Wolcott Historical Society News - August 2021
By Florence Goodman
Wolcott residents have been enjoying fairs in our town off and on for almost 140 years. The Agricultural Society's fairs ran for 54 years and the Lions Club Country Fairs continually ran for 41 years until 2020. It was a sad day for many resident when the Lions Club had to cancel the fair last year, but they will be up and running again in August 2021. With that thought in mind, I felt it was time to revisit my 2012 article on the history of our Wolcott Fairs adding more information about the early fair years.
In a news article (circa 1980s) written by John H. Washburne, he states, "The seeds of the Wolcott Agricultural Society were planted on the Green atop Benson's Hill by local farmers as early as 1872." For a decade prior to the official establishment of the fair local farmers would intermittently display their various crops on the Green, but it wasn't until October 4, 1881 that the "FIRST EXHIBITION" was held in "Sperry's Lot" across from the present Wolcott High School. Joseph Sperry had come to Wolcott from Cheshire circa 1825 and although he died in 1871 the land continued to be referred to as "Sperry's Lot" and that was where the first fair was held. Wolcott's residents were proud of their fine livestock and agricultural goods produced in their fields and wanted a venue to show them off.
The Wolcott Agricultural Society was established in January of 1881 for the sole purpose of organizing an annual country fair. The first officers of the Society were Harmon Payne, President, Edwin A. Todd, Secretary, and Eratus W. Warner, Treasurer. At a later date Henry B. Carter was elected Vice President. All members paid one dollar for their annual dues. At this first Agricultural Fair held on Bound Line Road tents or temporary shelters were erected and premiums were awarded for the best exhibits. Ten dollars was earned for the best pair of draft horses or oxen, two dollars for the best family horse, and one dollar for the best litter of pigs. A prize of fifty cents was awarded for the best fruits, grains, and vegetables and winners of home handicrafts were given twenty-five cents. The event was held in this location for two years.
In 1883, the fair was moved to Munson Road and held on the farm property of Cornelius F. Munson at the Brooks Hill Road intersection. By 1889 the Society's eighth annual fair was held on Mr. Thomas Fairclough's river lot, which was next to the Mad River at the intersection of Munson and Coe Roads. Prior to 1917 the upper Woodtick Dam had not been constructed so Fairclough's property covered the land where the upper reservoir is today and across Munson Road to the Mad River. Scovill Road was Fairclough Road and it met up with Coe and Munson Roads at that intersection where the Kiwanis Club is located. This was a great location because it was "under the hills and away from the rude winds." A large tent was set to exhibit agricultural and industrial products. The turnout was overwhelmingly good and over $300 was taken in at the gate alone.
As fair attendance increased more land was needed to accommodate these larger crowds. Thus early in the 1900s it was voted to purchase thirty acres of land at the intersection of Todd and Woodtick Roads from Harriet Julina Hall for $1842. The Society later voted to erect a permanent two-story exhibition hall on the new property, which was completed on October 13, 1913 at a cost of $1,730. In March of 1930 the Wolcott Agricultural Society accepted an offer from the state highway commission of $1000 for a small piece of the land necessary to permit the construction of the state-aid road around the corner of the fair grounds. This allowed Woodtick Road to make a wide, sweeping curve and would have brought the centerline of the road inside the fairgrounds so the Society had to move the barn and cattle shed closer to the show ring; this task was completed under the supervision of William Sills and a team of men. That barn is still standing today and was used for the Lion's fairs from 1979 through 2011.
