Everybody knows about the Fryeburg Fair, right?
About all the animals, the rides, the food, the crowds. It’s Maine’s biggest agricultural fair, attracting about 300,000 people each year. There’s a huge midway, more than 3,000 farm animals, six commercial expos, hundreds of food booths and 120 different entertainers.
So it’s big. REALLY big. We all know that.
But because the fair is so big and so popular, folks might not know all there is to know. There are lots of cool, interesting or less visible elements of the fair that might get lost in the crowd.
For instance, as evidenced by the traffic jams that often snarl Fryeburg’s downtown and Main Street, many people don’t seem to know that the quickest way to the fair during busy times is to head north of town, then come to the fairgrounds by heading SOUTH on Route 5.
There, the secret is out.
Following are some more “secrets” about the Fryeburg Fair. They’re not exactly top-secret, but knowing about them might make you feel top-notch about your time there — and perhaps avoid some aggravation as well.
One really neat feature of the fair, tucked away into a corner of the fairgrounds behind the petting zoo barn, is an 1835 schoolhouse.
Originally located near Toll Bridge by the Saco River, the schoolhouse was in use until 1938. It was given to the fair by Marion Hobbs, and has been on the fairgrounds since 1990. Children can draw on their own slate, sit at old desks and warm up by the potbellied stove.
On one wall, you can check out a list titled “Teacher’s Rules — 1872.” According to the list, teachers in that year were required to clean chimneys, bring a scuttle of coal with them daily and whittle wood into ink pens. The last rule states that any teacher who “performs his labor faithfully and without fault” for five years will get a raise: 25 cents per week.
AXES WILL FLY
If you’ve never seen folks competing in woodsmen’s events, try to head to the fair on Monday, when Woodsmen’s Day events will be held from roughly 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Basically, it’s a day of competitive events based on stuff that people who work in the Maine woods have been doing for generations. Men and women will be competing in various kinds of sawing and chopping as well as log rolling, ax throwing and something called “springboard.”
In that last one, lumberjacks and lumberjills will climb their way up a telephone pole by chopping notches into it, sticking a board into the notch, then climbing onto that board to chop the next notch. And so on. Safe to say, it’s probably unlike anything most suburbanites have ever seen.
HOLE LOTTA DOUGHNUT
There is so much food at the fair, it’s hard to figure out how to narrow your choices. But fair regulars, including folks who show 4-H animals, will tell you to look for a stand called Tom’s Jumbo Donut at the front of the fairgrounds near the expo building.
The stand produces fresh, from-the-oil donuts that are a rare taste treat. Not to mention a meal.
“They are the size of small dinner plates,” says Dave Smith of Gorham, who has been showing animals at the fair for some 15 years. “They only have two or three kinds, but they are good.”
If you only go to the fair during the daylight hours, you probably don’t know about the nightly concerts at 8 p.m. featuring big-name country or roots music acts. This year, some of the more well-known artists include The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band on Tuesday, Asleep at the Wheel on Wednesday, Jo Dee Messina on Oct. 4, and up-and-comer Lexi James on Oct. 6.
So here’s the secret part: The shows don’t cost extra, and there’s no reserved seating.
You just pay your $10 to get into the fair and amble over to the harness racing track at some point before 8 p.m. Then you just pick a seat in the wooden grandstand or set up a lawn chair on the infield and wait for the show to begin.
“It’s first-come, first-served,” said Rachel Andrews Damon, the fair’s publicity chair. “People can set up chairs, sit in the grandstand, whatever they want.”
GO NORTH, YOUNG MAN
Fair organizers will tell you that the best way to avoid traffic snarls on busy fair days — like on Oct. 6, when the annual parade is scheduled — is to use the northern route. The easiest way to do this from Portland is to take Route 302 West, which is a popular route to Fryeburg.
But instead of taking it all the way to Fryeburg, just take it through downtown Bridgton, then look for state Route 93. Take a right there and follow Route 93 to Route 5 in Lovell. Then take a left and follow Route 5 South into Fryeburg and the various fair parking lots.
It adds some miles to your trip, but it might save you the headache of inching your way through an hour or more of traffic jams.
GOODIES TO GO
This one’s definitely a secret, because it hasn’t happened yet. For the first time, the fair will have a building devoted to selling local specialty foods. So instead of just eyeing some spectacular homemade blueberry jam in an exposition hall, you can buy some blueberry jam and bring it home.
The 6,800-square-foot building was built specifically to be the “Specialty Food Pavilion,” and will be open for the first time this year. It’s located next to the Natural Resource Center, which is between the animal barns and the Old McDonald’s petting zoo.
The building will have local folks selling all manner of locally made foods, from jams and jellies to sauces, gourmet popcorn, olive oil and chocolates.
You can get olive oil at the Fryeburg Fair?
Now that’s a secret worth sharing.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: