The Bloomsburg Fair: what it's all about
Pennsylvania’s largest agricultural fair kicked off in 1855. The variety is overwhelming, in terms of things to do, see, and taste.
David Millard wrote the book History of The Bloomsburg Fair. He said fundamentally, it’s about agricultural exhibition.
“Any time anybody invented a piece of equipment that was very specific to a specific job regarding agriculture, they wanted to showcase it,” he said. “Today, my goodness, we’ve got tractors that have GPS in them, air conditioning, they drive themselves basically. But way back when you had these singular advancements in technology, so the fair was agriculturally based at the inception, and we are very proud that that still holds true today to that mission of agriculture.”
It started as a one day fair, then it was three days, then four days. Since 1989, it’s been an eight-day event. In 168 years, the fair was canceled twice - due to COVID-19 in 2020, and flooding in 2011. Hurricane Eloise cut the fair short in 1975, Millard said.
“The first fair was on ten acres of what is now 255 that encompasses the fair,” Millard said, illustrating the literal size in which the fair has grown.
Millard is president of the Barton Historic Association and former arts and crafts director at the fair. It’s a membership organization with 1,856 active shareholders.
He says the organization is deeply invested in promoting and educating the public on youth and their achievements in contributing to the food chain.
“50 percent of the fair is commercial,” he said. “That 50% that’s commercial pays the bills for the 50% that is involved in supporting our youth and agriculture.”
Over time, things change and the memories pile up.
“While some of the people were still around from the century before last, I felt the need to interview them,” Millard said, describing why he wrote the book in 1995.
He says he plans to start writing an updated version of the book this winter.
Fair Food & Family
New food vendors pop up every year, but the tried and true classics always have a presence, and many of them are carrying on a family legacy.
“My grandfather sold hot dogs and birch beer, and then my father took over,” said William May from May’s BBQ. “My father had his first stand here when he was 11 years old selling birch beer. He’ll be 95 next week.”
Jessica Zielecki’s family’s business, Benton Cider Mill, has been selling fresh-pressed apple cider at the fair since the 1970s. They haul a ten-ton truck of apples and a cider press to make the popular fall beverage on site.
“It grinds it up into like an apple mash. From the apple mash there’s a hose to the press,” she said, explaining the process. “But there’s no preservatives, sugar, it’s literally apple to jug.”
Deb Campbell, another member of the family, said it’s a lot of extra work to bring the operation here.
“But the people like it, it’s a show.”