FRYEBURG – When asked why the Fryeburg Fair is so widely popular that it draws visitors from all over the United States and abroad, fair President David Hastings is charmingly honest.

“I don’t know if anyone knows, exactly,” he says with a laugh.

General Superintendent Roy Andrews puts a good share of the credit in Hastings’ corner. “When he got here 50 years ago, we had just eight of the buildings we have now. We have almost 100 now,” Andrews said. “It’s because of old-timers like him.”

After a slight pause, the 67-year-old adds, “And me.”

The men have a combined involvement of nearly 100 years with the fair, the largest agricultural fair in Maine. It’s that kind of dedication and commitment that has made the eight-day event a hugely popular destination for local residents, in-state residents and tourists from the United States and abroad. The fair has grown from six departments in its early years to 40 and boasts an annual payroll of more than $900,000. Andrews said more than 650 W-2 forms were mailed last year.

Fair officials are expecting an aggregate total of 400,000 fairgoers this year, and the American Bus Association has named the fair as one of its top destinations in the United States.

Both men are quick to turn the spotlight away from themselves, instead crediting the individuals who run the fair’s departments – ranging from the largest, the livestock department, to the smallest, the skillet throw.

“If I had to say anything about why we’ve been so successful, it would be the people we get to run the departments,” said Hastings. “We just have nice people who work at the fair.”

Besides being nice, and dedicated, those people are also creative, coming up with new ideas for the fair. Sometimes those ideas turn into major capital undertakings, such as the new livestock arena that began operating this year.

The building cost about $500,000, making it the single biggest capital project in the fair’s history. Fair officials spend about $250,000 every year in capital improvements, although this year that number reached $675,000 due to the new arena.

But Hastings said the goal is to make the fair better, not necessarily bigger. For example, officials have tried to make the fair an “all-weather” event by holding many attractions under cover so people will still be entertained despite bad weather.

Andrews said the fair’s strong agricultural tradition has carried on throughout its 155-year history, and that also adds to its popularity. “We haven’t lost touch with the agricultural education part of it,” he said, adding that fair officials put a strong emphasis on 4-H programs so youngsters learn to appreciate agriculture.

Glendon Phillips, a visitor from New Brunswick, agreed. “They have horses, cattle, pigs, chickens … it’s the best fair I’ve ever been to,” he said. Phillips has driven his motor home to Fryeburg for the last five years.

Hastings ticked off several other reasons why so many people make the trek to Fryeburg, including top-notch camping facilities, close proximity to good shopping and the coast, and the time of year when fall foliage is in its glory and the temperatures are pleasant.

“It’s sort of a natural time of year to go to a fair,” he said. “It never seemed right to me to go to a fair in August.”

But the bottom line is really simple. “They’re here because we run a good fair,” he said.

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