Summers in Central Pennsylvania are not complete without mentioning the Centre County Grange Fair, one of the biggest events in Central Pennsylvania and one of the most unique fairs in America. This is due to the fact that the Centre County Grange Fair is one of the last agricultural encampment grange fairs in the United States. In this post, I’ll be discussing the history of the Centre County Grange Fair and what to expect from visiting the Centre County Grange Fair.
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- Why visit the Centre County Grange Fair
- History of the Centre County Grange Fair
- The Center County Grange Fair today
- Events at the Centre County Grange Fair
- Food of the Centre County Grange Fair
- Getting to the Grange Fair from State College
- Logistics and costs of the Centre County Grange Fair
Why visit the Centre County Grange Fair
Although America is a young country compared to many European countries, there are still some incredible traditions in the United States. While living in Pennsylvania, I was invited to the Centre County Grange Fair by a friend from the area. This annual fair started in 1874 and it’s one of the few remaining agricultural encampment fairs left in the United States.
For a taste of Americana, the Centre County Grange Fair is a great way to experience the rural side of America that many city dwellers as well as foreigners miss out on when visiting the United States for the first time. As someone who grew up in New York City, I embarrassingly considered our annual trip to pick apples in the apple orchards about 1-2 hours from NYC rural. After moving to Pennsylvania, it was nice to experience a bit more of the area beyond State College, which is not typical of the rest of the county. To me, the Grange Fair was one of my favorite experiences in Pennsylvania. For me, it was a wonderland of the other America that I never really experienced, but always heard about.
If you’re from the area, it’s a great way to catch up with friends and family–and to enjoy the instant city that emerges from its tents. The Grange Fair is a great way to connect with others in the community. (Sorry, you’re unlikely to get a tent in the famous tent area as people bequeath them in their wills although there’s an Overflow RV Camping Area that doesn’t require a reservation.)
The History of the Centre County Grange Fair
The Grange Fair emerged after a farmer with the Department of Agriculture decided that farmers would benefit from a fraternal organization to promote their social, political, and business interests nationally. This is how the National Grange organization emerged. This organization helped a lot of rural areas with development, including the free delivery to mail to rural areas. One of the members started the Centre County chapter and organized a “feast … enjoyed by all” in Centre Hall, Pennsylvania. At this time, around 3,000 farmers and their families attended using horse and wagons.
The Grange Fair continued this annual picnic, which expanded over the years. The tradition of bringing tents began in earnest with farmers bringing a tent with them to enjoy the full festival prior to heading home. In 1887, the main organizer used old Civil War tents to help more families attend the festival, which included talks about the newest agricultural advancements.. These campsites (14 feet by 14 feet) are meant to be affordable to encourage attendance although most of these campsites are passed down through families. Many families count how many years that they’ve been in the same spot.
The Grange Fair now lasts a week although many of the similar agricultural encampment fairs have disappeared over the years as it’s become easier to put on one day events. In Central Pennsylvania, the Grange Fair is sacred and I believe that it will be around for a long time.
The Centre County Grange Fair Today
One of my friends grew up in Centre County and when I mentioned that I hadn’t yet visited the Grange Fair, she told me that it needed to be corrected as soon as possible. The Centre County Grange Fair is a slice of pure Americana. I absolutely loved the homey feeling, the many free events, fun fair games, and the delicious sweets that I ate.
The kind of small town atmosphere that you’ll experience at the Grange Fair is straight of the collective American consciousness. Although I’ve been to fairs as an adult, it was one of the first times since I was a kid that I had this warm and fuzzy feeling that made me feel like a kid again. The difference is that this time, I could truly appreciate the local traditions that often go over your head.
Although it’s possible to visit the Grange Fair for one day, I’d definitely recommend going for at least two days if you’re in the area as the grounds are sprawling and different events occur on different days.
Although Grange Fair was originally free, entrance to the Grange Fair costs money today. If you buy your ticket to the Grange Fair ahead, you save a little money. Prices might change, so I encourage you to check the website, but the 2018 cost of admission was $20 for the weekly ticket and $7 for the single day entrance. That said, you will also probably need to pay for parking, which is $6 for the day. Bring some other cash for games and food! I brought about $20 for assorted games and food.
The yearly dates change early, but for 2018, the fair will run August 17 – 25, 2018. It’s usually around this period although it will be during the following dates in the future:
- August 16-24, 2019
- August 21-29, 2020
- August 20-28, 2021
- August 19-27, 2022
- August 18-26, 2023
Events at the Centre County Grange Fair
There’s numerous events at the Centre County Grange Fair. I have to say that my favorites were the tractor pulls, carnival rides, horseshoe pitching, RV decorating competitions, handiwork contests, garden produce contests, and livestock shows. You’ll also find drag racing, horse shows, music, a queen contest, and a library for the week. Simply, this fair is far from a typical carnival. (I’ll admit to being taken with the Ring-A-Knife throwing contest.)
Food of the Centre County Grange Fair
Where to begin with the food? After a day of not eating, I headed to the Grand Fair to feast on the delicious food. I must say that corn dogs, deep fried oreos, empanadas, perogies, sut fries, apple dumplings, and candied apples were a highlight for me. Simply, look where there’s a line and you’re likely to find something good. I enjoyed what the the sut fries vendor told me: “These will really tear your guts up. Enjoy.”
Getting to the Grange Fair from State College
It’s easiest to get to the Grange Fair by car. Centre Hall is only twenty minutes and twenty miles from State College. It’s difficult without a car and I’d say that you’d need to take a taxi or bike. (State College is only 2.5 hours from Philadelphia.)
Have you been to the Centre County Grange Fair? What’s your favorite part?
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