The Middlesex County Fair - Cranbury Road Township of East Brunswick

History and Background 85 Years - 1938 - 2019

Agriculture, Education and Community

The Middlesex County Fair was founded by the Milltown Grange in 1938 as a successor to their Flower and Crop Show which had been held at the Grange in 1937. Incorporated as a non-profit organization, the original Trustees had to be members of the East Brunswick Grange. The Grange had been in the process of changing their name having moved to East Brunswick in 1936 to the new Grange Hall built near the corner of Dunhams Corner Road and Ryders Lane - which was the home of the Raritan Valley YMCA until it was sold in 2003. Fred Gauntt, Master of the Grange at that time appointed H. Earl Propst as Fair Chairman and Fred C. Heyl as Secretary-Treasurer of the fair. Heyl remained Secretary-Treasurer until his death in 1956.

The fair was a great success even in its first year. Total receipts for the first fair were $1,079.23 with a profit of $140.80. Admission was 10 cents. $194.55 was collected on General Admission, so about 2,000 people attended that first fair.

The fair was not held during the Second World War as the government asked that all state and county fairs be canceled so that the scarce resources of the farming communities could be fully directed towards the war effort.

After the Second World War, there was much debate in the Grange about continuing to sponsor the fair. After much discussion the Grange agreed to allow the fair to continue on their property, but asked that another sponsor be found. Fred C. Heyl and his wife approached Russell Herbert and Joseph J. Smith to ask if the fair might be sponsored by the Middlesex County Board of Agriculture. The Board agreed as long as it did not cost them any money. As a result, Russell Herbert and Joseph J. Smith loaned the necessary money to the fair Association. It was not until 1960, however, that the Certificate of Incorporation was changed to reflect the sponsorship by the Middlesex County Board of Agriculture.

The county fair was held at the East Brunswick Grange and the contiguous properties of the Dunhams Corner Union Chapel and the Township of East Brunswick Municipal Complex which then consisted of a town hall and garage that would eventually become Playhouse 22.

Russell Herbert served the fair every year after 1938, serving as Fair Manager from 1955 until his retirement in 1979. Edgar Renk was President of the Fair Association from 1979 until his death in 1983. Another individual with many years of service was Clarence Dey who served as president from 1983 until 1987. Grace M. Auer, who started as an active volunteer in 1937, served as President from 1987 until 1999, and passed on in 2001. Barbara Ann Foerter followed Auer as President until her death in September 2002. She was succeeded by Alan M. Habiak, who serves as the current President and General Manager.

Through the years the fair continued to grow in size and success. In 1960 the trustees realized that the fair had outgrown the Dunhams Corner Road properties and decided to enter into negotiation for the purchase of the Scott Farm on Cranbury Road. This paved the way for the development of the Middlesex County Fairgrounds as it is known today, with closing on September 15, 1961.

It took nearly four years for approvals to be received from East Brunswick and the County for the use of the property as the fairgrounds, and nearly a year to clear and prepare the property for parking and fair activity space. Despite these hurdles, the fair opened on its own property for the fair of 1965. The Fair Catalog in 1965 was dedicated to Helen Heyl Herbert and Russell Herbert, which served to recognize Helen Heyl, her husband, Fred, and Russell Herbert as the driving forces behind the start the fair. By this time, Mr. Heyl had died in 1956, and Mrs. Herbert also passed away. Helen Heyl and Russell Herbert married, uniting the two families who had supported the fair from the beginning. Helen Heyl served as Secretary of the fair until her death in 1977.

The fair has grown in size and quality over the years. As the fair has grown, permanent buildings and structures have been added to the fairgrounds, including a fair office building and meeting place for the trustees where the Middlesex County Board of Agriculture met until the construction of their new facility on Riva Avenue in 2006. Other improvements have included the home arts building, a large refreshment stand, a chicken dinner pavilion, an entertainment dressing room, the 4-H home building on fair property donated to the 4-H for that purpose. A new, larger horse ring was opened in 1999, and an entirely new electrical system has been installed at the cost of nearly $270,000, bringing all fair lighting up to current electrical code. In 2008 and 2009, the association added fencing around the perimeter of the fairgrounds for safety and security.

