TOPSFIELD — It was the winter of 1818 when a group of “practical farmers” on the North Shore met to create the Essex Agricultural Society to promote their interests. Here it is 201 years later, and the Topsfield Fair, started by the Society, is bigger and better than ever.
America’s oldest agricultural fair begins its 11-day run Friday afternoon, featuring a wealth of activities that offer something for everyone. More than 450,000 visited the fairgrounds last year. And agriculture remains an integral part of the Topsfield experience. James O’Brien, general manager, and his staff work hard to keep the fair the same, but add new things as well.
Once again, the opening night highlight will be the New England Giant Pumpkin Contest. Last year, Ron Wallace’s 2,114-pound gourd took home first prize. The weigh-off begins Friday afternoon and the winner should be known by 9 p.m. More than $15,000 in prize money is up for grabs.
The fair has always presented a winning lineup of musical acts. This year’s biggie is Creedence Clearwater Revisited, led by the original rhythm section, bassist Stu Cook and drummer Doug “Cosmo” Clifford. Founding member John Fogerty will not be there, but such hits as “Proud Mary,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and “Bad Moon Rising” will likely be performed Oct. 12 in the Arena. CCR is on its final tour, and a separate ticket ($25, $30) will be required for this show.
Entry to many concerts is included with fair admission, including Tommy James & the Shondells (Oct. 9), 38 Special (Oct. 10) and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (Oct. 11).
Monday, Oct. 7, is Senior Citizen Day ($10 admission, age 60 and older) and Tuesday, Oct. 8, is Military Day (free admission for members of the U.S. military and their immediate families).
Mrs. Essex County will be crowned Oct. 13, and the Junior King & Queen (ages 5-8) competition is Oct. 5.
Shows include Monster Trucks, Johnny Rockett’s Cycle Circus, and Swifty Swine Racing and Swimming Pigs.
There are hundreds of contests for both amateur and professional entrants in categories including art, beekeeping, canning, crafts, flowers, foods, fruits, poultry, cattle, rabbits, decorative pumpkins, horse and oxen pulls, winemaking, and more.
Parking is at Fair-View Farm on Route 1; a shuttle will transport attendees to and from the fair.
For more information and the daily schedule, go to www.topsfieldfair.org.