The following is an article from the Brunswick Record in 1935. It was converted to a digital file by local historian Richard Snow.
The fair hopes to post many more such articles and piece together a more complete history of the fair. If you have something to add to the history section of our website please contact Marilyn Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interesting History Of The First Twenty
Years of Topsham Fair
April 11, 1935
When the late Lyman E. Smith who served the Sagadahoc Agricultural and Horticultural society for 25 years, from 1878 to 1913, on the executive committee and as secretary and treasurer, retired from office, he presented Edwin C. Patten of Topsham who is now secretary of the organization,--and who has in his turn been in office for 23 years serving two terms as President,--with a collection of Schedules of Premium books dating from the first Fair in 1855, and other papers relative to the history of the Association from its beginning in 1854.
One interested could spend many hours reading and comparing the schedules with those of today. Perhaps a short resume of the facts regarding the corporating of the Society in 1854, its location and purchase of land up to the year 1875, a period of twenty years will be of interest to some Record Readers.
The list of articles for which premiums were given in the Hall Exhibit and on the Grounds has changed greatly progressing with the times. A comparison of the modern commodities advertised in today?s schedule in the back of the programs with those of 60 years also ago give a fairly accurate history of the change in the social life of our community.
The Society was incorporated under the above title and approved by the Governor, Hon. William G. Crosby, on April 14, 1854, and comprised the entire County of Sagadahoc and the towns of Brunswick and Harpswell in Cumberland County. The first meeting was held in Bath City Hall July 1, 1854. Hon B.C. Bailey called the meeting to order and Alden Winter was appointed first Chairman, and Sewall Watson, Clerk. A code of by-laws was adopted and permanent officers elected.
At the next meeting in August, a large number of names were added to the Association and it was voted to hold a fair in the autumn of 1854, but because some of the principal officers refused to serve, no fair was held. Few citizens took an active interest in the Society, and the place to hold it was a matter of great controversy. The majority of people thought Sagadahoc County no place for an agricultural fair as the interests were mostly commercial. Except for much earnest discussion no action was taken until the annual meeting January 17, 1855 in Bath.
The receipts for membership for the first year were $28; and expenses for the year wee $26.50.
At that time a life membership fee was $8.00 and annual membership $1.00. At this meeting, only after much urgent solicitation, Francis T. Purington of Topsham reluctantly consented and was unanimously chosen President. Though not nominally, yet in reality he was the first president of the Society. He proved to be the right man in the right place, for the Association became firmly established under his guidance and well on the road to success. To his forethought and influence the Society is indebted for its ample grounds and large exhibition building.
The first exhibition was held in the old Town House, Topsham, in the autumn of 1855. This building was located between what is now the Topsham Grammar schoolhouse and the foot of the hill in front of the residence of Arthur Beal. The fair was a marked success. The people were generally surprised at so much success. The exhibition of cattle on the grounds, held on the side hill and not even fenced in, and the exhibition in the hall were good. Reverend A.D. Wheeler of Topsham gave an address which was heard with interest. This was the first address made to the Society. Admission to the Hall exhibits was 10 cents.
Receipts at the Fair were $516.56; and expenses were $206.08.
Mr. Patten has in his possession the first printed notice of this Fair entitled ?Cattle Show and Fair? dated 1855. Judging committees were appointed for the following departments: On Farms, improvement of land, manures, etc., On Hay, On Grain, and Other Crops, On Field Crops of Roots and Vegetables, On Garden Crops of Roots and Vegetables, On Working Oxen, On Town Teams of Oxen, On Bulls, On Town Teams of Steers, On Steers, On Fat Cattle, On Cows, On Heifers, On Horses, On Sheep, On Swine, On Ploughing and Spading, On Agricultural Implements, On Fruits and Flowers, On Dairy Products, On Bread, On Honey, On Domestic Manufacturers, On Wool, On Hard and Wooden Ware, On Leather, Boots and Shoes and Carriages, On Fowls, On Arrangements, On Fish, On Flax, On Fine Arts. In cases where a man and his wife were on a committee, they were addressed as Rev. A.D. Wheeler and Lady, William Frost and Lady, or Charles J. Gilman and Lady instead of Mr. and Mrs. A note at the bottom states that ?stock entered for exhibition will be provided with hay on the grounds free of expenses.? Also that the ?Annual address will be delivered on Thursday at 11 o?clock A.M. in the Congregational Meeting House (now the Town Hall) and the Society will meet at the same place at 2 o?clock P.M. to hear the reports of committees and transact all other business.? Signed Sam?l F. Dike, Chairman of Committees. In a later list of premiums prizes were offered for the best barrel of cider. In listing the kind of poultry it states for ?Best pen of 10 fowl and a Crower.?
In 1856 the committee which had been appointed to consider the place where the future exhibitions of the Society should be held reported that they had selected Topsham as the place where the grounds should be procured and suitable buildings erected for future exhibitions. During the summer most of the ground owned by the Fair Association up to 1874 was purchased of A.B. Purington and Mrs. Jane P. Frost, also leased of Samuel Thompson and James Purington, and a contract made with A.D. Perkins & Co. to erect a building at the cost of $2500. The work was done by Elben Colby for the sum of $500. The fence around the grounds was built and a one third mile track made. A large amount of labor including the grading of the road up the hill was done chiefly by the gratuitous labor and contributions of citizens of Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Brunswick and Harpswell, Bath and West Bath. In 1863 more land was purchased from Mrs. Susan B. Purington and new fences were built to include it. In 1864 under the President Solon White a one half mile track was built, in part from contributions in money and labor of the members and friends.
