Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Agricultural Fairs

Photo of the 1983 Topsfield Fair
"A Journey Down Old U.S. 1," December 1984, National Geographic magazine

The Essex County Agricultural Fair takes place every fall in Topsfield, Massachusetts. According to the official website it is the oldest agricultural fair in America. The Essex Agricultural Society was granted a charter on June 12, 1818 to sponsor a fair. The first family member I know of who participated in this fair was Phebe Upton Munroe, born 15 Feb 1803 in Danvers, Massachusetts, married William Cross on 25 December 1828, and died on 6 December 1891. According to the Salem Gazette, 6 October 1835, volume XIII, issue 80, page 2 “Premiums and Gratuities awarded at the annual exhibition of the Essex Agricultural Society, in Danvers, on Wednesday last:.....Mrs Phebe U. Cross, Danvers, wrought counterpane, gratuity $4". Phebe was the sister to my 3x great grandfather, Luther Simonds Munroe. A counterpane is a bedspread.

The next mention of the fair in my family tree was of Nathaniel Felton, a farmer who lived upon his father's place on Mt. Pleasant, Danvers. He was Captain of the Danvers Company from 1814 to 1817 and rose to the rank of Colonel. They lived in a house that sat between the two Felton houses now preserved by the Peabody Historical Society. He received premiums on his prize winning butter at the Essex County Agricultural Fairs almost every year from 1842 to 1853. Nathaniel Felton was born 6 October 1791 and died on 15 November 1865.

Charles B. Allen was born 15 January 1814 in Ipswich, Massachusetts, d. 1900 in Wenham, Massachusetts. Reported on 10 October 1873 in the Cape Ann Advertiser newspaper "Mr. Charles Allen won a prize for his grapes at the Essex Agricultural Fair." Charles Allen was the brother to my 4x great grandfather, Joseph Allen.

Sarah Elizabeth Gowen, born on 29 April 1840 in West Newbury, Massachusetts married on 25 Dec 1938 to Henry Wilkinson. In 1886 Sarah earned a .50 gratuity for Mexican work at the Essex Agricultural Society Fair, in the display of "Fancy work and works of art." (source: "Transactions for the year 1886 of the Essex Agricultural Society." ) Henry was a brother to my great great grandfather, Robert Wilson Wilkinson. I have no idea what “Mexican work” refers to, probably some sort of sewing?

Another Wilkinson cousin participated in the Topsfield Fair more recently. Raymond A. Wilkinson was born in 1935 in Peabody, and died on 10 Sept 2006 in Lynn, Massachusetts. Part of his obituary read “In his spare time, he was quite the outdoor enthusiast and enjoyed reading and spending time with his family and friends. He loved his dogs and volunteering his time at the Topsfield Fair in the rabbit and cavy building, where he served as building superintendent for the Essex County Rabbit & Cavy Breeders Association.“

I remember attending the Topsfield Fair many times when I was growing up in Essex County, Massachusetts. I even took my daughter there when she was about seven or eight years old. We live in New Hampshire, and used to regularly attend the Rochester Fair for about ten years because it had a youth exhibit hall for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. I was a troop leader, and used to bring all the exhibits from the girls in Londonderry. My own daughter and I would exhibit, too, and we won enough ribbons over the years to stuff two large shoe boxes. We would participate in canning, sewing, and other handicrafts, but my husband and daughter were prizewinning photographers. I don’t think our awards at the Rochester Fair ever were mentioned in the local papers. Our descendants won’t know about our participation history from any documents, but they might find the shoe boxes of ribbons in our attic!

Prize winning photos 2003 Rochester Fair
(left and right my daughter, middle my husband)

The Rochester, NH Fair Grounds Exhibit Building
Photo taken during the 2000 fair, Grand Prize winner at 2001 fair


Copyright 2010, Heather Wilkinson Rojo


  1. Very nice. Ever been to the Deerfield Fair, rather near you? Topsfield is nice, but, oh the crowds. You are talented that's for sure.

  2. Mexican work is a type of needlework. I Googled the phrase "mexican work" needlework and got some great links to old needlework books on Google Books that mention it. The second result was the book Progressive Lessons in the Art and Practice of Needlework for Use in Schools by Catherine F. Johnson, and had a black-and-white photo of an example.