Thursday, October 4, 2012

Topsfield Fair

I've written this month about the Topsfield Fair. My family often attended the fair, and I have many good memories of experiences there. The 2012 Topsfield Fair runs 'til October 8 -- if you are nearby, go!

My cousin Janet Nichols Derouin called Monday to talk about the fair. She was responding to a draft of the column that I had emailed her.  We laughed together recalling the antics of her dog, Tuffy, who had almost won the Mutt Race one year. I think Tuffy deserves to be the subject of a future column. Tuffy and the Derouins lived in Granddaddy's house next door to us for some years in the 1950's before they bought a home on Durkee Circle.

Janet surprised me with a bit of family history. Did I know that one of our ancestors helped to start that fair?  Dr. Andrew Nichols, father of the Andrew Nichols who built Pine Knoll in 1861, was one of about six men who worked together on a committee at the beginning of the Topsfield Fair!  I hadn't heard that story before. (There are seven generations of Andrew Nichols -- a long tradition of naming the first son Andrew-- so sorting out which Andrew did what can be quite a challenge as we look back on history.)

Today I looked at the history page on the Fair's website.  It begins, "The colorful and often exciting history of Topsfield Fair began in 1818 when the Essex Agricultural Society, the non-profit organization that owns the Topsfield Fair, was officially granted a charter on June 12th of that year. The goal of the fledgling Society, formed by a group of "practical farmers" who first met on February 16, 1818, was "to promote and improve the agricultural interests of farmers and others in Essex County."

Reading further, I learned that the Topsfield Fair didn't settle into its present location until 1910. "What began as the Essex Agricultural Society Cattle Show with its annual exhibits/fairs held in various sites around Essex County to showcase agriculture, Topsfield Fair has been held annually at its existing location since 1910. It is fitting that the fair eventually settled in Topsfield, for it was at the town's former Cyrus Cummings Tavern that twenty or more men first gathered that February in 1818 to form what soon became the Essex Agricultural Society."

Was my ancestor was at that Tavern in 1818?  Not according to the list of names in "An Act to incorporate the Essex Agricultural Society" found via the state archives website today. [I see two other Nichols listed, Ichabod and Benjamin, but I've never heard of those names in our family tree.]  I don't have much time today to investigate further. A quick search via Google confirms that Andrew Nichols (1785-1853) did give advice in the area in that time period.  His 1819 remarks about temperance were published in a 28-page pamphlet now owned by several libraries:


  • Address delivered in the South Meeting House in Danvers [microform] : efore the Society, in that town, for Suppressing Intemperance and Other Vices, and for Promoting Temperance and General Morality, April 27, 1819 / by Andrew Nichols.

As a child I did hear elders say that I came from a long line of teetotalers. I can imagine that Dr. Nichols, a medical doctor, may have lobbied to keep alcohol out of the agricultural shows.  Or, he may have participated in other aspects of the Essex Agricultural Society...   That thought led me to a second Google search for the history of the Society.  Its Transactions are online and searchable!  The name Andrew Nichols appears repeatedly: on a committee examining tree plantations..., winner of a premium of $10..., elected Treasurer in October 1829,  on committee related to examining animals competing for premiums in 1830. There is mention of "...cattle owned by Dr. Nichols of Danvers..." Clearly he was involved on many levels.

Perhaps some reader of this blog will be able to tell more about the history of the Topsfield Fair or about roles Andrew Nichols played. [Comments can be added to my blog entries at any time;  I'll receive notification by email. Comments are public for all to see. If you prefer to contact me privately, send email via the contact form on this blog. Thanks!]

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