I took some time off from walking in the City to walking around Upstate. I read that the Dutchess County Fair was the last week of August and I had not visited it since my first summer when I was attending the Culinary Institute of America in 1996. I wanted to see if it changed much in twenty years and it hasn’t.
From parking in the lot at the Dutchess County to the buildings that housed the animals and displays it looked to me that nothing changed in over twenty years with the exception of people taking pictures with their phones. Even then, I did not see that many phones out. The Fair was in its 173rd year and people were just having a good time with their families.
From walking to the admission booths (it was $10.00 to get into the fairgrounds) to walking the paths not much had changed. When visiting the fairgrounds means almost a step back into time when things seemed so much slower. Being just outside Rhinebeck with its galleries and high-end restaurants it seemed a world away.
My day started late as I had so many errands to run and work in the morning that I got off to a late start. I got to the Dutchess County Fair Grounds at 3:00pm and spent the rest of my afternoon exploring the Fair. It is so interesting to see how much has changed in the world but how little it really changes. A cow is a cow at the end of the day. How to take care of it and milk it have changed over the time and the philosophy of animals and their care have advanced but the cow is still in the pen, fed hay and goes Moo!
Walking the Fair is interesting in that it is broken down into many different areas to explore but when you first walk in what is there but all the food carts and booths. I have never seen so much deep-fried food in my life and I have been through the Feast of San Genaro dozens of times. There were food trucks selling fried dough, funnel cakes, Twinkies, brownies and zeppoli’s. It is hardly for the Vegan customer.
My first stop in the Fair was the Amusement section where all the kiddie rides, Ferris wheels, games of chance and thrill rides were located. In the early part of the day, the area was mildly busy but by the time I left and the lights came on the true ‘Wonderland’ came to life. The lights, the noise and all the screaming coming from the thrill rides brought the area to life. During the day though, it was little kids on the carousels, mini-rides and small track rides. To be a kid again at this Fair.
Dutchess County Fair Midway
Leaving the Amusement area, I ventured next to the historical area of the Fair where the Cider Mill, Sugar Home, the One Room Schoolhouse and the Historic Train Station were located. These recreations of old Dutch farming villages showed a way of life from the turn of the last century and beyond. It is amazing to see how we have progressed in education since then but I think the times were different.
When I walked all these buildings that were created before electricity, computers and even modern light, I think there were less distractions and you had no choice but to work. Those were the days of back-breaking work loads and things were done totally by hand. Still it is interesting to see how these things were made.
The school room I have seen in many historic museums and have not much changed from their modern version except the furniture has gotten nicer and there is more light. The philosophy of learning the ‘ABC’s’ is still there and the black boards are still part of the routine. I still think it is the best way to learn.
The pathway lead me to the Animal Barns and this is where the Fair had not changed. The families stood guard at their at the different pens washing and taking care of the pets. I never saw such pampering to pigs, cows, chickens and goats. They were so well-groomed and well taken care of and their pens were so clean and if they weren’t the kids were right there to take care of it.
I saw the cow grooming show when I was visiting the Cow Barn and I have never seen such clean cows before. They were washed, brushed and combed by their owners and it reminded me of similar judging at the Dog Shows that I see on TV. When they walked their cows along the path in the ring, there was such pride in the owners faces especially to the winners. I have to say that the ribbons were very impressive.
The Llama Barn was interesting in that I usually find Llama to be friendlier but these animals really kept to themselves and stood in the corners of their pens. They seemed to want to socialize with one another and avoid the humans.
The Goat Barn was the exact opposite. I could not have met a friendlier animal with good social graces. They looked like they were so happy to see me. They all came running up to me as I stood by their pens. They are really are an observant animal. They just stare you down when you are looking at them and then they walk away.
The surprising part of the Pig Barn was that it wasn’t a pig pen. It was one of the cleanest parts of the Fair. Each of the stalls were really clean with only the smell of the pigs which probably surprised people coming up from the City. The only thing was some of these over-sized pigs didn’t fit into the pens and there was not much moving room for them. They really do oink a lot.
My favorite part of the animal barns was the Commerford’s Petting Zoo that they had between the amusement areas and the barns. I never got into petting zoos even when I was a kid but got some feed from what looked like bubble gum machines and then the goats and sheep were putty in my hands. They were so friendly and let me pet their warm fur. I have never seen so many happy faces chasing after me. The sheep had such a nice feel to them with their soft furry backs and the goats which I thought might be aggressive could not have been friendlier.
When you pet them they seem so grateful that you are scratching their backs. I ended up spending more time here than I planned feeding the animals and petting them. They seemed so happy that they got extra attention.
The Horticultural Building reminded me of my many trips to the Philadelphia Flower Show, large self-contained displays of flowers, lawn decorations and furniture each with their own them. There was a lot of creativity to their displays with water sources, planted flowers and shrubs all over the place all colorfully designed. They also used some statuary to accent the plantings. It was a nice size building made even bigger with these creative gardens.
After visiting all the barns and historic recreations, it was off for a late lunch. I headed back to the food trucks to decide between the cheese steaks, meatball sandwiches and fried desserts. I decided on a pulled pork sandwich with pickles and a Coke for lunch that was more than enough. The sweetness of the barbecue sauce with the roasted meat on a soft roll made a wonderful meal. The nice part was sitting under a tree on a picnic table to enjoy my lunch. On a nice day, there is nothing like it.
I avoided all the fried desserts and got a traditional pretzel with mustard from a vendor from Pennsylvania. The was an expensive pretzel at $8.00 but it was well worth it. The thing was huge, freshly rolled and made and was still hot. With a little mustard there is nothing like it. The softness and butteriness of the outside made every bite enjoyable.
After lunch, walked through the rest of the barns looking at rabbits, chickens and taking another peek at the Goat Barn. They are really are a beautiful animal. After leaving the barns area, I walked down to watch the Equestrians perform. There is such a grace to jumping and the ladies did a great job. Some of them are so poised on their horses.
As the afternoon wore on, my last stop was the Gift tents where they were selling handmade arts and crafts. You should see the work of these knitters, quilters and wood carvers. Some of the baby blankets and clothes were so beautifully made and colorful that I wished I had someone to give it to as a gift. The wood carvers were getting ready for the holidays with Santa’s and snowmen. It never ceases to amaze me that we are in a perpetual state of Christmas no matter what time of year it is. The surrealist look of many of these Santa’s were done by the cut of wood that the artist had to work with when carving the piece. These men and women are very creative in their work and they will be back in October for the Craft’s Show.
Before I left for the evening, a saw a long line forming by the 4 H Exhibit Building and I found out they were selling giant homemade milkshakes with the milk and cream from the Dairy Barns. The sold these large Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry shakes for only $5.00! That was one line I did not mind being in. I ordered this Vanilla shake where you really could taste the fresh ice cream which was was loaded with several scoops. There is nothing like a fresh milkshake with real ice cream. It was the perfect way to cap off the evening.
Walking the Fair at twilight you really see it come to life with all the lights, screaming kids by the rides and hungry patrons at the food trucks. It is so funny to see these small kids gobble down cheese steaks and fried dough. They had some appetites! When you work on a farm and take care of the animals as I saw the fairgoers did they must burn off all the calories.
It was a great day and I learned a few things about Animal Husbandry and landscaping. I just wondered why on the way home it took me twenty-two years to come back.
The Dutchess County Fair is the last week of August and is well worth the trip up to Rhinebeck.
Dutchess County Fair