a young child, but I treasure the memories there! Recently while traveling to Illinois to see my family, I drove past the fair grounds and signs; it brought a flood of happy memories with family years ago. :)

    • Lita C. Malicdem profile image

      Lita C. Malicdem 

      8 years ago from Philippines

      I felt the fun, albeit vicariously, the wonderful photos reinforced my fun view. Nice hub, Rochelle.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Yes they still have the derby and it still attracts a crowd. We went once to see the destruction. You have to go once, but that was enough. I've got the pictures in my mind.

      The fair itself is still a nice experience.

    • WildwindE profile image

      Laurie J. Brenner 

      8 years ago from Western Slope of the Sierra Nevada, CA

      LOL, love those 'Posey Fairs. My daughters graduated from Mariposa High School, and every year there is always some High School Reunion going on -- right at the Mariposa Fair. The last big ones they went to was 2001 and 2006.

      The artwork was always my favorite. Is the Destruction Derby still going on? Gotta love the Beer Garden!

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Thanks Linda and Sandy,

      It was a good day and the weather was "fair" as well.

    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Nothing better than a county fair. Nice reading this hub.

    • profile image

      Linda Myshrall 

      8 years ago

      Sweet nostalgia. My early years were spent on a farm and this article just filled me with warm memories. And I agree, county fairs are a great way to spend a day... how could you not enjoy a day filled with cotton candy, farm animals, old friends and carnival rides? Nice work.

    • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Rochelle Frank 

      8 years ago from California Gold Country

      James, RNMSN, Jerilee and alekhouse:

      Thanks for reading and commenting. When we first came here it was a good way to get the "flavor" of the local area. We came out of the suburbs-- and never looked back.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      8 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Sounds like fun...I like small town fairs and events too. Nice pictures.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 

      8 years ago from United States

      Just love small town country fairs. Surprisingly, as urban as Central Florida gets, some of our county fairs are among the best. Enjoyed the hub!

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      this will be the first baldwin county fair in ten years that I will not have anything to exhibit...the reason being we will on our way to our heart home on the 21st and the far starts the 29th...ours is also three days...ours is just the same as yours and I soooo love it!! I treasure all my ribbons!!! I treasure all the pics of the kids as they grew year by year...but next year I will be entered in the Pima county fair :) Yippee for county fairs!!

    • James Ginn profile image

      James Ginn 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      We just concluded our fair here in Morrow County, Ohio. It's all about supporting your local farmers, entertainers and service groups. Great Hub! Thanks.

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