History of the Durham Fair
We celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the town "Grange" meeting that started the Durham Fair tradition we know and love today! Video produced by Ryan Donecker, Matt, Woznyk and Flynn Molkenthin of CRHS.
On June 16, 1916, it was voted and approved to hold a fair in Durham.
On August 2, 1916, it was voted to form the Durham Fair Association with an annual membership fee of 50 cents and the following officers were elected: President, Harry Ryan; Vice-President, Walter Wilcox; Secretary, Frederick Page; and Treasurer, A. Ernest Otte.
At subsequent meetings, it was voted to make the general admission fee 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children ages 5 to 14 and to allow schoolchildren to exhibit in Town Hall free of charge. At the September 22, 1916 meeting, it was voted to have music at the fair with the cost not to exceed $50. A feature of the first fair and every fair through 1924 was a parade down Main Street, which began at Burckel’s Corner (intersection of Haddam Quarter Road and Main Street). The parade was discontinued after the 1924 fair because of traffic concerns.
In 1917, the Durham Fair Association was incorporated as the Durham Agricultural Fair Association, Inc.
The Durham Fair was a one-day event from 1916-1921, operated for two days from 1922-1950, and had been a three-day fair from 1951 until 2010 when the fair added a fourth day and opened on Thursday evening. No fairs were held in 1938 because of the effect of the hurricane and during the World War II years of 1942, 1943, and 1944. In 1985, Hurricane Gloria passed through the area and prevented the fair from opening on its first day (Friday). However, as a result of the efforts of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, the fair was able to open at noon on Saturday.
The first fair was held entirely on the Durham Town Green. Over the years, the Fair Association has made numerous land purchases so today's fair is now held not only on the Green, but also on over 45 acres of land adjacent to the Green. The first permanent building on the fairgrounds was a cattle barn (presently known as Presidents’ Hall) which was built in 1925. Three other large buildings were built between 1928 and 1933. After that, no further major construction took place until 1954 when a bandstand was converted into a building presently used as the upper first aid building. In 1967, a toilet building was built giving the Durham Fair its first flush toilets. Since the 1970's, much construction has taken place on the fairgrounds as the fair has grown at a rapid pace.
When one looks back at the history of the Durham Fair, the contrast between the beginning and the present is dramatic. What started as a local event has become the largest of its type in Connecticut. The first fair drew an estimated 2,000 people mainly from Durham and surrounding towns while, at the present time, a fair, if the weather is good, may draw over 200,000 people from all over Connecticut and surrounding states. In 1916, less than $300 was paid in prize money, while currently, over $90,000 is paid.
Many large agricultural fairs, as they have grown, have replaced volunteer management with a paid staff and have struggled to maintain the character of their fair. But the Durham Fair has successfully managed to remain 100% volunteer run and a true agricultural fair. It certainly stands as a monument to the cooperative spirit displayed by all who are involved in this annual fall event. The Durham Fair takes great pride in distributing profits from the fair back to the community through scholarships and support of numerous projects and events.
Did You Know
The Durham Fair has …
- Awarded over $500,000 in academic scholarships since 1966?
- Made charitable donations totaling over $50,000 through the work of the Durham Fair Foundation since it began in 1996?
- Worked to secure a resident physician for the Town of Durham?
- Made repairs to the Durham Town Hall?
- Played a major role in organizing the Durham District Nurse Association?
- Fenced and maintained the Old Cemetery?
- Allowed the Durham High School basketball team to use the Needlework building as a practice court before a gymnasium was constructed at the school?
- Constructed the hard-surfaced road in the cemetery in the back of the Durham Town Hall?
- Made repairs to the Durham Library and major contributions to the library building projects?
- Purchased the Durham Fire Company's first Jaws of Life?
- Allowed the State of Connecticut and Town of Durham to use its buildings for highway department garages?