The Granby Fairgrounds

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September is the time of year when the small-town fairs begin around Connecticut. For the early 20th century resident, the Granby Fair was the biggest thrill of the year. In late summer every year farm chores were set aside as families packed huge picnic lunches and headed for the fairgrounds.

It started in 1895 when the Granby Agricultural Society sold shares of stock and purchased 23 acres on West Granby Road for a fairground. The beautiful hayfield across from the Granby Rovers parking lot was the location. It eventually grew to include a bandstand, two grandstands and a baseball field, which was in the middle of a half-mile racetrack!

The 1890s were hard times for many rural communities in America. The farmers and businessmen of Granby were resilient and weathered these times better than most. One explanation for this resilience was the revival of traditional communal values. The Granby Creamery was in operation, the Grange had been revived and the Granby Fair was paying handsome prizes. The fair was just another example of how the town could pull together to make life better for everyone.

A grandstand was built for the judges and officials and a grandstand for the crowd opposite it. The spectators could stand in the open field, or sit in the covered grandstand for fifty cents a person.

The turn of the century brought two great new food items that were very popular at the fair, but which mothers tended to dread: the ice cream cone and the hot dog. Acceptable choices might include a locally grown baked potato, served with thick slices of Granby-made butter and washed down with good old apple juice or a root beer.

It was also a truly educational project, with exhibits and contests. As entertainment, the sulky racing was one of the main attractions, and by the turn of the century the fair was offering a $300 purse for the winners. The sulkies raced a half-mile down the track, finishing at the grandstand as the crowds roared and the Granby Brass Band played as loud as they could.

Exhibits and prizes covered every item of interest to farmers and their families including vegetables, fruits, needlework, pies, cakes, bread, chickens, turkeys and geese.

The exhibitors began to arrive at dawn to obtain the most favorable locations for their displays—first prize money went as high as $2. The fame that ensued was also terrific.

All morning, there was a flurry of activity. At noon it became quiet, as the groups settled down at the huge picnic tables for gargantuan feasts and then back to the jostling crowds for the horse racing, obstacle races and baseball games.

The Granby Agricultural Fair continued until 1934 when a scaled-down version was moved to the Town Hall—today’s Grange Hall across from the First Church. For almost 40 years, the Granby Fair was the only town celebration of this type in Hartford County.

Today a new single-family home subdivision is being built on the land that once was the Granby Fairgrounds. In honor of the horse racing, the community is named Harness Way.

The source for this article includes excerpts from Carol Laun’s articles published in the 1980s. Actual images of the Granby Fair can be found on the Salmon Brook Historical Society Facebook page.

Photos courtesy of the Salmon Brook Historical Society.