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Maine's Blue Ribbon Classic: The Fryeburg Fair

Having finished driving the scenic loop that I had planned through Bethel and Rangeley by mid-afternoon on Thursday when the sun finally decided to join us, Jamie, my mom, and I were left with quite a bit of time to find something else to do before heading back to The Chapman Inn for the night.  Knowing that Jamie was probably getting pretty close to being bored to tears spending hours looking at trees and leaves and rocks with the occasional covered bridge thrown in for good measure, I thought she might like to do something a little more fun and suggested a drive down Route 5 to the town of Fryeburg where we could check out the legendary Fryeburg Fair.  I'd read a bit about the fair before our trip, heard some more about it on the train through Crawford Notch, and really wanted to see it for myself.

Fryeburg Fair Program

Fryeburg is located about 36 miles south of Bethel in what was originally the wilderness territory of  the Province of Massachusetts Bay and a major Abenaki Indian village known as Pequawket meaning "crooked place" - a reference to the large bend in the Saco River. It was inhabited by the Sokokis branch of the Abenaki tribe until they abandoned the village and moved to Canada following hostilities with the English in 1725 during Dummer’s War, a series of battles between New England and the Wabanaki Confederacy - specifically the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Abenaki tribes who were allied with New France (the area colonized by France in North America).

General Joseph Frye of Andover, Massachusetts, who had gained distinction in the French and Indian Wars, made a journey to examine the territory and, deciding that it was a desirable homestead, applied for a grant of the property based on his service to the Colonies.  On February 24th, 1763 the grant to Joseph Frye, Esquire was confirmed by the Massachusetts General Court and the primitive beginnings of the town of Fryeburg were born, though at the time it was called Pigwacket - a corruption of its former Indian name. The first settlers in 1763 were Nathaniel Smith and his family from Concord, New Hampshire who were soon followed by other veterans of the French and Indian Wars. In 1766 the subscribers of the new township, the first town to be settled in the White Mountain region of either Maine or New Hampshire, were successful in their petition to the Province of Massachusetts Bay to change the town's name to Fryeburg after General Frye; the town was incorporated on January 11th, 1777.

Fast forward to 1851 when a few local farmers and merchants from the towns of Fryeburg, Hiram, Brownfield, Denmark, and Lovell got together to form the West Oxford Agricultural Society and held the first fair to show off their produce, cattle, and wares to the community and you have the very first Fryeburg Fair where William Walker of Lovell won $3 for the best acre of corn and William Spring of Brownfield earned $1 for the best seed wheat. The first fair was held in Hiram and rotated through the other towns until it came back around to Fryeburg in its 7th year where it has stayed ever since.

Fryeburg Fair Logo

From those humble beginnings, the 8-day Fryeburg Fair - known as Maine's Blue Ribbon Classic Fair - has grown to become the state's largest agricultural fair boasting nearly 100 buildings on 185 acres in the Saco River Valley. The fair attracts upwards of 400,000 people annually and is second only in size in New England to the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Massachusetts. With something for everyone the fair has six days of harness racing, a farm museum second to none, the world's largest steer and oxen show, a world-class Woodmen’s Day where competitors vie for prizes in chain-sawing, tree-falling, bucksawing, and wood-chopping, displays and demonstrations of antique farm and forestry equipment, horticultural and culinary contests and displays, a petting zoo, agricultural vendor displays, live musical acts, amusement rides, and food stands offering more fair food offerings then you can shake a very large stick at!

Having been totally disappointed in the Big E that I attended back in September and still searching for the quintessential fair the likes of which you'd find in Charlotte's Webb or Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1945 musical State Fair, I thought it might be well worth the drive down to Fryeburg to check it out and hopefully find the kind of fair that I was beginning to fear no longer existed.

Fryeburg Fair Parking Sign

I think my Mom might have been kind of skeptical about the whole thing but she didn't really say anything as we found a place to park and I forked over $30 for admission for the three of us.  When you initially walk through the gates, you find yourself in an area with lots (and lots) of vendors so I get the feeling Mom may have been thinking it was the Big E all over again but I remained hopeful that we were going to find some actual honest-to-goodness fair exhibits with crafts and canning and baked goods and big blue ribbons the likes of which I was hoping to see at the Big E and never found.

Our first stop was in the area of the petting zoo where all sorts of goats and sheep were vying for the chance to nibble some of the food that adults and children alike were offering them.

Goats

In the same building there were all sorts of chickens and ducks and rabbits and other animals that were in cages or pens and offered up for sale -

Fair Critters

That included this poor guy who may very well end up on someone's Thanksgiving table!

Tom Turkey

Leaving the petting zoo and animals behind, we found our way over to an exhibit building where I found the types of displays that fair dreams are made of!

Fryeburg Fair

The photography exhibit was absolutely fantastic and made the one at the Big E seem even cheesier than I already thought it was, as impossible as that seemed!

Photography Competition Exhibit

There were canning exhibits:

Canning Exhibit

and craft exhibits:

Braiding Exhibit

Needlework Displays

Flowe Displays

and vegetable and pumpkin exhibits:

Vegetable Displays

Pumpkin Displays

A Skunk With Onions for Jamie!

and displays of the most beautiful quilts that made me think of Lois and how much she probably would have loved to have seen them all:

Judge's Special Award Quilt

Collage of Quilts

Fair quilt displays

and the type of Blue Ribbon that I had dreamed of someday having for myself but probably never would:

Now THOSE are blue ribbons!

I gotta tell you, those folks in Maine know how to do a fair ribbon up properly!

After looking at all of the wonderful displays and exhibits which included award-winning cakes and pies and cookies and muffins and other baked goods we were getting pretty hungry so we grabbed a bite to eat.  I just had to have a sausage sandwich with peppers and onions after hearing about it on the train!

Fair Food!

If you didn't want that, there were plenty of other food vendors from which to choose:

Food booths

Candied Apples

After eating we walked past a lot of games:

Fair Games

Testing His Strength

Fair Games

And then past the rides on the Midway:

Sky Ride

Big Wheel

Fair Rides

The Big Wheel

Then we walked over to the barns and checked out some of the animals on display:

Big Bovine!

Cattle Collage

Little Piggies

Finally we began to make our way back over towards the gate to leave ...

Fall Display

It was starting to get late in the day and I wanted to get back up to Bethel before it was totally dark.

Fair Skies

Jamie was quite happy with a bright green hat she'd gotten at one of the booths and I was pretty sure that my Mom had done enough walking for the afternoon; it's easy to forget that she's not as young as she used to be and she was probably getting tired out walking around and looking at everything.

Mom & Jamie heading out of the fair

Personally I thought it was a pretty grand afternoon and I was quite happy that we'd gone as I'd finally been able to go to the kind of fair that would have made Wilbur the Pig and Templeton the Rat quite happy!  Heck, I bet even the Frake family from Iowa would have loved it!

Next year's fair dates have already been announced and I'm rather hoping that I'll have some time between October 2nd to the 9th to head back up to Fryeburg again in 2011; I think it would be well worth the drive! Anyone want to go with me??

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