Amesbury’s Own Agricultural Fair
Few of us who love visiting autumn agricultural fairs in the region know that Amesbury once had its own version of the Topsfield Fair. Mike Harrold, an industrial survey volunteer at the Amesbury Carriage Museum, discovered that 100 years ago Amesbury had active fairgrounds, as did many other towns in the area.
Two local newspapers, The Amesbury Daily News and The Leader, reported on displays of livestock, poultry, fruits, vegetables, flowers, art and “domestic manufacture” during the September fairs at the Market Street grounds. Crowds paid to see plowing and horse-pulling contests, football games, band concerts and parades during fair days. The 1897 fair also featured a balloon ascension.
The 1900 vegetable exhibits included one by J. A. Wilson. According to the Amesbury Daily News, Wilson’s display “ consisted of collections, there being of tomatoes 15 varieties, potatoes 11 varieties, and also large numbers of cabbage, melons, onions, corn, pumpkins, beans, etc. In the centre of all is a mammoth squash.”
Everything at the fair seemed to be on a grand scale. A 1908 news report counted 184 animals in the cattle shed, including oxen, cows, bulls and calves. “Besides these are many horses, sheep, pigs, etc.”
In those days, Amesbury and Massachusetts took great pride in agriculture, even as more and more towns in the region were moving toward industrialization. Speaking at the fair in September of 1907, Massachusetts Governor Curtis Guild said:
Let us, then, never hang down our heads or take a back seat when any one attacks Massachusetts as a shop-ridden and factory-filled state. We have a place in agriculture, a place to which other states come to learn the different methods of agriculture. We must have a place when, at the national expositions, not for quantity, but for quality.
Mike Harrold notes that 1894 and 1918 maps show the fairgrounds on land between Market Street and South Hampton Road. The exhibition building was close to Market Street, near the intersection of Hill and Market streets. The parcel had an exhibition building, grandstands and a cattle shed.
The fairgrounds were operated by the Amesbury and Salisbury Agricultural Society, which was formed in 1856. (Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was its first corresponding secretary.) The first fair was probably held in 1864 and new exhibition building was constructed in 1892.
The buildings disappeared from maps during the 1920s. Today, the space is occupied by private homes, “without leaving a trace,” as Mike describes it.
To learn more about this site and other historical locations in Amesbury, visit Researching Place on the Amesbury Carriage Museum website.
Access to newspaper reports provided by the online archives of the Amesbury Public Library.