A Fair Bit of History
Revised; originally published in The Forum
by Mel Graykin

According to Cogswell’s History, usually considered the best source for historical and genealogical information on this area, Deerfield had her first fair in 1877.  However, the diary of Hannah Cram, which can be found in the collection of the Deerfield Historical Society, proves that the first Deerfield Fair was actually held in 1876. And it wasn’t held at the Fairgrounds we know today. There was no real, official Deerfield Fair until 1924.

Joanne Wasson's book, Deerfield Fair: a history, tells how Benjamin Sanborn held a fair up on Levitts Hill in 1899 to celebrate his family's success in business. He called it "The Sanborn Company Creamery Fair." Folks liked it so much they did it again the next year. Then the Granges (Deerfield had two: the Deerfield Grange and the Progressive Grange) held some fairs, seeing as they had lots of activities that they were interested in promoting. They had their exhibitions and grand parades in and around the public buildings at Deerfield Center. Made a bit of money for the Granges, and a good time was had by all.

It wasn't until 1924 when some of the Grange folks got together and formed the first Deerfield Fair Association. That’s when it really got started, every year at Deerfield Center around the Town Hall, with entertainments and contests, and of course all the exhibits of jams and preserves and prize-winning critters and produce. Not bad for a small farm town which didn't boast more than 635 citizens.

The Depression years were hard times for lots of folks, but the Fair kept going, all the work done by volunteers. And the Fair got bigger. It had been just one day, but then it expanded to two and then three. In those days it would have been Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They didn't start having it on the Lord's Day until the 1950's. Now it's a four day event, including Sundays, and there's no going back.

Folks nowadays don't remember the old CCC camp that used to be on the site where the Fairgrounds are now. Only building left from it is the one the Deerfield Historical exhibit is in, "Deerfield Fair Past and Present." But in 1933, the Pawtuckaway Civilian Conservation Corps Camp was established by the US. government.  Franklin D. Roosevelt was president then, and he was trying to get the country out of that terrible Depression. So he took a bunch of city boys and organized them into these sort of military groups, and he put them to work. Built them shelter and fed them, gave them a bit of education and a day's wages, and they got busy building fire towers, surveying and mapping, laying down phone lines and doing what needed to be done.

The Pawtuckaway CCC Camp 123 mainly worked on developing Pawtuckaway State Forest. Things were better by 1938—or at least they were different and the camp wasn't needed anymore. So the government turned it over to the State, who turned it over to the town.  The town ended up offering it to the Fair Association, who weren't quite sure whether it would be wise to move, after all those years of having the Fair at the Center.  But in the end they decided to take the town up on their offer.

Now the Deerfield Fair has grown into the biggest and oldest Agricultural Fair in New England, with of course, the best, world-class horse-pulling you’ll ever see.