When Henry Hudson first sailed up New York's great river, he couldn't have imagined that one day there would be an extravaganza such as the Dutchess County Fair. Even Rip Van Winkle, a bit farther downstream, would have awakened from all the excitement up in Rhinebeck.
Neither could Hudson have imagined the "iron horse" that eventually charged through his valley. Andy Imperati, General Manager of the Dutchess County Fair, pointed out the vital link between railroads and agriculture.
He explained, "Back in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the railroad system had a big impact on getting farmers' products to the public in a safe and timely manner. In fact, it often still does. That is why we worked so hard to featu
re a restored 'antique' train station at this year's fair."
"This train station had been located in Pleasant Valley, a town south of us. Built in the late 1800s, the historic structure was slated to be destroyed because of difficulties with its upkeep. When asked if we would be interested in restoring and relocating it, we jumped (aboard!) at the opportunity."
Imperati continued, "It took ten months from start to finish to complete this whole project. Let's face it, old buildings don't always go back together as quickly as they come apart. But this effort has been absolutely worth it."
According to the Fair's website, 2015 attendees had "the opportunity to view and learn about the industrial era; an integral part of the Hudson Valley's historic story" via firsthand visits to this Pleasant Valley Historic Train Station. Imperati added, "We had instructors there all week, talking to fairgoers about the connection between trains and farming."
Nevertheless, many rely upon highway vehicles to keep things moving these days. During Fair season, the traffic on nearby Route 9 can become quite daunting. There have been numerous road improvements to keep lanes flowing in a timely manner. As a result, Imperati was able to happily report, "We had no backups all week long."
"Safety First" was another major initiative this year. In order to help guarantee a safe visit, the following features (publicized on the Fair website) were in place: lighted parking lots, a State Police & Lost Children Center, a First Aid Building with satellite and mobile units throughout the fairgrounds, clean and supervised restrooms, uniformed security throughout the fairgrounds, and posted maps containing emergency and first aid contact/location information.
Since taking a breather can be essential during summer days at the fair, the 162-acre Dutchess County Fairgrounds is "enhanced by some of the most beautiful gardens in the Hudson Valley."
Patrons can chill out by "waterfalls and ponds filled with koi and colorful water lilies."
Nursing mothers have their own special sanctuary in the Rock & Rest Tent. Parents are also reminded to "have a predetermined meeting spot" for the family, just in case anyone loses his or her way.
Imperati concluded, "Obviously, all of us in this industry are conscious of safety issues. The last thing anyone needs is for someone to get hurt. We've been very mindful about cautioning people to think carefully about their tasks at hand."
When education meets entertainment, a wonderful experience evolves: edutainment! Imperati waxed enthusiastically about the Northern Dutchess Rod and Gun Club's Wildlife Exhibit. Kids were taught there to "be stewards of the land, and to be friendly to our native species."
Imperati continued, "They had demos about how a snake sheds its skin, plus a display about animal fibers. There were no ducks and water fowl this year because of the avian flu epidemic, but they did have a tortoise."
The Mad Science Exhibit is another favorite. Imperati said, "They do a great job with younger children, teaching them about chemical reactions, etc. We're lucky to have many families stop by there during the day because school is not in session during our summertime fair schedule."
History buffs greatly enjoy the authentic One-Room Schoolhouse that was relocated to the fairgrounds. It is "filled with memorabilia that reflects educational practices and schoolhouse activities in an era long past." What's especially intriguing is that some teachers who had long ago taught in that school now serve as guides there.
The Antiques Museum Village features story tellers in period costumes, as well as different venues from days gone by. There's a Working Blacksmith Shop & Gas Powered Engine Show, plus a Working Sugar House and Cider Mill.
For those with more of a commercial bent, there are tantalizing "Shop 'Til You Drop" opportunities. More than 300 vendors sell pretty much everything from grandfather clocks to vacuum cleaners. Imperati explained, "Sixty percent of these vendors are from the Hudson Valley. They tend to get residual sales for months afterwards. We're very proud of supporting our locals in this manner."
Imperati estimated that 394,422 people attended the Dutchess County Fair this year. He said, "No records were broken, but we were up three-to-four percent over last year's attendance, so we're very happy with the turnout."
Imperati continued, "We had a great six days. The weather was outstanding. We got very lucky this year. It was sunny, but not hot and humid. Folks were therefore eager to come."
He further explained, "Our carnival was provided by Powers Great American Midways. The Stampede was a favorite ride. People really enjoyed Nick and Bennie's freshly-made hamburgers, as well as Butcher Boys' steak sandwiches."
"We had huge nights for both the Doobie Brothers and Cole Swindell. Both stage acts were pretty much sold out. On the ground, Hilby the Juggle Boy is a one-man entertainment show. The crowds were usually ten-to-twelve people deep all around him."
Imperati concluded, "Our fair is operated by the Dutchess County Agricultural Society. We are totally self-supporting, there are no tax dollars that come to us. We run the whole place on our own. The fair itself is our biggest money producer during the course of the year, plus our off-season events."