SANDWICH — The Sandwich Fair, which celebrates its 105th season this year, has become a Columbus Day weekend tradition which annually attracts close to 40,000 people.
Held during the peak of the fall foliage season, the event is a classic New England fair, with a midway, carnival concessions and rides. And there's always lots of food, ranging from fried dough and giant donuts to buffalo burgers and sausage grinders with peppers and onions,
But the heart of the fair is still agricultural with two-thirds of the space at the fairgrounds taken up by agricultural exhibits. And a lot of attention is paid to young exhibitors who are showing their farm animals and having them judged. Every day there is a hand milking demonstration and a children's pedal tractor competition.
The fair gets underway at 8 a.m. Saturday with a variety of events, including an antique auto show, demonstrations and exhibits and an antique auto parade at 1 p.m.
Sunday will see the Grand Street Parade at 1 p.m. as well as horse competitions and a woodsmen's field day.
It cost $10 for adults, and $3 for youth ages 8 to 12. Monday is Senior Day with admission $4 for those 60 and older.
There are also two new events at the fair, both of which take place on Monday, a gentleman's keg toss and a pickup truck pull. Monday is also the day the popular women's skillet toss event will be held and there will be 4-H beef, horse, sheep, working steer and swine competitions.
Art Harriman returns to the stage all three days and the Don Campbell Band plays on Saturday and Annie and the Orphans on Sunday. There will also be performances by Alex the Jester, Jo Howard, magician and sword swallower and mentalist Roderick Russell.
The Sandwich Fair started out as an agricultural event that local farmers hoped would turn into an annual market day where they could trade and sell their cattle. Records show that in 1886, area farmers exhibited 184 yoke of oxen at the fair.
In August of 1887 it was decided that the fair would be held on October 11th and that a band would be hired and a baby contest considered. Judges were appointed for the various categories and a prize list was announced. The fair was held as planned, with 3,000-4,000 in attendance.
During the summer of 1888 a plan for a fair in October was formulated. A committee to nominate a slate of permanent officers was appointed and J. Edwin Beede was elected president. Fancy work, curiosities and antiques, flowers and plants were again shown in the G.A.R. hall. A baby contest for the prettiest, heaviest and best dressed (under the age of two) was planned. For the first time there was a printed program of events. That year the weather was miserable with snow and only a small number of people attended.
A 1893 report from the "Sandwich Reporter" states regretfully that all the prizes in the baby show which was held in Mrs. A.E.R. Beede's hall were won by Moultonborough babies. It was also reported that the traffic was heavy and that Wilfred Plummer was run over by a horse driven by Eugene Wright and suffered a fractured arm. It was estimated that 3,000 people attended the fair and very little drunkenness was reported and all of those drunk were from out of town.
At the 1894 fair, one of the unusual exhibits recorded for display was a large American Eagle and the fox; shown by Dr. J. Alonzo Greene of Roxmount Poultry Farm on Long Island, Moultonborough.
For many years the fair was held in a grove with exhibits scattered around town and that changed in 1937 when it moved to Quimby Field, its present location. By 1980 the fair was running one and a half days with a parade on Sunday and the fairgrounds open Sunday afternoon and Monday.
According to records kept by fair organizers, Sunday, October 12, 1986 was a delightful sunny day, and as always the parade was much enjoyed. Monday was cloudy, but the rain held off until late afternoon. This year there was an all new midway, and the stage shows featured bluegrass and popular music from the 1950s and 60s. Poultry from local breeders were shown, but out of state poultry was still banned. Due to a poor growing season and early frosts there was a scarcity of fresh flowers at the flower show.
It was a nasty, cold Sunday in 1987, but the parade went on despite snow, sleet and mist. A new horse pulling ring and horse logging area were constructed and the old ring was used for judging dairy and beef cattle. There were less canned foods than in previous years; freezing has become more popular. David Dodson, a singer, songwriter from Maine performed on the stage.
The first three-day Fair was held on October 8, 9, and 10 1988. Good weather held for all three days. Stuart Heard led the parade on horseback, and a group of riders on antique bicycles were part of the parade.
For more information, visit thesandwichfair.com.
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