Aside from its namesake purpose, the fairgrounds have served the community for many years as a mecca for children's soccer. East Brunswick built a soccer and football park behind the fairgrounds, and has used as many as eight fields on the fairgrounds itself. A major portion of the fair parking lot was graded to provide more adequate fields on them, with the lot being used for the park and all soccer and football activity. Several years ago, East Brunswick
Township purchased Heavenly Farms on Dunhams Corner Road, and approached the association to acquire 9.22 acres connecting the property to the landlocked Dideriksen Park, located behind the fairgrounds. The deal was finalized in 2005.

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The fair has come a long way since 1938, but it remains faithful to its original charter, which states in part, "The purposes for which this corporation is formed are: to hold an agricultural fair of an educational nature, to advance the agricultural and industrial interests of Middlesex County, to encourage better relationships between rural and urban people, to maintain increasingly higher standards in homemaking practices."

To these ends, the fair has always had agricultural, industrial and commercial exhibitors. The fair continues its commitment to education not only through the fair but through its scholarship program; the 4-H Scholarship Fund, awards to students who show outstanding community service in county high schools, and starting in 2006 sponsorship in the New Jersey Agricultural Society "Ag in the Classroom". In 2009 an annual sponsorship was given to the NJ Museum of Agriculture. The Middlesex County Fair Association is a member of the Agricultural Fair Association New Jersey; New Jersey Farm Bureau; New Jersey Agriculture Society and The International Association of Fairs and Expositions. While the nature of the

county has changed dramatically since 1938 and there are very few truly rural areas left in the county, the fair still has the feeling of country, which the trustees and volunteers strive to reinforce at every turn. Lastly, our home arts program, housed in our home arts building -maintains the finest home arts competition in the state of New Jersey - all county and state fairs included.

A more detailed history of the fair would show how all of this has come about through the hard work of dedicated volunteers. The fair essentially remains a voluntary activity, involving hundreds of Middlesex County residents. Farmers, businesses, housewives, and 4-H'ers have donated hundreds of thousands of hours over the years to build the Middlesex County Fair into the outstanding tradition it has become.

Each year at the fair, a wide variety of activities are planned including rides and games, daily shows and bands, and exhibits and demonstrations. A great variety of food vendors provide fairgoers with a wealth of choices to satisfy their fair appetites.

Since 2005, we have invited individuals and organizations in Middlesex County to our Disability Awareness Day on Wednesday from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Admission is free and Skelly's Amusements provides free rides and refreshments. The sheriff's department opens their booth, and several entertainers provide a show for the children. Milltown Rescue Squad is on hand during the event.

In 2013, the fair marked its 75th anniversary. To accommodate growing attendance and recognize this important milestone, the fair extended its hours on Sunday and hosted fireworks on closing night. In 2014, the fair made some of the most significant capital improvements to the grounds to the date. A new large building was constructed to house antique farm equipment formerly maintained by the New Jersey Agricultural Museum, a new roof and lighting was installed in the home arts building. In 2015, the walkways were expanded to accommodate the growth in fair patrons, and new underground drainage was constructed to improve water flow around the grounds. In preparation for the 2016 fair, a wave of electrical upgrades were made to gate three and ground was broken on a new 4-H horse pavilion. In 2017, a 30kw 120/208v 3 phase Liquid Generator (natural gas fired backup generator fully automatic lighting within 15 seconds) has been installed; with/new emergency led lighting for power outage or weather event back up lights. In 2018 2000 LED bulbs were purchased to replace the incandescent string light bulbs. Also in 2018 we discontinued the use of the refreshment stand. It is now the Agricultural Building. In 2019 there has been a decline in the number of horses in 4-H. The new horse ring is now our entertainment area. Also in 2019 new poles for lighting in the entertainment ring; 14 new electrical outlets and 3 paddle fans and new gutters were installed in the non-profit pavilion; new LED lighting and emergency lighting at Gate #2; Mini-split condenser was installed in the powerhouse; The Grace Auer Garden remodeled; also the area in front of the Ag Building.

In 2020 the fair was canceled due to the COVID-19 for the safety of the volunteers, fair goers and vendors. It was decided to hold a fair in 2021. It was very well accepted with attendance of 83,270. Since COVID-19 admission has increased to $10 for adults; $4 for seniors and children 3-10; children 2 and under are free, parking is free. Admission tickets were sold on line for the first time, which was successful. In 2022 a building addition was started in August after the fair. 6 poles were replaced. A wi-fi and camera system was installed at the fair.

In 2023 lighting was installed in the pole barn at Gate #2.

File: 2023 Fair History