By Elaine Springer
The Trumansburg Fair returns for the 168th year Aug. 21 through 26, but there is more to the fair than the usual midway rides and grandstand shows. The Trumansburg Fair also offers agricultural and domestic goods exhibits and contests, an educational opportunity in history and tradition that should not be overlooked.
The Union Agricultural and Horticultural Society of the Towns of Ulysses, Hector and Covert, aka, the Trumansburg Fair, began in 1850 with an initial three-year run in Interlaken before moving to the Hector Street area in Trumansburg. The current fair location on Route 96 was acquired in 1872 as a gift from Warren Halsey, then president of the Fair Association, and an avid horse race fan. As such, the race track was installed immediately and the first fair in the current location was held in 1873. While the fair thrived throughout the 1920s, in the wake of the Great Depression, the fair went under in 1934. It was bailed out by Fred Gilbert from Ithaca with a 49-year lease which allowed the fair access to the grounds three weeks out of the year. The fair bounced back and was more successful than ever within a couple of years of the bailout, and the fair association was able to buy out the lease in 1970, paying the Gilbert Estate $4,500.
Significant construction and improvements have occurred through the years, from grandstand construction in 1900, a merchant barn in 1903, the judges stand and bandstand following in 1910, and various barns and buildings constructed throughout the century, including the office at the entrance in 1971. In 1988 the old grandstand was burned down by the Trumansburg Fire Department and rebuilt with metal.
While much of the fair action occurs on the midway and track with rides, attractions, and shows, there is a lot going on behind the scenes in the aforementioned barns, where the heart of the agricultural fair beats.
According to the International Association of Fairs and Expositions, the first agricultural fair in the United States occurred in “Pittsfield, Massachusetts in September 1811. It was more than just an exhibit of animals – it was a competition, with prize money ($70) paid for the best exhibits of oxen, cattle, swine, and sheep.” They go on to say that the early fairs of the 1800s “are at the heart of the agricultural fair in North America today. Competition for the best agricultural and domestic products of the county and/or community (or region or state), an annual celebration for the community to come together, to share, to learn.”
Indeed, agricultural fairs, including the Trumansburg Fair, continue to showcase livestock, produce, and domestic goods through exhibits, friendly competition, and shows, and represent agricultural history and tradition that is alive and well today. The Trumansburg Fair offers the opportunity for youth and family farmers across Tompkins, Seneca, and Schuyler Counties to showcase their livelihood. Foods and domestics include numerous baked goods, jellies and other canned fruit and vegetables. Crafts include sewn, beaded, yarn, and handspun items, to name a few. In these categories, up to $1,443.50 could be awarded to 1st and 2nd prize winners. The fair will also be host to horse shows, a small animal show featuring poultry and rabbits, two types of cattle, sheep, goats, and alpacas, depending on participation.
There are plenty of other family-friendly activities outside of the midway’s thrilling rides, games of chance, and classic fair food, and agricultural education. Every afternoon and evening families can enjoy a petting zoo, circus, and wood carving. On Tuesday at noon, there will be colt stake and harness racing, with horses and jockeys from Tioga Downs and other local popular racetracks. On Wednesday - the first of two youth days - there will be contests that children can participate in and earn cash prizes. Included in these contests are biking, running, egg spoon, and three-legged races, egg throws, and pie eating contests. There is also Senior Citizen Day on Tuesday and Thursday, with Veteran’s Day also on Thursday.
Nighttime at the fair amps up the excitement, with bright lights, big sounds, and entertainment on the track, including horse pulls, truck and tractor pulls, demolition derbies and a figure 8 race. Saturday is a packed evening beginning with the firemen’s parade at 4 p.m. Main Street shuts down to welcome area first responders and law enforcement, athletic teams, scouts, marching bands, and floats from community organizations and businesses. At 7 p.m. the track comes to life with a kids power wheels demo, a demolition derby, monster truck show, and a pickup and minivan demolition derby. Stick around as the sky lights up with fireworks at 9:30 p.m.!
The Trumansburg Fair is a perfect combination of excitement and entertainment, and a celebration of the agricultural institutions that are alive and well in Tompkins and surrounding counties. Explore outside the thrilling midway and take in the agriculture and domestic arts history and tradition that this area offers. The fair offers more than thrills and chills and educational opportunities abound.
The 168th Annual Trumansburg Fair will take place Tuesday, Aug. 21 through Sunday, Aug. 26. Midway and grandstand prices vary depending on the day. For a full list of activities and admission prices, find a Fair Premium List, which is packed full of information about all things Trumansburg Fair. They can be found in local businesses throughout Trumansburg and beyond. Fair information can also be found online at tburgfair.info.
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