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Chester County Press

Unionville Community Fair honors local farming heritage

10/04/2022 10:00PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The little town of Unionville has evolved in recent years into what some would describe as an upscale, suburban community. Last weekend, however, the 98th annual Community Fair took a step into the past and showcased this town’s proud farming heritage.

Thousands of visitors showed up for the events and displays offered by the fair on Friday and Saturday on the Willowdale Steeplechase grounds along Street Road. On Sunday, just like the 2022 Mushroom Festival in September, the Unionville Community Fair endured rainy downpours, and the organizers had to adjust the plans down substantially.

Friday’s blue skies embraced, among other things, visits by first- and fifth-graders from the district’s four elementary schools. Unlike the tradition of years gone by when the school district closed down for the fair’s two weekdays, in recent times the children came over from the schools on buses and remained under the leadership of their teachers and chaperones.

There was plenty for them to see, too, including a cavernous barn filled with judged crafts, foods, works of art and fabric creations. Outside as well they visited tractors on display and tents housing goats, cows and alpacas that were eager for the children’s patting and attention.

Also awaiting them were story times and glimpses of stations that were readied for the arrival of weekend guests.

In the minds of some longtime residents, they took for granted what the fair has had to offer. But many of the kids were looking at and feeling it for the first time, and they could hardly contain their excitement. They ran around and shouted with glee. They seemed especially pleased when they witnessed their own arts and crafts work on display, which had been judged and given awards the preceding day. They expressed delight as well as they watched the daring BMX bicycle display outside.

Saturday dawned cloudy with occasional rain showers. Former Fair President Bonnie Musser observed that attendance was “a little thin,” with some features running a little slow as a result of the weather. Even fair regular Charlie Brosius, a mainstay of the community and former Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture, stayed home with his restored calliope that has in the past filled the grounds with merry-go-round-like music.

One event that did not seem to diminish in attendance was the Haunted House, the brainchild of current Fair President Ed Schultz. His wife, Debbie, who was handling administrative duties in the nearby barn, said, “You could hear the screaming into the night.”

Ed Schultz founded the Haunted House in 2019, and since then it has grown in scariness and popularity.

Another Saturday event that suffered no loss of attendance and excitement was the cow-milking contest. This event, with three rounds, pits various members of similar groups against each other and measures how much milk they are able to extract from cows in 90 seconds.

The first round was won by Fair Queen Ella Troiano, who far exceeded the amount obtained by the other members of her court.

The second round—the one that elicited the most excitement—matched one student and one teacher from each of Unionville’s four elementary schools. There was much cheering and excitement until the final measurements yielded the Pocopson School team the winners.

As a prize, they got to house the fair milk can at their school for the next year.

The final round saw four adults competing—including dairy farmer Earle Wickersham, who has won at least seven contests in recent years. 

In fact, there was some element of blasé among viewers who doubted Wickersham would ever be beaten. However, Tricia Walker, a new contestant from Pottstown exceeded Wickersham’s total, filling up one-and-a-quarter cups to Wickersham’s one.  

There was some amazement -- so much so that the judges ordered a runoff round.

Still, Walker succeeded and held her victory, and her name is destined to be scrawled on the blue milk can memorializing the annual winners.

Sunday came with downpours that reportedly cancelled everything but the goat show, which was held early morning under a tent. Musser and others were well aware of the weather forecast the day before and had anticipated that the car show would not come to be. Even in the event of mass event cancellations, she maintained that the fair would remain open for folks to come and pick up their prizes and returnable submissions.

“That’s just what fairs face,” she said.

The fair, which traditionally kicks off with the crowning of the queen and her court, was started in 1924 by the boys’ agricultural class as a corn show. It was held in what is now the Unionville Elementary School. Much has changed, including the sites and the events, through the years. The corn competition is still there.