The Vermont State Fair was close to celebrating its centennial when Jack Delano took this photo in September 1941. It started in 1846, one of the first ever in the United States.
Delano was a photographer for the U.S. government for the Farm Security Administration, a New Deal program that evolved into the Office of War Information. Photographers for the FSA/OWI took iconic photos of America during the Great Depression and World War II.
Greatest Agricultural Achievement
By 1849, the fair had become so popular the Rutland Rail Yard put extra cars on trains to bring people from western New York and Vermont. It moved to a two-day event and then expanded to three days in 1893 as more and more attractions were added.
People came from all over to the fair. In 1912, for example, a farmer from Zenia, Ohio, brought Aberdeen Angus cattle, the first most people had seen. Dutch Belted cattle came from Connecticut and Massachusetts, though they lacked ‘show finish.’ Canada sent horticultural products, and an infant from New York City won the baby contest.
The Vermonter that year called the fair ‘one of the greatest agricultural achievements in New England.’ It featured 188 horses in the Morgan classes alone . Its display of the Dairy Shorthorn surpassed any other in the United States. And the turkey show was three times the size of the one in Boston.
The Last Good Time
The fair had an official purpose of educating the farmer. And, in fact, farmers studied improved machinery, improved methods of agriculture and livestock husbandry.
But people also came to enjoy the sideshows, the long-unseen friends and the beautiful surroundings. One visitor waxed rhapsodic about the countryside. “Here’s where the maple turns to crimson and the sassafras to gold,” wrote L.A. Webster. “Here’s where the mountain brooks laugh and meander beside fern garnished rocks, and shadowy hillsides smiling with wild flowers of the forest.”
In 1911, a Vermonter noted, ‘the country fair is about the only legalized good time left to the country people.’ For most fairgoers, it provided the entertainment highlight of the year.
The fair closed for the first time ever in 1917 because of the influenza epidemic. The State of Vermont closed all other public gatherings to prevent the spread of the disease.
A fire destroyed the fairground’s grandstand on June 17, 1939. It was rebuilt in just 40 days — in time for the fair. In 1942, the year after Delano took these photos, the Vermont State Fair had a limited to one day because the United States had entered World War II.
This story was updated in 2021.