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Around The Grange
Pennsylvania Grange Fairs: a celebration of agriculture

By Tara Fatzinger, Bucks Local News, PA (1/4/11)

  FEBRUARY 6, 2011 --

Among the grandest of all Pennsylvania traditions — not to mention an important cornerstone of the summer season — is the great Grange Fair.

They’re held all over the state in nearly every county and while each has its own unique offerings, they all have one main theme in common: a celebration of agriculture.

For agriculturists the Grange Fair is the perfect opportunity to just how important their work really is and to prove that, well, farmers know how to have a good time, too. Grangers view the fair as a unique opportunity for the community to come together for five fun-filled days of good food, entertainment and celebration of the talented friends and neighbors who play a pivotal role in preserving the American farming tradition.

Still, the return of the Grange Fair is a bittersweet affair. On the one hand, the fair brings a plethora of good food, games and rides, baking contests and, of course, livestock shows. Yet, it also means summer is about to come to an end, sending the kids back to school and marking the inevitability of colder weather and shorter days.

But for now, the Middletown Grange is fully focused on celebrating the importance of agriculture and the vital role it plays in Pennsylvania’s long, rich history and overall economic livelihood.

The Grange itself was originally founded as a grassroots, non-partisan, non-sectarian, fraternal organization of farmers dedicated to preserving America’s grand farming tradition. Eventually Grange membership expanded to include people with all different backgrounds, from all walks of life who share the common goal of working to make the world a better place to live.

And it is with this in mind that the Middletown Grange — and many granges all across Pennsylvania and the rest of the country — founded and continues to host its annual fair.

This year marks the 62nd anniversary of the Middletown Grange Fair, which is scheduled for Aug. 18-22. The fair began as a special project when the members of Middletown Grange No. 684 decided to participate in a national contest sponsored by the Farm Journal Magazine in 1948. The object of the contest was for participants to try to raise corn crops that would yield 300 bushels per acre.

Grange members spent the season diligently planting, tending to and harvesting their crop on the Heston Manor Farm near Yardley. As the end of the growing season drew to a close, grange members invited the community to participate in the harvest.

That October, under the careful watch of the Bucks County Agricultural Agent, members of the grange and the community harvested the crop, which yielded 105 bushels per acre, by hand amidst a small collection of exhibits showcasing farm machinery, supplies, and automotive and household goods.

The following year the Grange raised three experimental crops — corn, potatoes and tomatoes — again bringing the community and members of the grange together for a harvest fair. The two-day event featured more farm, automotive and household exhibits but also introduced a produce competition for grange members and a cattle show.

By 1950 the fair, then in its third year, featured more than 60 exhibits and an attendance of more than 5,000 spectators. That year the Grange allocated five half-acre strips of land for crops of corn and another acre for two different varieties of potatoes.

The early 1950s ushered in an age of growth for the Middletown Grange Fair with the addition of cattle shows, tractor driving competitions, fashion shows, machinery parades, square dances, performances by local high school bands, appearances by television personalities and various 4-H activities.

The Middletown Grange’s chicken barbecue dinners were introduced in 1954, quickly becoming a beloved, well-known fair tradition.

By 1965 the Middletown Grange Fair Horse Show was added and has become among the event’s most popular, largest events.

In 1966, with nearly 20 years of successful fair experience under its belt, the Middletown Grange purchased a large tract of land in Wrightsville, thus finding a permanent home for the fair.

Securing the empty fairgrounds, however, meant there was plenty of work to be done in the coming years if the Grange were to establish a permanent home for its annual fair.

And so the summer of 1967 became a busy season for the Grange. That year members spent a lot of time disassembling, storing and rebuilding an old barn — down to the last asphalt roof shingle — that would eventually become the dining hall.

The first Middletown Grange Fair was held at the newly established fairgrounds in 1967 with a portion of the land being set aside for the community baseball league to use. That same year the Middletown Grange #684 claimed top honors in the National Community Service Contest during the annual session of the National Grange.

Nearly 10 years later, in 1976, two more permanent buildings were erected on the fairgrounds. These were soon used to house the fair’s wide variety of exhibits, flowers, vegetables, hay and grain, needlework, arts and crafts, and many 4-H displays.

Additional structures have since been added to house the horse show arenas and livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats and pigs.

In 1991, the Judging Arena — complete with all the right accessories to ensure maximum comfort and convenience — was added to the fairgrounds, thanks to a generous donation made by a Grange family.

Major improvements to the water and electrical systems were completed in 1992, and in January 1993 the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs recognized the Middletown Grange Fair for its excellence in producing a quality fair.

By 1997 the fair was such a success that it was extended to a five-day event. The fair has grown exponentially since the inaugural event was held in 1948, expanding from its roots to include, today, more than 4,200 different exhibits and events from the cattle and horse shows to homemade baked goods, produce contests and impressive arts and crafts displays.

For more information about the Middletown Grange Fair events, schedules and exhibits, visit www.BucksLocalNews.com/GrangeFair/ 


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