Granby Heritage – The Granby Fair, Part II

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Photo courtesy of Salmon Brook Historical Society

Sulky race at the Granby Fair.

In 1900, Emma Reed Huggins of West Granby wrote her sister a letter describing the Granby Fair. “We are all well and for a wonder I went to the Granby fair yesterday. There was a very nice show in the Hall and everything you could think of outside, even Popcorn and Peanuts. Erwin got Mr. Reeds business wagon. We started from home with five in it and when we got up Kendall hill, took in another. I enjoyed it ever so much and saw almost everybody, Ellis’s folks, Maria Holcomb, Sabra, Sophie, and people that live around here I haven’t seen for a long time. They had a coloured quartet from Springfield and a band of music home talent, Base Ball, Horse trotting, Bycicles (sic) races. Three got throwed from their wheels, one went up into the air, his wheel after him, but none of them seriously hurt. M. E. Wilcox of Westfield took all the trotting money, and there was a Tally Ho, drawn by six horses, loaded inside and out with men and they did not forget their Bugle horn. I don’t believe there ever was so many people and teams on the grounds before.”

(According to an 1890 picture book of wagons, a Tally Ho was a large wagon, open or stagecoach, with many seats, for giving rides at Fairs.)

Emma Reed was born in West Granby in 1822, at 14 worked in a cotton mill in Chicopee, and married Lucius Huggins in 1846. Lucius ran a blacksmith and carriage repair shop and later bought the general store in West Granby. Emma died in 1916 at age 94, the oldest woman in Granby. Her son Erwin was the leader of the West Granby Fife and Drum Corps.

The Premium Book for the Granby Agricultural Society Fair in 1904 listed 85 classes of exhibits and sternly set forth the following rule: “No article or animal in any of the departments will receive any premium, if in the opinion of the Judges, it is palpably undeserving, even though no competitor appears against such article or animal.”

An ad for the 1916 Granby Fair promised races and ballgames each day, “2 fast teams on Wednesday and 2 good teams on Thursday.” There was also a cattle parade, obstacle races and an exhibit of gentlemen’s driving horses. The Granby Civic Club donated prize money for the Boy Scout Field Day Drill. Music was provided by Fairfields Springfield Band.

One fair attraction was remembered by the late Joe Petersen, “Moody the Guideless Wonder” a horse who would go around the track all by himself, no driver or rider. Joe said with a chuckle, “They probably had him checkreined so he could only go in a circle.”

A 1921 letterhead of the Granby Agricultural Society proclaimed it had “the Only Agricultural Fair in Hartford County.” The fairground was now called Agricultural Park, but the fair was the same; agricultural exhibits, horse races and drawing contests of matched oxen, steers and horses. Crowds at the pulling pit watched the huge oxen strain to pull a boulder-laden stone boat the requisite 6 feet. Log sawing and horseshoe pitching contests were added to the bicycle races and baseball games.

The Granby Agricultural Society dissolved in the 1920s and in 1929 the Granby Grange started holding fairs at the old fairgrounds. Fred Colton owned the land and raised shade tobacco there. There were still pulling contests and exhibits of livestock, vegetables, fruit and ladies’ domestic arts, but the excitement of racing sulkies was gone.

The Grange moved their fair to the Town Hall Green in 1934. (The present Granby Grange building on Rte. 189 was then the Town Hall in Granby.) The Premium Book listed the rules for cattle drawing: “No abusive or profane language will be tolerated. No excessive whipping allowed and a 5-minute time limit.” The horse drawing rules also banned profanity, did not allow the driver to carry a whip and “no one under the influence of liquor allowed in the ring.” Apparently oxen drivers were allowed to drink.

In addition to the usual contests, exhibits and 4H awards, the Grange offered supper in the basement of the First Congregational Church for 25 cents. Later there was music by the Southwick Hill Billies and dancing from 8 to 12 for just another 25 cents.

In 1983, the Grange is still holding an annual Fair in the same building on Rte. 189. There are still exhibits of fruit, vegetables, canned and baked goods, needlework and 4H awards. A delicious chicken barbecue is served with local corn, tomatoes and home-made pies. Granby has changed and the Fair has changed, but the tradition goes unchanged.