A Catskill Catalog: August 15, 2012

If you haven’t yet made it over to Walton, this week, for the Delaware County Fair, put the paper down and go. Well, finish reading the paper, call family and friends, then go. The fair runs all-day, everyday, this week, through 11 p.m. Saturday.

The 2012 Delaware County Fair is just as warm, down-home, and downright interesting as every Walton Fair has been since I started going nearly 40 years ago. Unlike neighboring county fairs, the Walton Fair still is agricultural.

Agriculture was the whole point of county fairs, created as part of a state legislative “Act for the Encouragement of Agriculture,” in 1841. One section of the bill appropriated $8,000, to be divided among the state’s counties, for the purpose of establishing county agricultural fairs.
Delaware County spent our share - $106 – on a one-day county fair, October 12, 1841, on the grounds of Judson’s Inn, at the corner of Main and Meredith streets in Delhi. That was the first Delaware County Fair. This week’s is the 126th.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Margaretville had an annual agricultural fair. The Catskill Mountain Agricultural Society held a last-week-in-August “Great Margaretville Fair” on a 26- acre fairground at the west end of the village, where McIntosh Auction is today.

Dr. Orson M. Allaben (1808-1892) purchased the land expressly for a fairgrounds. Dr. Allaben was the founder of Margaretville – his home and physician’s office were the village starter-blocks back in 1843. His tireless efforts seemed always aimed at the promotion of his home village.

Starting an agricultural fair was one of those hometown promotions. The fair attracted farmers from valleys and hollows far-and-wide to come to Margaretville for fair week. Margaretville did not become the commercial center for the region by accident.

For the next 15 or 20 years, the Margaretville Fair was a staple of the regional commercial year.
There are some great postcard-pictures of harness racing at the Margaretville Fair, and the street that runs next to its former site is still called Fair Street, but the Margaretville Fair has long been dead and buried.

The Walton Fair is alive and kicking, and going on – hee-haw – right now.
Children’s Day is Wednesday, Aug. 15, with reduced rates on rides. The midway is a major fair attraction, a carnival in itself. Livestock buildings buzz that day with 4-H horse, beef, dairy, and rabbit shows. Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. modified truck and tractor pull will draw an enthusiastic crowd. It’s always fun when I realize I know a competitor or two.

Thursday, the 16th, senior citizens pay just $3 to get in, a $5 saving from the standard single-day admission. Kids under 12 are always free. It’s also pay-one-price-for-rides day, so the place should be packed with kids and gray hair.

Friday night’s demolition derby is a Delaware County classic, a once-a-year thrill-ride that ends the career of many an old rural car, cropped and de-glassed for wild-eyed entertainment.
I love walking through the varied livestock buildings, inspecting pigs and goats, sheep and cows, chickens and rabbits. Farm families still de-camp from home, setting up cots and tables and chairs, a fair week home for whichever family-members are taking care of the stock shown in the fair.

One can learn a lot watching heifers and cows led around the dusty show-ring, judges gazing, sharp-eyed, at features one can only begin to discern after careful observation. That cow’s back seems particularly straight; her utter seemingly carved symmetrically. Oh, they’re not all alike.
Mostly, the fairgrounds feel like home. Fair week is a Delaware County tradition that has changed very little, a place still close to the land, a place that celebrates the farm, honors farm families, and spotlights the animals that help sustain our lives. I love it.

The long and L-shaped commercial tents hold booths with every kind of vendor. Several automobile agencies offer new and used cars for sale. Tractors, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles; wood stoves, log-splitters, syrup evaporators: it’s all for sale at the fair.

The 4-H and Grange Buildings always include displays of youth projects and handcrafts. I love looking over the prize-winning vegetables, superb examples of beans and carrots and cauliflower, nurtured in Delaware County gardens. The very idea of a blue-ribbon rutabaga fills me with warm, nostalgic visions of an agrarian past. An actual gardener might really like it!

All the way in the back corner of the fairgrounds is the horse barn, tucked in sideways to the midway and grandstand. Any horse is worth visiting – they always seem so appreciative – but when the big draft horses are in the stalls, I am particularly thrilled. They seem so settled, as if they know their own power, and are comfortable with it.

That’s a great way to think of the Delaware County Fair. It’s so comfortable. Maybe, I’ll see you.
billbirns@catskill.net