Fair Play From the August 10, 1973 edition of the Gazette by Joseph Chase Allen:

It won’t be long now before the Agricultural Society Fair is with us. Years ago, the Island fair came later. Harvest time, which was the accepted season for such fairs, was when the frost was on the pumpkin, and that was the way the old Islanders planned it. It was not only possible to produce a more complete array of winter vegetables then, but attendance at the fair and the many duties related to management, did not interfere with that variety of summer business which was important to many of the husbandmen of the Island.

Such men sold dairy products, fresh vegetables and dressed lamb and poultry to the summer folks who lived in the Camp Ground, at West Chop, and in Edgartown. Nowadays, with fewer people involved in farming, and summer people loving fairs, August is the ideal month for this festivity. But here’s a picture of how it was when it was a fall fair, years ago.

In those days, covered wagons, their canvas tops glistening with paint, went down South Road from Chilmark on regular schedules from the farms of Frank Baxter, David Bates West, and Joseph Bassett. Neither of these men drove “down-Island” every day, because each was his own butcher, collecting his lambs from surrounding farms, dressing the animals and cutting up the carcasses. This operation consumed the greater part of a day. The following morning would see the loaded “peddle cart” pulling out before the dawn, usually returning shortly after noon.

Both Baxter and Bassett, when I knew them, were past middle age and both were badly crippled by rheumatism, but they could kill and dress a lamb in seven minutes, which indicates that they made few unnecessary motions.

Ben Luce’s farm lay just over the fence from the Marine Hospital in Vineyard Haven, and Ben kept the hospital supplied with milk, cream and vegetables, besides driving into Vineyard Haven’s Main street, to deliver farm produce to the stores. There were five grocery markets in Vineyard Haven at that time and it was worthwhile for Ben to drive over to town, even though that Lagoon Pond Road of today lay under a foot of water or better, if the tide was in.

Charles Theodore Luce, better known as Charlie Theodore, owned the farm at the head of Lagoon Pond, known today as the Pond View Development. Charlie Theodore was a smart business man, who kept a dairy herd and raised crops for his own use and for the market. He kept hired hands, often young Portuguese youths, newly landed in this country, whom he and his wife taught English, as well as farming and merchandising. Some of his farm boys eventually struck out for themselves, and became as successful and as well known as their former employer.

Not all such men, who peddled in summer, exhibited at the fair, but many did. Edgar West of West Tisbury, and Almon Tilton of the Middle Road, Chilmark, both marketed and both were consistent exhibitors of farm products, vegetables, fruit and grains.

It was noticeable then, which is not true today, that little or nothing in the way of exhibits came from the down-Island towns, and when questioned, there were men who would scowl and mutter things about “the click” (clique) which had everything sewed up. This was slanderous in the extreme. The society’s directors or trustees paid attention to everything and would even arrange for a special premium, if, for example, old Mrs. Abiah Diamond of Gay Head brought in a basket of cranberries, gathered on the wild bogs, or Bill Tilton of Chilmark, exhibited a “kintle” of his own cured codfish, caught, salted and dried by his own hands on Noman’s Land.

Oddities were always welcomed, and if no prize or premium on the list applied, then the trustees would agree on a gratuity, and there were always many of these to be given to the children who brought pet lambs, calves and pigs, or baskets of vegetable samples from their gardens.

Jokesters sometimes had their turn at the fair, too. As an example, it was well known that the Ridge Hill swamps in Chilmark produced many blueberries. It was also known that certain landowners of the area did not welcome berrypickers, but neither the landowners nor the berrypickers cared to enter any serious altercation involving this wasteland.

Then, one year, came fair time. Among the oddities exhibited was a rattlesnake skin — long and broad — and with a rattle on the tail with 10 rattles, which made everyone gasp. There was a tag attached and when it was read, it was discovered to say that the snake had been killed in the Ridge swamps. There were various berrypickers who resolved right there to avoid Ridge Hill from that time on and for years after. Discussions regarding snakes were certain for some time thereafter, to provide a statement that rattlesnakes had been found on the Vineyard, because one was once killed in the Ridge Hill swamps! Perhaps it was that, but no second rattlesnake was ever reported.

Compiled by Hilary Wall