Those early fair days were wonderful times for the residents of Wolcott and the surrounding towns and they filled the air with a carnival spirit. Children were especially happy since it gave them some time off from school and an opportunity to show off their handiwork and possibly earn some prize money. Residents were able to earn extra cash by using their horse-drawn buses and carriages to provide transportation for fairgoers. Town constables were also kept busy keeping the peace and ready to place any disruptive attendees into the temporary wooden shack that served as their jail. People traveled far and wide with their livestock or handiwork in order to display it at the fair and hoping to take home some extra cash or ribbons. One side of the fairgrounds housed the animals and handiwork while on the other side, the Midway, enticed people to try their chance at the carnival games. There were also aerial acrobatics, five-legged calves, and many other interesting attractions calling to people to spend that hard-earned money. Hawkers sold a variety of remedies, tools and equipment to those in need. You could purchase a full home cooked meal in the exhibition hall while enjoying the handiwork and produce from the Wolcott housewives and if you stayed until closing those goodies were sold to the visitors. Near the Todd Road side of the field was a large arena where fairgoers watched the competition between draft-horses or oxen that showed their strength by pulling huge loads of rock.
On October 5, 1940, the Wolcott Agricultural Society held its 54th and last fair on the Todd/Woodtick Road property. During that long history of fairs there were five years when none were held: 1906, 1934-1935 and 1937-1938. The Great Depression took place during the 1930s so that was probably why there was no fair, but the 1906 date is a mystery. There was most likely a breakout of smallpox or other plague that cancelled the fair and we have seen firsthand how a pandemic can cause everything to close down in an instant.
The Society sold the property to the Town of Wolcott on March 12, 1945 for $12,000 and Frisbie Elementary School was built there. The Wolcott Agricultural Society was still in existence in 1967 according to a quote from Maurice Goodson in the Sunday Republican magazine in December of that year where he stated, "We're still an incorporated society, but we're not going to keep it up any more. The Agricultural Society is going out of business."
On June 26, 1952, the Wolcott Lion's Club was established in our town; this organization dedicated itself to serving to improve the health and welfare of the community of Wolcott. In 1979 the Lion's Club established its first Wolcott Country Fair and today it has become the area's largest agricultural and family event, which lasts for three days. Once again the Todd Road fair grounds were back in business with fairgoers able to enjoy many of the same things that their ancestors did in 1882 and much more. Events were scheduled for young and old, but everyone always seems to enjoy the large variety of food that was offered throughout the weekend. The Lion's Country Fair continued to be held at the Todd Road location until August of 2011.
In 2012, the Wolcott Lion's Country Fair moved to a new 19-acre location on Wolcott Road across from Nichols Road. The Lions acquired this property in the summer of 2000, which was originally owned by the Herbst family and consisted of their home and many other structures and a factory. In 2002 the house was renovated and became the Lion's Den. The Lions have developed roads, built new structures and renovated many of the old structures. Over the past twenty years the Lions have worked tirelessly to turn this property into a perfect spot for its annual Fair and this year should prove to be a great event. Hope to see you there.
(Information from this article was taken from "Wolcott on Parade" by the Wolcott Historical Society; "Wolcott, Connecticut 175th Anniversary 1796-1971 booklet", by John Washburne; "The Sunday Republican Magazine," December 24, 1967; "The Waterbury American", 1906; and "The Great Wolcott Fair" by John Washburne, circa 1980s; March, 1930 newspaper article listed as "WOLCOTT" found in Homewood's scrapbooks) The Wolcott Historical Society will host its annual scholarship fundraising Garden Tour on Saturday, July 10th from noon to 4:00 p.m. (the rain date is always the next day). As always, for a $10 donation you may leisurely wander through six magnificent gardens on that day. Three of the gardens are new to our tour and three are ones that have been on previous tours, but are forever changing. We are very grateful to all the gardeners who have been gracious enough to allow us to showcase their labors of love. Perennial gardening is not for the weak or weary. it takes lots of brawn to develop and maintain these gardens; it also takes creativity, passion and a love of the outdoors.
A post card from the Agricultural Fair held in 1907.
Events held at the Todd Road fairgrounds in the 1930s.
An ad for the Wolcott Fair held in 1925.
The 1932 Agricultural Fair held on Todd Road.
The second Fair Booklet in 1883.
The ninth Fair booklet held in 1890.
To view past installments of the Historical Society News, click here.