County Fairs Social Events

Footnotes to Long Island History

County Fairs Social Events


Thomas R. Bayles

       The first Suffolk County Agriculture society was formed in 1841 and in 1843 was reorganized with William C. Stout as president.

       According to a printed report of the society for 1865, in the possession of the writer, an annual fair was held each year in the last of September of the first part of October each year from 1841 to 1853, after which there was a lapse of 12 years until the society again was reorganized in 1865,

       The first annual fairs were held in the western part of the county for the most part and for only one day. They were held at the following places during those years: Smithtown Branch, Commack, Islip, Huntington, Greenport, Babylon and Islip.

       On February 1, 1865 a meeting was held at Thompson Station (near Brentwood) for the purpose of organizing the Suffolk County Agriculture society and the following men were elected officers: William Nicoll, president, Huntington; R. W. Pearsell vice president, North Islip; J. H. Doxsee, secretary, Islip; W. J. Weeks, Treasurer, Yaphank. the board directors consisted of H. G. Scudder, Huntington; Caleb Smith, Smithtown; Robert O. Colt, Islip; Thomas S. Mount Brookhaven; D. Harrison Osborn, Riverhead, and David G. Floyd, Southold.

       Annual membership in the society was $1, life membership was $10 and admission fee was fixed at 25 cents.

       It was decided to hold a fair in 1865 at Riverhead which was a more central place and an account of the great success of the fair held in that year is given in an article in the Republican Watchman for September 30, 1865 which we quote.

       "The annual fair of Suffolk County Agriculture society, revived after a trance of 12 years took place at Riverhead on Wednesday and Thursday last, and we are happy to say, proved eminently successful in every point of view . We congratulate the society and its excellent officers, the farmers and the people of the county, upon thee auspicious fact of rendering certain the permanent establishment of the society on a solid basis among the institutions of the county."

       "The grounds were located just north of the railroad on a fine level lot which had been enclosed with a high board fence. Along the south side extends a belt of trees affording most agreeable shade and here was placed an interesting collection of farm implements. Near the southwest corner was erected a shed for the display fruit, vegetables, flowers and other articles. On the west side were pens for cattle, sheep and swine along the fence, while on the north side, were stalls for horses and mules and coops for poultry. The center of the lot was left vacant and was staked off in a circle for display of horses. The fair was opened at 9 a.m. on Wednesday and large numbers of people attended and on Thursday the crowds at one time exceeded 5,000."

       "Taking it all in all and considering the fact of an unprecedented drought over a large part of the county and the many drawbacks sure attend every initial effort of kind, the exhibition may fairly be pronounced  a highly creditable one."

       Among the local men who paid membership fees in that year appear the names of William Nicoll. Thomas S. Mount, Gilbert H. Swezey, James H. Weeks, W. O. Bartlett, John L. Ireland, Mrs. B. H. Hawkins, Augustus Floyd, Philetus Phillips, Moses C. Sweezey, Charles S. Havens, Charles E. Rose, Nathaniel Miller and others.

       The receipts for that year were $1,607 and expenses were $1,307 leaving a balance of $300 on hand for that year.

       Among the items of expense are eight constable $81; use of fair grounds $15; Fee for stock $11.12; 75 sheaves cornstalks $3.75; C. E. Rose, Patchogue band, $96. The amount paid out for Premiums was $454. These items are taken away from the report of the treasurer, W. J. Weeks of Yaphank.

       An item in the report states the Patchogue brass band was present both days and furnished some admirable music showing a high degree of proficiency in so young a company of young performers.

       Among those who received  premiums from the Brookhaven town were the following:  for best Ayrshire bull, Henry Nicoll, Mastic; best Alderny bull , J. O. Randall, Ridgefield (Middle Island); best single mule, Gilbert L. Davis, Mount Sinai ; best half bushel white wheat and best sample flour, John Roe, Patchogue; best red peach, Smith Still, Coram, Best turnip beets, E. F. Preston, Patchogue; best two bushel baskets, John Downs, Yaphank; Best rockaway wagon, E. H. Tuthill, Port Jefferson; best and greatest variety of grapes, W. J. Weeks, Yaphank; for case of sewing silk and silk cocoons, Lester H. Davis, Coram; Cider vinegar, Lester H. Davis, Coram; four cases native insects W. J. Weeks, Yaphank.

       Most of the premiums were awarded to farmers and housewives from the east end villages.

       Among the premiums offered for 1866 were: best pair of woolen blankets, best pair of woolen stocking, best pair of cotton stockings, best sample of woolen cloth, best sample of woolen carpet, best quilted bedspread, best sample of tow cloth, best sample woolen yarn, plain shirt made by a lady over 21 years of age and one made by a lady under 21.

       From this time on the annual fair at Riverhead was an event of great importance and interest to the people of Suffolk county not only for the exhibits of all kinds of animals, fruit, and produce, and homemade articles of various kinds but also for providing a meeting place for friends and neighbors from all parts of the county. People did not get around as easily in those days as now and the annual fair which everyone attended gave them a chance to see their friends who otherwise probably would not be seen in the course of the year. The railroad ran special trains from all directions.

       The annual fair at Riverhead continued until recent years when it ceased to be profitable financially and has died out all together.  


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