The 1919 Windsor County Fair
A century ago, one of the most anticipated events of the year for people in the greater Woodstock area was the Windsor County Fair. This fair was held for many years on what is now the Billings Farm and Museum grounds.
The Fair in 1919 was the seventy-fourth for Windsor County, and it was described by a reporter for the Vermont Standard as the “banner fair” in Vermont.
The Fair’s main goal, based on its “constitution,” was for the “improvement of agricultural productions, useful domestic animals, domestic manufactures and the mechanic arts.” In an era when most people were farmers, many regional fairs were designed to be educational and inspirational experiences as well as opportunities for people to socialize and have fun. In 1919, the fair appears to have achieved both objectives of being educational and attracting the “paying public” who wished to attend “merely to be entertained.” The writer of the Vermont Standard article notes: “Probably there never was and never will be any ‘public doings’ but some fault-finders will attend and express themselves disagreeably because it is their nature so to do. This is the 28th year in which the present writer has ‘written up the Fair’ for the Vermont Standard - and never before has he heard so little criticism, never before so much enthusiastic comment. Other old fair-goers have remarked to the same effect.”
An article in The Vermont Standard, dated August 2, 1917, notes that Allan Bourdon and his brother visited Woodstock for the Windsor County Fair that year as well. That article states: “The Bourdon Brothers, Leo and Allan, two Woodstock boys, landed on the Country Club golf course last Saturday, the first airplane ever to alight in this town, where they came to give exhibitions at the Windsor County Fair this week. Allan Bourdon, who is tester of new-made machines at the Gallaudet airplane establishment in Greenwich, R.I., is the flyer, and Leo Bourdon comes as his assistant."
While the Fair featured contests, vegetable and produce displays, floral arrangements, games, rides, and shows, arguably the most notable part of the 1919 Windsor County Fair was the presence of Allan Bourdon, who grew up in Woodstock. Bourdon put on a special air show in which he performed a number of breathtaking stunts, including a nose dive, looping the loop, a barrel roll, flying upside down, a leaf drop, to name just a few. These feats led the author of the Vermont Standard article to note that “It is to be doubted if another exhibition equally expert has yet been seen in Vermont.
In addition to the air show, the Fair also offered vaudeville-type entertainment on the open-air stage that stood across from the grandstand. In 1919, the featured act was a pair of trick bicycle riders. Other entertainers were featured in the 47 fakir tents that made up the midway.
View of the Windsor County Fair from 1909 showing a Ferris wheel
The rides at the 1919 Windsor County Fair consisted of a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel, while the food options included ice cream and red lemonade. Three tents on the upper level exhibited motor cars and trucks, and the Machinists’ Hall featured a sugaring apparatus, milking machines, and farm tools. The Floral Hall had a variety of floral arrangements as well as some unique exhibits, such as a “handsomely mounted swordfish weighing 175 lbs., caught by D.E. Gillingham and Col. F. C. Hatch of Woodstock… and destined as a trophy for the Lakota Club.” One can only imagine the joy and wonder that people felt when they were able to experience so many new and exciting sights and contraptions.
Vermont still hosts a number of fairs, including the Champlain Valley Fair, Rutland Fair, Tunbridge Fair, and (of course) the Woodstock History Center’s own “Old Time Fair.”
While the Woodstock History Center’s fair doesn’t have a swordfish, a Ferris wheel, or an air show with a pilot performing death-defying feats, its Old Time Fair does feature food, crafts, a photo booth, and child-friendly games for both the young and young at heart. Thanks to the generous support of our sponsors - The Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, Blood’s Catering and Party Rentals, and the Liswhit Foundation - the Woodstock History Center is continuing to keep our prices low. Admission, food, games, and more are just a quarter each. Hope to see you at our fair!