The Cumberland County Fair, in one shape or another,
has been a popular festivity for nearly 300 years. 2011 marks the fair's 43rd year at it's Millville location
Over the decades, it's seen many changes, but always, it was considered the highlight of a county where life revolved around farming.
There've been lapses along the way, but for the most part, the fair has been in nearly continuous operation (although in different locations) since the late 1600s - even before Cumberland was named a county in 1748.
The fair was actually legitimized by an act of the Colonial Assembly, with
spring and fall gatherings planned in Greenwich. The legislation stated that "it
shall be lawful for all persons to buy or sell all manner of lawful goods and to
be free from arrests on said days," as well as two days before and two days
It reportedly was a festive, popular gathering twice a year, where residents
would travel for miles on foot or by horseback to exchange news with their
neighbors while gathering needed farm supplies. The fair flourished for the next
70 years, until a law passed in 1765 deemed the event "unnecessary."
It was not resurrected until almost 60 years later when the Cumberland County
Agriculture Society was formed in 1823 with Dr. William B. Ewing named president
and representatives from Stow Creek, Hopewell, Deerfield, Downe and Fairfield.
The committee decided to hold the fair that year in November - and it snowed.
No matter. A large gathering was said to have attended, with prizes awarded for
the greatest amount of vegetables grown in one acre and the best bull, cow and
boar. There also was a $5 prize for "the female who shall present before the
society the best gown pattern prepared for the loom by herself." There was also
a prize for the best linen diaper.
It wasn't long, however, before interest in the fair again lagged. According
to Cushing and Sheppard's "History of Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland
Counties," published in 1883, the fair didn't totally disappear. They wrote the
fair's "influence was not lost, and it did much toward fostering that spirit of
enterprise from which the later agricultural prosperity has risen."
Still, 24 years would pass before another fair organization was formed. This
one, the Cumberland County Agricultural and Horticultural Society unveiled its
first exhibition in September 1854, on a lot now bordered by Commerce, Giles,
Lawrence and the south side of Oak streets in Bridgeton. In 1860, the fair moved
to a 13-acre lot on Vine Street.
The fair changed over the years, but one thing remained constant: farming and
homemaking were at the core. At the 1854 fair, a diploma was offered for best
female servant and best farmhand. By the late 1880s, horse racing had become
popular at the fair, and the fair was moved to newly built Riverside Driving
Park, west of South Avenue. Here there was not only horse racing but wild west
shows, complete with costumed cowboys and Indians.
With its popularity growing, the fair left Vine Street for a site on Fayette
Street in the early 1890s. The new fair would face a bumpy financial ride. It's
said one year the winners were asked to donate their prizes back to the
organization. Still, the fair persevered. It moved to the current site, the
county fairgrounds on Carmel Road in Millville in 1968 and is a popular draw
The fair has become a July tradition for Cumberland County residents.