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The Champlain Valley Fair is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Here's how it has changed in the last century

A black and white photo of people walking past a building that reads "Champlain Valley Exposition Inc"
Jack Delano, Library of Congress
The grandstand was built in 1923. The yellow clapboard with black letter reminds everyone they are at the "Champlain Valley Exposition Inc."

This year marks the 100th anniversary of Vermont's largest annual summer fair.

Seventy-year-old Mary Fay is what you call a professional fair-goer.

“I love fairs," she said. "I live and breathe fairs. I have been here since I was a little tiny kid… You know, seriously, it's probably been at least 65 years that I've been coming to this fair and I've never missed a day.”

Two women with a hand over each other's shoulders stand next to each other smiling. Their blue shirts read Champlain Valley Exposition.
Stephen Mease
Mary Fay (Right) and Wanda Emerich (Left) stand next to each other smiling. Mary has worked at the fair for over 50 years.

Mary has been working with the Vermont chapter of the youth organization, 4-H, for over 50 years. And she says when she was younger the fair looked a little different.

“As a teenager, you walk around the Midway and you'd hear the barkers, with the girlie shows talking and stuff like that. But yeah, it's just changed a lot over the years,” she said.

What she's talking about is a carnival barker: someone who tries to attract people to an event by taunting passing patrons. Girly shows consisted of women dancing provocatively on a stage. You won’t see any provocative dancing this year.

Since its inception, the fair has showcased the region's agricultural industries. The first Champlain Valley Fair was hosted at the Essex Center. Over 15,000 people attended over three days.

A man in a sweater and hat standing in front of the history exhibit of 100 years of the fair.
Stephen Mease
Stephen Mease standing in front of the history exhibit enshrining the 100 years of the fair.

Stephen Mease is the former communications director for the exposition, which hosts the fair and other events. He helped create a history exhibit and a new book honoring the fair’s 100 years.

“In researching the book, my sense is a lot of the things that were very big in the early days — 4-H shows, the kids being here. People bring their vegetables, their canned goods. They win blue ribbons for their handcrafts. So much of that really continued on,” Mease said.

A black and white photo of a group of girls wearing four leaf clover shirts with H's on them.
Stephen Mease
The 4-H is a youth development and mentoring organization. There are chapters all across the country.

He’s also been taking photos of fairgoers since 2004.

"You can be shooting [photos of] baby cows, ducklings. And then you know, with a few steps [you’re] on the Midway shooting [photos of] people having a great time on the ring of fire," Mease said.

It's the location of some people's first concerts, roller coaster rides and first dates.

“As a kid, I think I was 12 years old, maybe. And my middle school crush, you know, we got permission to go and the parents were walking around and we were in the concert. And I got my first kiss. So I was pretty excited,” said Jeff Bartley, the marketing director for the Champlain Valley Exposition.

His first memory at the fair was taking his crush to a Backstreet Boys Concert.

 An overview shot of the fair.
Stephen Mease
An overview shot of the fair in action.

Camila Salomoni has been a vendor at the fair for almost two decades. She’s originally from Brazil. And after she started offering authentic Brazilian barbecue, other new Americans took notice

"There's a lady that comes in and sees us almost every day. She's like so excited. She's gonna eat, like, her type of food, you know, like, my type of food? Like, I don't know, it's just that feeling like home feeling like you're part of something," she said.

Salomoni also sells fudge. One of her favorite memories is about a regular who would show up and buy 20 pounds of the sweet treat — a year's supply.

“Her daughter would always come over and make sure she got her fudge. And she passed away I want to say in 2019? But her daughter continues to come over and visit us,” Salomoni said. “She just comes over just because it's like, I remind her of her mom, you know. She just loves to come over and see us and say 'Hi.' So it's it's just special.”

“Our role with the recovery has been from the testing sites, to the search hospital to vaccinations to food distributions. We were a big part of the relief here in Chittenden."
Jeff Bartley, Marketing director for the Champlain Valley Exposition.

Since 1923 the fair has only not been held at the exposition three times. Two years during World War II and in 2020, when the site played a big role in COVID testing and vaccinations.

“Our role with the recovery has been from the testing sites, to the search hospital, to vaccinations, to food distributions. We were a big part of the relief here in Chittenden,” Bartley said.

Organizers expect to welcome 120,000 people through their gates.

This year, you can expect food from over 60 vendors and more than 40 rides, with some tricky carnival games sprinkled here and there.

The grandstand returns with nightly performances, including from Grammy Award-winning artist Nelly on Aug. 27. And of course plenty of animals.

The fair runs from Aug. 26 to Sept. 4. Tickets and more information is available online.

Editor's note: Stephen Mease edited Vermont Public Radio's membership newsletter from 1993-2008.

Marlon Hyde was Vermont Public’s first news fellow, from 2021 to 2023.
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