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The Danbury Fair
September 16, 2015
The fair began in 1869 as an agriculturist fair to celebrate the city’s connection to the agriculture that included part of Fairfield County, lower Litchfield County and even adjacent parts of Dutchess and Putnam counties in New York State. But by the late 1800s the fair was run by the Danbury Agricultural Society and boasted a grandstand and race tract for trotting horses, livestock buildings, stables, three big tents and a main building.
In 1897fire destroyed many of the fair’s original buildings. The Agricultural Society took advantage of the occasion to make many improvements to the site. The Fair provided fundraising opportunity for many local churches, which fed the crowds from individual stands near the racetrack. Today just the smell of fried onions and peppers can bring back memories of a day at the Fair. The Fair provided employment for many area residents and in the 1880s all hat manufacturers in Danbury knew it was a given that a hatter could not be kept at work while the Danbury Fair was going on. For many years the Danbury School Board included “Danbury Day” in the school calendar which allowed the students to attend the Fair for free on Friday of Fair Week.
The Fair also introduced the area to new technology. Parades of automobiles in the early 1900s astounded those in attendance when only a few owned this new horseless carriage. Soon after the Wright Brothers’ pioneering flight in 1903 area barnstorming aviators began appearing at the fair.
The 1941 Danbury Fair, the last to be held for the duration of the war, had an exhibit of a model air-raid shelter complete with the sound of exploding bombs in the background. The fair re-opened shortly after VJ Day in August 1945.
It was expanded and transformed by John Leahy who acquired it just before the end of World War 11. John, General Manager and his assistant C. Irving Jarvis made changes and additions to the Fair in many ways and for many years. Just to name a few: Gold Town, The Dutch Village and New England Village which was centered around a pond dug out of the many wetlands on the fairgrounds.
One of Mr.Leahy’s favorite pastimes was to purchase statues from closing fairs, amusement parks and even department store displays and these were put everywhere throughout the grounds, numbering over 400 of them by the time the fair ended.
Now we fast forward to the early 1970s. C.Irving Jarvis died in 1969 and Mr.Leahy suffered a stroke a few years later, the fairgrounds worth had quadrupled in eleven years which made it impossible for the Fair to support the property and problems with Mr. Leahy’s estate plans all contributed to the end of the Danbury Fair. The Fair’s last 10-day run in 1981 recorded an attendance of over 440,000 visitors.