NORTH STONINGTON — This year marks the 50th anniversary of the North Stonington Agricultural Fair. Scheduled for July 10–13, this year’s version promises to deliver another family-friendly event complete with rides, games, livestock and a few extra surprises.
Outside of North Stonington the fair is considered a significant event. The Association of Connecticut Fairs classifies it as a “major fair” and considers it to be the beginning of fair season in the state.
“Traditionally it’s held the second weekend in July, that’s our weekend,” said First Selectman Nicholas Mullane II, a member of the Grange and the fair gate committee. The selectman has been involved with the fair since the late 1970s, at least 36 years.
“It was modest at first but it just kept getting bigger and bigger. Now it’s a bit more complicated,” Mullane said.
When thinking of longevity, one of the key figures in the fair’s history is Nancy Weismuller. Presently a member of the board of directors and a Grange member since 1970, she started that year selling tickets, which went for a nickel, a dime or a quarter.
“That was only five years after the fair started,” she said. “Back then there were only two food booths, the chowder booth and the big food booth. They were run by volunteers from the Grange and we received all the profits.”
She credits Roy S. Lee as one of the main forces behind the fair. In the mid-1960s the 4-H youth organization had decided to move its fair from North Stonington to a neighboring town. Lee, who led both the fire company and the Grange, a rural fraternal organization, asked the two to join forces to form a new fair and a tradition was born.
“From what I’ve heard, the only rides at the first fair were Arnold Perkins’ pony rides,” she said.
Nowadays the fair involves many outside contractors, and the man in charge is Mike Riley, who has been president of the North Stonington Agricultural Fair Inc. for the last 15 years.
“This takes the entire year to plan,” Riley said. “We don’t meet in December but other than that it’s the subject in all monthly meetings.”
Riley said the most important change this year is that the main gate has been moved and visitors will be instructed to park their cars and then walk to the fairgrounds to purchase tickets.
“It is our hope that this will improve the traffic on Wyassup Road,” he said.
Past years have seen traffic on the road come to a standstill because of the fair, a testament to its popularity.
As part of the anniversary celebration, Sandtasia, creators of extravagant sand sculptures, will be on hand. Arrangements are also currently in the works for an exotic animal petting zoo, and possibly an elephant.
New to the competitions this year are the women’s hay bale toss and mini pulling, both on Friday, July 11.
As for music, the fair’s headlining act on Saturday is the Nashville singer Austin Webb (“Slip On By”); Steven Daggett will perform on Friday night. Opening for Daggett is 14-year-old Frankie Justin Lamprey and Roughstock.
One concern for Riley is funding. The organization receives the proceeds from ticket sales and vendor fees and various sponsorships. The money is then used to help finance the next fair, and is distributed as well to the fire company and the Grange.
“We use it to help pay the bills but it’s also used for capital improvements such as roof repairs,” he said.
Another concern, this one out of his control, is the weather, a factor which can dictate the size of the crowds.
One advantage, however, is that it is the only agricultural fair in Connecticut in early July; the remaining large fairs do not begin until August.
For years it was the area’s main event but that has since changed somewhat.
“We used to be the only game in town,” said Mullane. “That’s no longer the case. There are fireworks and other events now, there’s something every weekend locally. It didn’t used to be that way.”
The fair is a tribute to the town’s rural and agricultural history.
It is a joint venture of the North Stonington Community Grange and the North Stonington Fire Company, but is organized by the North Stonington Agricultural Fair Inc. According to Mullane it is one of the few large agricultural fairs put on by a Grange in the state of Connecticut.
Initially, the fair was designed to promote agricultural and domestic manufacturers and to improve livestock and assist buyers and sellers in the exchange of materials, products, and ideas.
The fair continues to offer its staple events such as tractor pulls, baking contests, livestock displays and arts and craft showings, all while bringing the local farming community together and educating those unfamiliar with its agricultural past.