On June 16, 1916, it was voted and approved to hold a fair in Durham.
On Aug. 2, 1916, it was voted to form the Durham Fair Association with an annual membership fee of 50 cents, and the following officers were elected: President Harry Ryan, Vice-President Walter Wilcox, Secretary Frederick Page, and Treasurer A. Ernest Otte.
At subsequent meetings, it was voted to make the general admission fee 25 cents for adults and 10 cents for children, and to allow schoolchildren to exhibit in Town Hall free of charge.
At the Sept. 22, 1916 meeting, it was voted to have music at the fair with the cost not to exceed $50. A feature of the first fair and every fair through 1924 was a parade down Main Street, which began at Burckel’s Corner (intersection of Haddam Quarter Road and Main Street). The parade was discontinued after the 1924 fair because of traffic concerns.
In 1917, the Durham Fair Association was incorporated as the Durham Agricultural Fair Association, Inc.
The Durham Fair was a one-day event from 1916 to 1921, operated for two days from 1922 to 1950, and had been a three-day fair from 1951 until 2010 when the fair added a fourth day and opened on Thursday evening.
The fair was not held in 1938 because of the effect of the hurricane, or during the World War II years of 1942, 1943 and 1944. In 1985, Hurricane Gloria passed through the area and prevented the fair from opening on its first day (Friday). However, as a result of the efforts of hundreds of dedicated volunteers, the fair was able to open at noon on Saturday.
The first fair was held entirely on the Durham Town Green. Over the years, the fair association has made numerous land purchases so today's fair is held not only on the green, but also on over 45 acres of land adjacent to it.
The first permanent building on the fairgrounds was a cattle barn (presently known as Presidents’ Hall) which was built in 1925. Three other large buildings were built between 1928 and 1933.
After that, no further major construction took place until 1954 when a bandstand was converted into a building presently used as the upper First Aid building.
In 1967, a toilet building was built, giving the Durham Fair its first flush toilets.
As the fair has grown at a rapid pace, since the 1970's, much construction has taken place on the fairgrounds.
When one looks back at the history of the Durham Fair, the contrast between the beginning and the present is dramatic. What started as a local event has become the largest of its type in Connecticut.
The first Durham Fair drew an estimated 2,000 people. At present, if the weather is good, the fair may draw over 200,000 people from all over Connecticut and surrounding states.
In 1916, less than $300 was paid in prize money, while currently, over $90,000 is paid.
Many large agricultural fairs, as they have grown, have replaced volunteer management with a paid staff and have struggled to maintain the character of their fair. But the Durham Fair has successfully managed to remain 100 percent volunteer-run and a true agricultural fair. It certainly stands as a monument to the cooperative spirit displayed by all who are involved in this annual fall event.
The Durham Fair takes great pride in distributing profits from the fair back to the community through scholarships and support of numerous projects and events.
This writeup and photo were borrowed from durhamfair.com.