Picture a cool autumn evening with a light fog bank rolling off the Connecticut River. Sounds of children laughing echo across the tall grass of Wangunk Meadows. The bright lights from the Ferris wheel and the merry-go-round cast an eerie glow under the light of a full moon.
That was the Portland Agricultural Fair over much of the 1970's and 1980's. Each September, from 1950 to 1989, various fairgrounds across town have hosted everything from first-place cows to mom's best apple pies to Jimmy's class project to the knock-over-three-bottles and win-a-stuffed-bear games. But the roots of the town's fair go back even further the 1950.
Beginning in 1919, the Portland Hemlock Grange Fair Association ran what was known as the "largest livestock exhibit in Middlesex County." The one-day fair expanded to two days in 1925.
The fairgrounds have been located behind the Portland Middle School, the Jarvis field near the intersection of Route 66 and Route 17, behind Kelsey's garage and most recently at the Wangunk Meadows.
The fair had changed little over the years. The fair always carried on an agricultural theme even though the town was moving away from its farming roots.
The 1925 fair included events like horseshow pitching, barnyard golf, the "famous Hemlock dinner" and of course, the midway attractions. There were drawing contests (with bulls, not pens and pencils), baby shows and magic shows.
There were also agricultural fair standbys of the oxen and steers tent, the cookery and domestic science tent where the best cake, cookies and doughnuts and "best one-half pound box of homemade candy" were judged.
Parking was free and admission to the fair was 50 cents during the day and 25 cents at night. Children under 12 were admitted for free.