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Washington County Ag Expo hopes carnival rides will lure bigger crowds 6/18

June 30, 2008|By JOSH SHAW

HAGERSTOWN -- In a break with tradition, the organization that runs Washington County's Ag Expo plans to have carnival rides at this year's event as a way to draw more fairgoers.

"The board has decided that times have changed," said Bill Shelton, treasurer of the Washington County Agricultural Organization. "It started out as a 4-H fair and for the farmers, but we want to add more activities to support the fair and to attract some of the people who wouldn't normally come to the fair."

The organization had been trying to add carnival rides for nearly six years but had trouble finding a company to provide the rides during the week of the fair, said WCAO Vice President Tom Shaw.

A company was found that had rides available during fair week, which this year will be July 18-24.

Shaw and WCAO President Hal Spielman are to meet with the carnival company Monday to determine what rides will fit into the available space, Shelton said.

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Most of the rides will be for children, Shaw said.

Shelton said he does not think the carnival rides will take away from the agricultural atmosphere the fair has historically offered.

"For the most part, every one of the board are farmers, so it's OK," he said.

The fair had around 10,000 visitors last year, Shaw said.

That's a far cry from the crowds the fair drew in the late 1800s, when it was known as the Great Hagerstown Fair and was perhaps the most important fall show in the country. The poultry exhibition at the Hagerstown Fair was at one time the largest in the United States, with more than 5,000 birds on display.

That fair, eventually to be called the Washington County Fair, was held at North Mulberry Street and Cannon Avenue, from 1880 until the late 1960s, on what is now Fairgrounds Park.

"It was huge for back then; everyone I knew went every year," Shaw said. "It was a part of growing up."

By the 1970s, the fair's popularity started to wane.

Eventually, the carnival and agricultural aspects of the event split, with the agricultural portion surviving to become Ag Expo.

About 15 years ago, it moved to its current location at the Washington County Agricultural Educational Center on Sharpsburg Pike.

For years, the fair has focused on farmers and farming activities. Many of the exhibitors are youths who belong to 4-H clubs and FFA. Exhibits range from fruits and vegetables to goats and livestock.

The fair will continue to offer guests traditional events, such as the Ag Expo Queen Contest, bull riding competitions, numerous tractor and truck pulls for people of all ages and much more.

A demolition derby, presented by Mangled Metal, will return on July 24, the same day the 4-H/FFA market animal sale will take place.

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