Heart and history of State Fair is in the community

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:15

    Augusta-From humble beginnings as a rural country showcase, the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show has risen to statewide recognition as the New Jersey State Fair. Each year fairgoers from beyond Sussex County pass through fair gates to enjoy the best the county has to offer. The fair originated as a one-day horse show in 1936 in Branchville and the livestock and agricultural exhibits remain its traditional anchors. But with the recent increase in the entertainment attractions, some county residents fear that the original heritage of the fair will be lost. "It's the animals that make the fair what it is and the agriculture," said long-tine fairgoer Joan Snook Smith of Lafayette. "The show has a great reputation and its one of the last true agricultural fairs in the State of New Jersey or in the tri-state area." The fair was originally intended to bring the county together to celebrate the people, history and pride of Sussex County. Agriculture and livestock were the primary focus of the fair, with farmers and gardeners presenting their very best to their friends and neighbors. The agricultural and livestock exhibits are still a mainstay at the fair, with an ever-expanding vegetable show, a flower show, a Christmas tree display, 4-H livestock, plant and craft exhibitions. The fair provides a chance for participants to display their work and to network with others. "I find there's a real camaraderie among the farmers that exhibit," said Lina Crowell of Hamburg, the vegetable show director and a member of the Fair's Executive Board. "As far as I'm concerned, preserving it as an agricultural fair is the number one priority. I like the entertainment. the county was more rural. "I taught school in Franklin and Hamburg in 1952," said Burd. "In those days, the saying was there are more cows than there are people. Of course, that's not true today, but that's the way it was. I'm sorry to see it grow so quickly, but they're trying their best to keep it the way it should be. Post also remembers when the fair was much smaller and wasn't held at the fairgrounds in Augusta. "It was in the field right in front of the schoolhouse in Branchville," Post said. "It was a very small and the schoolhouse was used for exhibits. They put up a few tents. You parked in different yards and you paid, of course, but you had to park in somebody's yard." The sense of community extends from the fairgoers to the fair volunteers. "Everything we do is volunteer," said Barbara Snook, administrator of the Snook Museum, which was built in honor of her husband John Snook Jr. The museum is "one of the best collections of antique farm implements and machinery, probably second only to the New Jersey Agricultural Museum," said Smith. "Volunteers are what keeps the fair going." More space has meant room for more every year, and despite the growing crowds, the heart of the fair has remained the same. "It's a great place to run into people that you don't see all the time," said Crowell. "As you get older, you drift apart from some of your friends and acquaintances and you almost always run into someone at the fair and say ‘Oh! I haven't seen her in the longest time!' I think that's probably what I like about it the best."I think it's good to have those, but I don't want it (the fair) to become exclusively a carnival or exclusively a music venue." Crowell isn't the only participant who prefers the traditional to the temporary. Joyce Post of Lafayette has been going to the fair for 60 years and remembers when the entertainment portion was merely a side bar to a Farm and Horse Show. "They've expanded, which is good, but they need to improve on some of the exhibits, I think," Post said. "I think there should be more of that n more agriculture." Patricia Csirip, 71, of Vernon has been coming to the fair for 20 years, an annual tradition that began when she and her husband spent their summers in Highland Lakes. "I think the increased entertainment is good, it's a mix, a little bit for everyone," she said. "That's what you have to have, a good balance." Some long-time fair visitors like Csirip see the growth and changes as positive and as a necessary part of the county's growth and evolution. But as Jay Burd, 78, of Franklin, noted after seeing a Jacuzzi display: "The things that they have today are all a lot of the modern things. Of course, every year they get something new, and they have enough land that they could expand and have been able to keep up with the times." But people like Burd remember the smaller days of the fair when