Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Guilford Agricultural Society's Fair, Guilford, Connecticut, Mid 1960s

Original Photograph from Archives

Terrific photos! Reminds me of Vermont’s Tunbridge Fair, which dates back to 1867 and is still going strong. Country fairs are a big deal for those who participate: kids given the responsibility of raising their own calves, ladies, who tend their flowers year after year in hopes of a blue ribbon, men who train oxen, hoping that one last burst of physical energy will bring their team victory. In central Vermont, and many other places I’m sure, it is often the men who grow the flowers and the women who drive the oxen (check out Gail Billings and her prize ox Crockett on the Internet). 
Come September, there’s an air of excitement as a fair approaches, and just a little touch of melancholy. Not only does a country fair pay homage our agrarian past, and the hard work we put into our land and animals; it marks the end of another season, so poignantly captured in Winslow Homer’s drawing, The Last Days of Harvest. 
At one point in its history, the Tunbridge Fair had gained somewhat of a seedy reputation. A visiting correspondent for the New York Times put it this way, “the Tunbridge Fair is the biggest collection of drunks in any one place at any one time.” Soon after that indictment was published, my mother’s relative, Euclid Farnham, took over the reins as president and did a little “barn cleaning.” He sent the “girly show” packing, eliminated overnight camping on the fairgrounds and rationed alcohol consumption in the beer hall. Each further step he took helped preserve the fair for families, which was the whole purpose to begin with. The overwhelmingly positive results kept him in office for the next thirty years. 
For many years, I had only been a fair spectator, but for a brief period, I was also a participant, driving my Morgan to the high-wheeled 19th century sulky I had restored. In my view, a country fair is one of those annual events that helps keep us grounded. Many thanks for the photos. I can’t think of any other venue on the Internet that would introduce this subject, and that’s what makes this site so special. (MGC)


  1. I had been wondering how the photographer managed to get everyone assembled on the steps in front of that building (meeting house?) before I realized they were there to watch the parade. Then I wondered if the oxen had been shod.

  2. Glad that agrarian fair tradition still continues to this day in my area - a wonder! I don't live far from Silicon Valley, but the harvest season means many surrounding towns will be hosting. Amid the glittering San Jose high-risers, Apple space ship, etc. - it's a grounding reality check. Before my children were old enough to go away for school, the fairs were a much looked forward to annual event by them. We attended as many as we could -- still do. My children email from school asking about this fair and that. Not sure who said, farming looks easy when you plow with a pencil a thousand miles from a corn field -- the contemporary rendition would be laptop!

  3. A few weeks ago there was a discussion of whether oxen were still used anywhere in the country for farm work. The Guilford Fair always had a draft oxen pulling contest and oxen were a much loved feature of the Guilford Fair Parade. Does anyone know whether these oxen are for show only and for contests of strength or, if you are a farmer and have oxen, do you use them in the non-fair season for tasks around the farm? Just wondering.