A fair of the heart
CENTRE HALL, Pa. -- From Cracker Jack to a Cadillac, “it has everything you need,” Art Reede said.
Reede isn't talking about a local mall or the latest online shopping outlet. Instead, he is describing the annual Centre County Encampment and Fair -- known here as the Grange Fair -- which drew thousands of people here from August 21 to 28.
Reede is the Secretary of the Grange Fair. He has been coming to what he calls this “family gathering place” since before he was out of high school. He's not alone. His family travels from Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota to join him at the week-long encampment fair.
The first Grange Fair was held in 1874. It developed its name from the Grange movement. In 1867, the Patrons of Husbandry, or Grange, was formed as a national fraternal association. Its goal was to improve farming practices as well as better the social lives of American farmers.
Since it began 140 years ago, the fair has undergone some changes. As late as the 1970s, Reede remembers coming to the fair with an icebox that he would take to the iceman. Now, fair-goers like him move into the fair grounds with refrigerators, phones, computers and TVs.
Not only have fair-goers witnessed technological changes over the decades, they have also seen attendance multiply.
“We roughly estimate that more than a quarter million people come through the fair,” Reede said. “And most times it’s the third largest community in the county during the fair.”
To accompany such a crowd, this year the Grange Fair hosted more than 7,000 exhibit items as well as rides and concessions for all generations who stay in 1,300 RVs and 1,000 tents.
The fair grounds added 17 new tents this year to reach 1,000. But, even with that addition, getting a tent is not a quick operation. It is not unheard of for the process to drag out for more than a quarter of a century.
Reede shared one example of how long fair goers might wait after they sign up for a tent.
One day during the 2013 Grange Fair, he was at the office counter talking to a woman about the day she signed up for a tent. She recalled signing up for a tent with her infant daughter in her arms. The day she got a tent, she again stood at the counter with her daughter, now 27 years old.
But what makes people so adamant about staking their own tent at the Grange Fair?
“People come here because they grew up here,” Reede said.
Although Reede has seen changes at the fair over the years, one thing remains consistent in his observations: the Grange Fair is a week to reunite with family.
For some, family means sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For others, family means all that in addition to starting a family of their own.
Lori Dotterer and Logan Butler, a couple engaged at the 2013 Grange Fair, share their experiences about family and the fair.