A True Country Fair in Massachusetts

Horse Pull at the Middlefield Fair

A True Country Fair in Massachusetts

When my friend Sarah Foley asked me to judge the photo contest at the Middlefield Fair, I immediately said yes. Not only did I want to see the types of photographs that would be entered, I really wanted to see the fair itself.

If you have never heard of Middlefield, Massachusetts, it is one of the hill towns of the western part of the state, with a population around 550. Driving to the town is a steady climb uphill from Huntington, MA, on the Skyline Trail, a picturesque drive past blueberry farms and open mountain meadows.

In 1855, cattle had become the main livestock among the farmers of Middlefield. That summer they held their first agricultural exhibition, and in 1856 they formed the Highland Agricultural Society which continues to produce the fair to this day. In 1858, local resident Mathew Smith donated a portion of his pastureland near the town center as the permanent home. This dedication has carried on for 150-years.

As I judged the photography contest, the history of the fair was evident in the exhibit hall which was built in 1859. Standing at the highest point of the fairgrounds, it is an impressive structure with unbelievable character, right down to peeling paint and the unmistakable feeling of past fairs. When you go in its doors, it could be 1860, 1930, or 2017.

Another of the buildings has a big "Olde Things" sign on it. The town historical society gathered together a collection of memorabilia from the 150 years of civic pride. It includes everything from farm implements, to original posters and photographs, to old typewriters and furniture used during the years. It is a tribute to the longevity of not only the fair, but the people from this small town who worked so hard to keep the tradition going.

Sarah Foley has been involved with the fair her entire life, and she and her husband serve on the Board of Directors for the fair. She convinced me to come back on Saturday to see the "Horse Pull," a traditional event that has remained the same since the early days of the fair.

The Draft horses are no longer used in daily farm operations, but that has not stopped them from being bred and trained for these competitions. Sarah told me that the competitions are fierce.

"We had to have the sheriff come one year," she said. "The competition gets fierce and goes far beyond the horses."

It was something I had never seen and was totally different from what I expected. The horses are majestic, and work together as a team with three to four handlers. Large blocks of concrete are placed on a sled at the top of a dirt track and it is the job of the handlers to get the team in position, get them hitched to the sled and pulling the sled in one smooth motion. As soon as the sled stops, that is the distance measured. To advance, the sled needs to travel a distance of 12-feet without stopping.  Watching these massive horses straining to pull 12,000 pounds was much more exciting than I can describe. Their sheer power is remarkable.

On Sunday, teams of oxen are on the stage pulling the same blocks in their own competition. I want to go back.

 

As for the photography contest, my favorite that I awarded Best In Show for Black & White was a haunting image of a country church and cemetery with crazy intertwined tree branches filling 7/8 of the image by Jason Kittler.

And I have to give a shout out to 12-year-old Carson Savery whose model of the Lebanon Valley race track was spectacular. The New York state dragway recently featured a night of fire with jet cars spewing fire as they tore down the 1/4 mile track. Carson's model captured the spectacle with detail and ingenuity.

It brought back childhood memories for me of my own model building and was so refreshing to see in our iPad dominated world. It was Carson's third year building and entering the models, and his talent was evident and refreshing. All because he listened to his dad talking about making models when he was a kid.

Tradition is a wonderful thing. Long live the Middlefield Fair.

For more information, including directions, visit the fairs' website

Horse Pull at the Middlefield Fair
Horse Pull at the Middlefield Fair