The 176th Dutchess County Fair

It’s that time again! The Dutchess County Fair is back and it’s time to head to Rhinebeck for some 4-H shakes and carnival rides. Did you know that this is one of the largest and oldest fairs in the nation? This 6-day fair that sits on over 160 acres of land and hosts about half a million people per year has certainly changed since its humble beginnings in the 1840s. We have previously discussed the fair’s history in one of our very first blog posts, but today we decided to look at the few times in the 176 year history that the fair was forced to cancel. I think we all remember the most recent occurrence (thank you very much COVID!), but what about the other cancellations?

In 1916, the Dutchess County Agricultural Society looked over their numbers for the previous year’s fair and discovered that they had a $3713.22 deficit (that’s over $100,000 today!). Members of the society were split on which direction the fair should take, as it struggled to keep up with the times at the turn of the 20th century. This led to low attendance, and therefore less cash coming in, and the fair was canceled in 1916 as a result. 1917 saw a small affair–one that was more reminiscent of a military parade than a county fair, with men preparing for World War I and assembling on the fairgrounds. The following year the Society could not come up with the funds to rent the Hudson River Driving Park, where the fair had been held most recently, and were forced to cancel again.

There were heavy rains in the late 1920’s that dampened the amount of spectators (and dampened the spectators), but the fairs still went on as planned. It wasn’t until World War II that the fair was forced to close down again, but only in 1942, and at the last moment. Throughout that year, the society watched as one by one, local and state fairs decided to cancel; manpower could not be spared from the war efforts, and there was a general fear of large gatherings. The decision to shut down the fair was finally made in July. However, the remainder of the war years did see smaller versions of the fair with fewer days.

Postwar, the fair had quite a good run, all the way up through the end of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, several issues occurred during the fair of 2011. First, a 5.8 earthquake that struck in Virginia scared the northeast enough to shut down rides in order to make sure that all were not damaged. Second, Hurricane Irene made its way up the coast, forcing the fair to close on the fourth day due to the heavy winds and several inches of rain that were expected. This brings us to our most recent fair cancellation in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic ruined everybody’s year (a couple of years, really). Once again, a fear of large gatherings came into play, only instead of worrying about possible air raids it was the threat of mass contagion. Thankfully the fair was back on in 2021, and the 176th annual Dutchess County Fair started up again this past Tuesday, and runs through August 28th.


Poughkeepsie Eagle News: 17 Feb 1916, 31 Jan 1917, 7 Sep 1917, 11 Jul 1942

Poughkeepsie Journal: 24 Aug 2011, 27 Aug 2011, 5 Jun 2020


PEN-Feb-17-1916 – Article from the Poughkeepsie Eagle News from 1916.

PJ-Jun-5-2020 – Article from the Poughkeepsie Journal from 2020.

DCN35LD3 – Overhead view of the Dutchess County Fair – LH Collections