RICHMOND — The Washington County Fair has come a long way in its 52 years.
From its modest beginnings back in 1967 — when it was held on the grounds of Perryville Grange in Wakefield — the fair has grown to become the largest fair in Rhode Island and has become a much-loved, well-attended, southern Rhode Island tradition.
One of the biggest attractions is the music, which features concerts from country music stars. This year’s stars include Stephanie Quayle, Morgan Wallen, Lanco, the Sawyer Brown Band and Mickey Lamantia.
In addition to the daily concerts, there will be agricultural events and shows, exhibits and displays, special acts and events, a giant midway, a “Kiddy Land” area, tractor and horse pulls, queen and princess contests, and the farm museum.
For the second year in a row, the midway will feature New England's largest traveling roller coaster. (Rides and games are not included in the price of admission and require separate tickets.)
Adult games include wrestling, frisbee-throwing, a tug-of-war championship, a senior pie-eating contest and a sunflower seed-spitting contest. Children’s games include a three-legged race, golf-putting, a milking contest, an egg toss, a mini-pie-eating contest and a costume parade.
This year the fair is supporting the children and families beyond the fairgrounds and join forces with The Washington County Fair to fundraise for Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
With a minimum donation of $2, Rockwell Amusements will offer a complimentary merry-go-round ride to guests and the fair will match the first $2,500 in donations. More than 28 fair vendors will also be participating in supporting the hospital.
Organizers call the fair — and the months of preparation required to make it happen — a labor of love, one that is directly attributable to the countless numbers of men, women and young people who volunteer to make it happen each year.
“It began as a way to emphasize the importance of agriculture in our daily lives,” according to a statement provided by the Washington County Pomona Grange, the nonprofit that owns and operates the fair, “and to recreate the longtime tradition of the county fair,which was an important part of our heritage.”
The idea for the fair originated in the Pomona Grange, according to grange members, which encompassed all the other local granges in Washington County. The grange is part of the “Order of Patrons of Husbandry,” a national organization with headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Organized Dec. 4, 1867, it is the oldest farm-family fraternity in the country with what they call “ an enviable record of community service and good citizenship as cornerstones of its long history.”
The individual granges that make up the Pomona Grange do a tremendous amount of community service within their communities, organizers said. Some of their good work includes kitting hats for newborns at hospitals, donating new dictionaries to elementary schools, giving food to the local food banks, making donations to local charities and giving financial scholarships to high school students.
The granges also support Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4-H clubs, FFA, and other agricultural organizations both financially and by hosting their meetings in their Grange halls and at the fairgrounds. The food booths are run by nonprofit organizations, and for many, it’s their primary fundraiser for the year.