The Society went through years of fair prosperity, but with acquiring new land and building the dining hall, fences, and many additions to the general property, they became somewhat heavily in debt until the year 1871 saw the debt wiped out and a balance of $383.05 in the treasury. The membership this year was increased to $12.00 instead of $8.00 and the price of a single ticket to 25 cents. These changes were made during the regime of Wildes P. Walker as President. The dining hall was also built at the cost of $800.
In 1873 A.G. Poland of Brunswick, was elected President. During this year water was supplied by a well 19 feet deep, 8 feet in diameter at the bottom, holding this size 8 feet up, then inclining into 4 feet at the top. Its cost was $115 by contract, including a pump and the troughs. A stable was erected on the grounds, 50 feet long and 12 feet wide at a cost of $220.57. The Society had begun to form a library from that portion of the funds received from the State which was appropriated to farmers? clubs, and it was hoped that the sum of $50, at least, would be annually appropriated from the revenue of the Society to increase the library until it should contain the most reliable works in the several departments of Agriculture.
The total cost of the property up to the year 1874 was $4481.89.
The following is the list of Presidents up to the year 1874: Charles Davenport, Bath, 1854; Francis T. Purington, Topsham, 1855,6; F.J. Southard, Topsham, 1857; Thomas J. Southard, Richmond, 1858; George A. Rogers, Topsham, 1859,60,61; Solon White, Bowdoinham, 1862,3,4; B.C. Bailey, Bath, 1865-6,7; Wildes P. Walker, Topsham, 1868,9,70,1,2; A.G. Poland, Brunswick, 1873-4.
Most of the printed matter preserved since that time was published by the ?Brunswick Telegraph? Job Printing Establishment.
In the list of premiums as of 1860 prizes were offered for equestrianism for the best riding on horseback by a lady. Prizes were offered for Farm Improvements, Ploughing, Fish, Naval Architecture, Hard and Wooden Ware, the best specimen of patching and darning, best specimens of cotton and woolen cloth also flannel, leather shoes and carriages, etc.
Among the General Remarks and Regulations appears this item: ?A fee of 20 cents will be charged to every person for admission to the grounds and buildings, children half price; carriage on the grounds will be charged 25 cents each day; two horse carriages 50 cents.?
In the year 1871 the style of program was changed from one sheet the size of a newspaper sheet to book form much as the same as the Schedule of Premiums of today. This was the start of recurring advertisements of business houses and many are of great interest, the names of several still hang over the doors of local merchants. The names of merchants advertised has changed greatly. For instance: under the Ad of G.H. Nichols & Co. of Bath, Foreign and Domestic Goods appear, ?Cloaks, Mantillas, etc.? Then there is ?Furbish?s Agricultural Warehouse, Main Street, Brunswick, opp. The Town Clock? (The Town clock was then located on the church steeple a the corner of Mason and Main Streets.) Another, ?William Pierce, Photographer Ferreotypes, photographs and Stereoscopic Pictures, taken in the highest style.?
In the year 1872, we find this page ?Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain, President of Bowdoin College, has kindly consented a parade of the Bowdoin College Cadets on the Society?s park the last day of the fair. Maj. J.P. Sanger, U.S.A., Professor of Military Science and Tactics, Bowdoin College, the Commandant, will give an exhibition drill of the Battalion as Infantry, and afterwards as Artillery, with a Field Battery of 8 12 Pdr. Guns.?
The Brunswick Savings Institution and the Pejepscot National Bank have a full page advertisement. Another, ?Robert Robinson, merchant tailor, Lemont Block.? In the ad appears ?Plain cloths of all varieties for Paletots and frocks, pantaloon stuffs.? Still another: ?Eaton and Pierce, dealers in first class Piano Fortes, Cabinet Organs, Melodeons. Constantly on hand to sell or to let. Store one down south Baptist Church, Maine Street, Brunswick.? Then there was ?Topsham Flour Mills, Topsham, Purinton, Beaumont & Co.? ?J.W. Curtis, Dentist Rooms in O?Brien Block.? ?Purinton & Hall, Lumber Manufacturers, Mill at Topsham village.?
Among items of interest in the history it is learned that in 1866 the location for the University of Maine was under discussion and the Rogers Estate in Topsham was offered to the Trustees of the College, but after looking over this and other sites the college finally located in Orono.
Since this period of twenty years ending in 1874, the Fair Association has acquired many more acres of land, in 1911 a portion of ground not now fenced in with the other ground purchased from the Maine Central R.R. an later land purchased from the Turner estate, greatly increased the holdings, now totaling about 180 acres with 40 acres completely surrounded by fence. The largest record attendance day of the Fair was on a Wednesday in 1911 during on the years E.C. Patten was President, and was 20,000.