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Around The Grange
Riverton Fair celebrates tradition and community for 109th year

By NF Ambery, Register Citizen (10/15/18)

  OCTOBER 16, 2018 --

When the Riverton Fair was first started by the Union Agricultural Society of Barkhamsted, Colebrook, and Hartland, women wore long Edwardian skirts with trains, while men dressed in arrow shirt collars, suits, and bowler hats. Owners of livestock and cattle were given prizes and a drum corps provided entertainment.

A lot has changed in fashion and culture since the inaugural event in 1909, but the spirit of the Riverton Fair remains the same during the fair’s 109th anniversary this October. Although modern amusement-park rides are part of the festival today, the focus remains on agriculture, with oxen-pulling contests; dairy cow and steer judging; and produce competitions.

Modern-day visitors have long foregone Edwardian garb in favor of jeans and t-shirts, but the three-day festivities are still held in the historic district’s fairgrounds at 16 Main St. and around the small 19th-century industrial village of Riverton.

“We were very busy (Friday) night,” Riverton Fair President Matthew Cook said, as he stood near the oxen pull area. “We had some rain this morning but the sun is out, so it should be a great turnout.”

“It is great that people are coming out,” commented Christine Schmidt of Barkhamsted, the Agricultural Society’s Secretary. “We have been trying to add more interactive booths.”

With 10 volunteers, Schmidt oversaw the fair’s proceedings of about 1,000 visitors who came out, despite Saturday’s rainy-to-overcast 55-degree weather, until the sun came out at exactly 1:55 p.m. Schmidt said about 8,000 people were expected throughout the three-day period, not counting children 12 and under who are admitted free of charge.

Schmidt said one of two new additions to the fair included the women’s skillet toss finals on Sunday, in which contestants from other area fairs compete with one another.

The other new addition was the Riverton Grange’s booth, where Grange members sewed pillowcases for children with cancer.

Riverton Grange Secretary Raine Pedersen, who worked at a sewing machine doing the work at the grange’s table at the Junior Crafts Barn, said, “We are plugging along. The cause is very good.”

The grange’s effort is part of a national initiative called the Million Pillowcase Challenge, sponsored by American Patchwork & Quilting magazine, and locally by a Simsbury fabric store, Sew Inspired Quilt Shop.

Riverton Fair Vice President Dan Lamellin brought his son Tyler, 9, and said, “I hope the weather stays nice.” Tyler added that his favorite Fair attraction was the Dizzy Dragons amusement park ride.

The fair ran Friday afternoon and evening, featuring a garden tractor pull contest and amusement park rides. Saturday’s festivities ran from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., featuring woodworking contests, a bicycle drawing at the bandstand, and of course entertainment from the Johnny Larsen Band, which played rock guitar music.

The Riverton Grange Hall, across the street from the fair, served a popular luncheon. Farther down Main Street, the Riverton American Legion Post 159 held its annual arts and crafts fair in the garage of the Riverton Volunteer Fire Department at 3 Riverton Road, while local singer Eric Northrup, 14, sang original songs nearby.

Rebecca Sweeney of the Riverton Veterans of Foreign Wars Auxiliary helped organize the tag sale.

“It’s been a little slow because of the weather this morning, but it will pick up in the afternoon. We are blessed with good weather now,” she said.

Moneyy raised from the tag sale will go toward holiday dinners for seven local veterans’ families, Sweeney said.

Ines Hazen, owner of Rose’s Kitchen at 1 Riverton Road, held a tag sale in the parking lot, with all proceeds benefiting the annual Christmas in Riverton civic celebration. “We have a great bunch of volunteers,” she said.

The fair continued at the fairgrounds at 16 Main St. through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with final contests of more events including a lumberjack competition, the women’s skillet throw, pie-eating contests, and oxen-drawing. Another bicycle and a handmade chair from the nearby Hitchcock Chair Company were awarded to winning ticketholders in a raffle drawing.

Visitor Chris Sullivan of Riverton walked along the fair’s midway with his grandson, Parker Himmel, 10, who had just won a giant ball after getting a scoring well in a midway shooting range.

“We come every year,” Sullivan said, adding that while the carnival games were Parker’s favorite, the food at the Fair is his.

At the fair’s animal barn, Gayle Legeyt, Fair Farm Supervisor, tended to the llamas, sheep, and goats in separate pens from Flemig Farm in West Simsbury as well as Legeyt’s own spotted pony, Graffiti. “We expect it to be busy today and tomorrow,” she said.

The traditionally old-fashioned fair along the nearby scenic Farmington River has survived floods, epidemics, wars, and economic austerity throughout the years. The first fair was held on the local schoolhouse grounds on Oct. 12, 1909, with an estimated 3,000 people attending. In 1947, the town voted to expand the fair to a two-day event. The devastating Flood 1955 washed away the fair’s regular barns as well as a bandstand and ticket booth, and a clean-up effort restored the grounds.


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