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For farmers, State Fair marks summer's end

August 31, 2004|by JEFF SEMLER

Is it summer or fall? Well it depends on whom you ask. The calendar says summer begins on June 21 and runs until Sept. 21 when fall begins.

Climatologists take another approach by tracking solar radiation and day length. They define June-July-August as summer and September-October-November as fall.

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, was a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country.

Today Labor Day is observed not only in the United States, but also in Canada and in other industrialized nations. While it is a general holiday in the United States, its roots in the working class remain clearer in European countries.

It has come to be recognized in the United States not only as a celebration of the working class, but even more so as the unofficial end of the summer season.

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In the northern half of the U.S. at least, the summer vacation season begins with Memorial Day and ends with Labor Day.

Many colleges and some secondary and elementary schools begin classes immediately after Labor Day.

State parks, swimming pools, and campgrounds are all quite busy on Labor Day as vacationers take one last advantage of the waning hot season. September is the month that marks the beginning of autumn. And the average daytime maximum temperatures take a plunge during the month in most of the United States.

For many in the agricultural community, the end of summer is signified by the Maryland State Fair, which runs from Aug. 27 through Sept. 6 this year.

At one time in Maryland's storied agricultural past, state fair was the last hurrah for many before the fall harvest. Hundreds of head of livestock would be paraded before judges and much produce of the field would also be presented for judging.

Today, many school systems make participating in the state fair difficult by their ever-shifting calendars.

The state fair has been divided for many years into a youth section and an open class or adult section.

The youth section of primarily 4-H and FFA members would make a pilgrimage to the state fair as a right of summer passage. Then they would return home and go to school.

Unless you are a fan of classic movies, few people remember the movie "State Fair". The movie, which was released in 1962, featured Pat Boone and Ann Margaret. It was a musical about a family and their preparations and trials at their state fair. It was a feel-good movie if there ever was one.

While not as idyllic as the movie, the Maryland State Fair still has a lot to offer anyone willing to venture to Timonium.

Where is Timonium, you ask? Off Interstate 83, just two exits north of the Baltimore Beltway.

While it may be hard to understand a fair in the shadows of urban sprawl, Baltimore County was once a thriving farming community.

Below is a short history of the fair from its Web site.

In 1878, after several unsuccessful attempts to establish an ongoing fair at other locations around Baltimore, a group of Maryland businessmen operated a successful fair on a four-acre site in Lutherville, Md.

Despite its success, the Lutherville Fair was short lived because of construction of the North Central Railroad extension.

Their success in Lutherville, however, gave the operators resolve to continue promoting a fair and, in June 1879, they incorporated as the Baltimore County Agricultural Association. The corporation leased a 37-acre plot of land on the York Turnpike on what was then known as "The Timonium Estate."

The first fair at its new home was held that year from Sept. 7-12. The North Central Railroad, cause of the closing of the Lutherville Fair, was now the primary source of transportation for fairgoers from Baltimore to the Timonium Fairgrounds during the rest of the century. Other fairgoers walked or rode horses, wagons, carriages and carts to the fairgrounds, using the turnpike.

Late in the century, the Baltimore County Agricultural Association faced stiff competition from the Pimlico Fair, also referred to as the state fair, which was operated by the Maryland Jockey Club.

Ultimately, the two groups held joint fairs in 1894 and 1897. But by the turn of the century, the Maryland Jockey Club had gained control of the Timonium Fair and both groups incorporated as The Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society. Their annual fair became known as The Maryland State Fair.

In its long and colorful history, the Maryland State Fair has grown from 37 acres to more than 100 acres, from sack races and greased poles to a midway filled with rides and games.

The fair allows for recognition of the hard work of thousands of 4H and FFA members. Facilities have been expanded and modernized allowing for more and better exhibits and competitions.

Because of the commitment to continually improve and expand the fair, they found they could no longer squeeze in more entertainment and attractions in what had become the traditional 10-day run. Thus in 1999, the fair added a day making the fair an 11-day event.

The more than half-million visitors each year attest to what has become a favorite end of summer tradition -The Eleven Best Days of Summer -The Maryland State Fair.

So I hope you can join some of your neighbors and make a trip to Timonium this year.

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