Still going strong after a century of change


Carroll County's first fair started 109 years ago as a picnic at Otterdale School, south of Taneytown.

The day began with the Taneytown municipal and school bands marching to the grove, where there was a prayer and music, and lunch was served.

Held with the goal of educating farmers, the picnic featured afternoon speakers from the Maryland Agricultural Institute, arranged by the Coppersville Farmers Club.

A 200-page book, published in 1997 for the centennial celebration, recounts the fair's first 100 years - its growth and growing pains, its highs and lows, and stories from members.

The fair has had five homes and was not always called the Carroll County 4-H/FFA Fair, nor was it always free.

In 1904, the picnic moved to Ohler's Grove, closer to the railroad in Taneytown, where more people and vendors could access it. The Taneytown Grange hosted a three-day picnic in 1905, then a four-day event in 1909.

"The one story that really tickles me is that they measured the attendance by the acres of buggies," said former county resident Julie Feeser, who researched and wrote the fair's history. She and her husband moved to Missouri this year.

Renamed the Maryland State Granger's Fair, the event grew to five days in 1916. The history book reads: "Admission was 15 cents, 50 cents for the week and under 10 free." Entertainment in a tent was an extra 10 cents.

It was during this period that the earliest boys' and girls' clubs were started, though they weren't officially known as 4-H clubs until 1925.

The fair moved to a 141-acre tract at the east end of Taneytown in 1923 where horse racing and betting were held, against the wishes of many residents.

The fair struggled financially from 1923 to 1946, even though it featured various races, free entertainment, a midway and other activities. The small admission barely covered expenses.

Through the Depression and World War II, the fair continued, even holding public weddings from 1933 to 1942, and again in 1946. That tradition was revived in 1997 for the 100th anniversary.

There was no fair from 1943 to 1945, but by that time, 4-H was well-established and thriving in Carroll with "319 girls enrolled in 19 clubs." The fair started again in 1946.

In 1947, county agricultural agents and 4-H leaders organized the Carroll County 4-H Fair and moved it to Big Pipe Creek.

Admission was free in 1947 and has been ever since.

The fair moved back to Taneytown from 1948 to 1954, when it moved to the then-new Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.

"I showed steers the last year it was in Taneytown and the very first year at the Ag Center," said Donald Lippy, who also was the fair's board chairman for four years.

"We slept out at the fair in the middle of the aisle between the steers," he recalled. "We had a good time, but at the end of the week, we were very tired."

Bob Shirley, a 4-H agent from 1978 to 1998 who is still active in the fair, remembered being among the volunteers who helped build the barns and pavilions in the Ag Center's early days.

In later years, Shirley recalled fair hijinks, such as the day he found men's underwear flying from the flagpole on the grounds. "That was a good harmless prank, but we never got that person. Nobody would admit to it."

Mary Ellen Arbaugh, 4-H secretary since 1990 and a former 4-H'er, remembers the 4-H kids selling cement blocks to help pay for Burns Hall, where indoor exhibits were once displayed. It now contains the dining hall.

During the last half of the 20th century, there was as much change as the first half. Burns Hall was erected in 1955, along with the barns, kitchen and pavilions. But many of the outdoor exhibit buildings and booths on the Ag Center grounds today are 10 years old or less, including the huge Danele Shipley Arena, opened in 2004.

The Carroll County Fair Board was formed in 1968, made up of volunteers representing different areas of the fair. With a board to raise money and come up with ideas for activities, today's fair has soared in the number of participants, volunteers, facilities and events for all ages.

The 1980s and 1990s continued with more capital improvements to the grounds. The cake and livestock auctions skyrocketed financially. The first woman board chair was elected. New departments were created, and new clubs were formed.

In this century, the fair continues an unprecedented growth. Despite the new and additional barns and show rings, the board has to install tents on the grounds and buy more animal pens for this year's fair.

"The fair has grown tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years with the number of exhibitors," said Andy Cashman, board chair for the 100th fair. "I remember pigs being a problem when we had 60 kids showing pigs; now we have 188 kids showing pigs.

"It's a wonderful problem to have because there are fairs that would love to have that many kids, but it is a problem," he said.

To help pay for more pens, the fair added a surcharge of $10 a species to 4-H entries, Cashman said. All the money earned at the fair from the cake auction, raffle and food sales go back to next year's event.

Cashman, Shirley and Lippy agreed that everybody involved in the fair wants to keep it admission-, parking-free, and 4-H- and agriculture-related.

To do otherwise would be competing against the many local carnivals held throughout the summer, mostly by the volunteer fire departments, Cashman said.

"Keeping it for free is tough," Cashman said. "Our volunteer base is more difficult to keep. The fair is nonprofit, and the only way it survives is by donations.

"It's one of those deals where they've done it that way for over 100 years. I would hope we'd keep it that way," he said. "We have great community support and without that the fair doesn't grow."

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