Sunday, November 27, 2011

LEFT INSIDE: Barrington Fair Ticket, Sept. 1940

The bi-weekly feature where I pull odd things from my ephemera collection of objects found in my books returns! I hope to keep this going every other Sunday from now on. Today's is an interesting item for anyone who lives in the area of Massachusetts surrounding the Berkshires, specifically Great Barrington and the now defunct Barrington Fair.

The internet is never ceases to astound me. Nearly everything under the sun can be found in some remote corner of the digital airspace. Had I only a library to help with my research I would have come up with little or nothing at all on this item. With Google at my fingertips and the magic search terms "Great Barrington Fair Massachusetts" I found a wealth of photos, a Facebook page, and several messages left on on-line forums all reminiscing about this fair that apparently was the oldest running state fair in all of New England. The fair has quite a colorful history and a rather a sad ending.

Here's the object that was left inside one of my books:

(Click to enlarge either photo)
No Post-it was attached nor was there a penciled notation to remind me what book it came out of. It was probably one I bought in New England. I took a trip there back in the summer of 2000 and we hit bookstores in Boston, some towns in the Boston suburbs, several towns in New Hampshire including Derry, Portland, North Hampton and all the way up to Portland, Maine. I remember we bought so many books we had to ship them home in a large duffel bag we brought along.

Here are some highlights in the history of the Barrington Fair taken directly from the Facebook page. Gary Leveille posted a timeline of the fair and I am taking all of this directly from that post.

1771: The local townspeople petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts for “having a fair established in this town” to promote agriculture and increase trade.

1841: The Housatonic Agricultural Society is formed. A plan is formulated to hold an agricultural fair in Great Barrington at the end of September, 1842. Farmers are encouraged to exhibit their livestock, fruits, vegetables and other items of interest. Prizes are awarded.

1848: The fair is incorporated. More events are added. By 1853, a brass band performs, as does a choir. Dinners are offered for 75 cents.

1854: The Society pays $3,024.69 for nineteen acres of land south of town for a permanent fairground. Two years later the society erects a building and lays out a track for showing horses. William Cullen Bryant is the principal speaker.

1868: The Wild Men of Borneo are exhibited.

1875: Barbed wire had been invented and is exhibited at the fair.

1876: Special Centennial exhibition in honor of the 100th anniversary of the USA.

1881: The Society purchases additional land to expand the fairgrounds.

1900: A baby is born at the fairgrounds in October. The parents are members of a band of gypsies camped there to offer fortune-telling.

1918: A war tax of 10% is charged on all admissions.

1920: Motorcycle races are held.

1932: Night programs are added.

1937: Sulky racing ends, and lucrative pari-mutuel horse race betting begins.

1940: Edward Carroll purchases the fair from the Barrington Fair Association, successor to the Housatonic Agricultural Society. Carroll also owned Riverside Amusement park in Agawam.

1943: Horse racing is expanded to ten days.

1952: Barrington Fair is the first in the country with electric ticket dispensers at the pari-mutuel windows.

Post Card of the fair,  circa 1950s
1977: Michael Abdalla purchases the fairgrounds. The Rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears appears.

1984: State Racing Commission denies horse racing for six years.

1991: Horse racing returns.

1995: Memorial Day tornado devastates the fairgrounds. Owner Henry Vara rebuilds the fairground buildings after being promised seventeen days of horse racing. The fair limps along for several more years and then closes. In its hey-day, the Great Barrington Fair was the longest consecutively running agricultural fair in the country.
Based on what I read and photos I viewed, it seems the last fair was in 1999. Most of the photos of the fairgrounds I find on the internet reveal a weed overgrown place with buildings that have been attacked by spray can painting graffiti artists, smashed windows and destroyed metal furniture, and other signs of hooligans and vandals wreaking havoc. I'd hoped to post pictures of the original fair, circa 1940, to go with the ticket I have, but all that I find are copyrighted images from the past or images like those at this website showing the present ignominious state of the fairgrounds.


  1. What a great (and rather sad) story! I love finding things in books--especially old items. Are you familiar with the Forgotten Bookmarks website ( The owner of that blog has also published a book of the most interesting things he's found in books.

  2. Actually I'm kind of glad you didn't post those photos of the fair in ruins. I see enough of those sites around where I live and it is depressing.

  3. Deb -

    Thanks for that link. I will definitely check out that site. I had forgotten myself how much I enjoy doing all this research and learning a lot about this country's cultural past.

  4. It's simply fascinating how much history can cling to a small scrap of paper and it's great, but rather sad, stories like these that fill me with regret that I used to throw "junk" like that away. My entire ephemera collection now only consists of a library check-out card from the 1930s.

  5. What a great feauture, and how interesting!

  6. Hello John! I'm really happy to find your post... I am working with the new owners of the fairgrounds and would like to share your timeline, as well as to be in touch with Gary for the original source of this information. Please check out the FB page:

    And please be in touch with us there! Exciting things are in the works!

    THANKS ~ L