It seems inevitable that late summer and the fair season would kindle fond memories of the Lewiston Fairgrounds.

For decades, the Maine State Fair was the Twin Cities’ premier event. It drew tremendous crowds and there was excitement everywhere. The midway roared with sounds of sirens and engines from the motorcycle daredevils’ “motodrome.” The voice of harness racing announcer Dick Michaelson thundered from the grandstand loudspeakers with his familiar, “And they’re off.” Music from top-notch stage shows filled the air and the night sky exploded with spectacular fireworks displays.

All of this made a lasting impression on me because Echo Farm, our farm in Auburn, is directly across the Androscoggin River from the fairgrounds. Those sounds filled the daytime and evening hours, and they heightened my thirst for excitement the day or two when our family walked through the gates of that fabulous attraction.

As a grade-school student, it was only natural that something as big and flashy as “The Maine State Fair” would catch my attention and that time would put it in more modest perspective.

I can’t say that it has.

When I look at old newspaper ads and stories, it amazes me that Lewiston’s annual fair brought performers to the area whose fame burns brightly today.


On Sept. 4, 1952, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra was playing at the Lewiston Armory. Two years later, during Labor Day week, the Armory booked Phil Spitalny and his All-Girl Orchestra and Choir, an extraordinarily popular band known nationwide.

In those years, Labor Day meant big tourist business — and the Old Orchard Pier was another venue with great drawing power. In 1951, the attractions at The Pier included Louis Armstrong, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra and Blue Barron with his band — all appearing in the same week.

Although I was too young to be much influenced by those dance band appearances in the mid-1950s, I am now amazed that the Twin Cities hosted so many remarkable bands.

Research of old newspapers for descriptions of the Maine State Fair’s earliest days shows that all of Maine took note of the grand spectacle and agricultural exhibition centered in Lewiston.

One of the earliest stories, from Sept. 18, 1878, declared, “The Maine State Fair opens at Portland Tuesday.”

Wait a minute — Portland?


That’s right. Before the state fair was relocated to Lewiston in 1881, Portland was the site of the state’s major agricultural exposition. It featured hundreds of stalls for cattle and horses, a program of harness racing and, of particular interest in the 1870s, bicycle racing.

A story in the Lewiston Journal on Aug. 7, 1902, explained this important moment in the Maine State Fair’s history:

“In 1881, the Maine State Agricultural Society finally ceased its wanderings, purchased a lot of land and developed its present site in the hustling city of Lewiston. The cost of this plant, undeveloped, was $6,945. This fair has been, for two decades, the pride of Lewiston and Auburn, especially, and of all Maine in general.”

The fair’s popularity diminished in the 1970s, and it fell victim to the loss of barns and other buildings because of fire and commercial development, resulting in the demolition of the grandstand and excavation of the racetrack and grounds.

The Maine State Fair had a grand history. Along with countless county and community fairs throughout Maine, there was also the highly regarded Androscoggin County Fair, which was held for many decades in Livermore Falls. Its 51st annual exhibition took place at the Livermore Falls Fairgrounds in 1902. A news story said 1,200 to 1,500 attended during that late-August week, and it was rated the best event in its history.

This area also boasts long histories for other fairs, including the Oxford County Fair, which has been held for more than 160 years (Sept. 10-13 this year), and the Farmington Fair, which has been running for 174 years (Sept. 14-20 this year).

The fair season is now in full swing. And they have not changed very much from the fairs I remember so well. It’s still all about having fun on the midway, sampling a variety of foods and visiting the many family and farm exhibits.

David A. Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to

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