The Cumberland County Fair
A part of history

The Cumberland County Fair, in one shape or another, has been a popular festivity for over 300 years. 2015 marks the fair's 47th year at its Millville location

Over the decades, it's seen many changes, but always, it was considered the highlight of a county where life revolved around farming.

There've been lapses along the way, but for the most part, the fair has been in nearly continuous operation (although in different locations) since the late 1600s - even before Cumberland was named a county in 1748.

Aerial Photo of the 1999 Fair

"Fairs of Agriculture are useful in more ways than one," said none other than President Abraham Lincoln. "They bring us together and thereby make us better acquainted and better friends than we otherwise would be." According to historical records, the first fair in Cumberland County was held in Greenwich on Oct. 16 and 17, 1695. It was held in the Market Square on Ye Greate Street where the tea-burning monument now stands.

The fair was actually legitimized by an act of the Colonial Assembly, with spring and fall gatherings planned in Greenwich. The legislation stated that "it shall be lawful for all persons to buy or sell all manner of lawful goods and to be free from arrests on said days," as well as two days before and two days after.

It reportedly was a festive, popular gathering twice a year, where residents would travel for miles on foot or by horseback to exchange news with their neighbors while gathering needed farm supplies. The fair flourished for the next 70 years, until a law passed in 1765 deemed the event "unnecessary."

It was not resurrected until almost 60 years later when the Cumberland County Agriculture Society was formed in 1823 with Dr. William B. Ewing named president and representatives from Stow Creek, Hopewell, Deerfield, Downe and Fairfield.

The committee decided to hold the fair that year in November - and it snowed. No matter. A large gathering was said to have attended, with prizes awarded for the greatest amount of vegetables grown in one acre and the best bull, cow and boar. There also was a $5 prize for "the female who shall present before the society the best gown pattern prepared for the loom by herself." There was also a prize for the best linen diaper.

It wasn't long, however, before interest in the fair again lagged. According to Cushing and Sheppard's "History of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland Counties," published in 1883, the fair didn't totally disappear. They wrote the fair's "influence was not lost, and it did much toward fostering that spirit of enterprise from which the later agricultural prosperity has risen."

Still, 24 years would pass before another fair organization was formed. This one, the Cumberland County Agricultural and Horticultural Society unveiled its first exhibition in September 1854, on a lot now bordered by Commerce, Giles, Lawrence and the south side of Oak streets in Bridgeton. In 1860, the fair moved to a 13-acre lot on Vine Street.

The fair changed over the years, but one thing remained constant: farming and homemaking were at the core. At the 1854 fair, a diploma was offered for best female servant and best farmhand. By the late 1880s, horse racing had become popular at the fair, and the fair was moved to newly built Riverside Driving Park, west of South Avenue. Here there was not only horse racing but wild west shows, complete with costumed cowboys and Indians.

With its popularity growing, the fair left Vine Street for a site on Fayette Street in the early 1890s. The new fair would face a bumpy financial ride. It's said one year the winners were asked to donate their prizes back to the organization. Still, the fair persevered. It moved to the current site, the county fairgrounds on Carmel Road in Millville in 1968 and is a popular draw today.

The fair has become a July tradition for Cumberland County residents.  

Cumberland County Cooperative Fair Association
P.O. Box 1423
Millville, NJ 08332
Phone 856-825-3820
Facsimile 856-765-7123

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