FIRST ARDEN FAIR
The Ardens will be quiet this Labor Day weekend for the first time in many years. As we will not be gathering as a community, it seemed like a good opportunity to look into the history of the Arden Fair. The Archives Collection at the Arden Craft Shop Museum provided some interesting information and a fascinating look back at this most Ardenesque event. One of the most interesting discoveries was that there was no record of a previous Fair being completely canceled. Postponed due to weather, but not canceled. Even during the war years of the 1940’s the Fair was held.
First – some background information. Most of you know that when Arden was founded in 1900 it was begun as a summer colony. The residents came from the center-city heat of Philadelphia and Wilmington to enjoy the shaded glens and quiet pathways of this haven from the hustle and bustle of urban life. Of course, the opportunity to put into practice the economic philosophies of Henry George was the primary impetus for our founders Frank Stephens and Will Price; but the leaseholders they attracted had many different reasons for joining the colony. It appears that residents first began staying through winter around 1910. That development, plus changes in the Trust document and the founding of the Arden Club in 1908, really gave the village its push into the community of The Ardens we have today.
So – when was the Arden Fair first held? Early records are somewhat limited, but the Arden Leaves began publishing in November 1910. In that issue, one of the articles states, ‘The fair this year differed essentially from its predecessor. The artistic features were more strongly emphasized…While the returns from the fair did not reach the $500 mark, due largely to a rainy Saturday…” (Yes, rain has always had an impact on the Fair.) The article goes on to say that the money raised will be enough to complete the work on the clubhouse (which we now know as the Gild Hall) without the sale of any additional bonds. This appears to say the Fair was first held in 1909. As the Arden Club was formed in 1908, acquired the Derrickson Farm barn in 1909, and converted it to a clubhouse in 1910; it would seem that the first Fair was held in 1909.
Several times in the November 1910 article the event is referred to as the Pageant. In the early years it appears the term Fair and Pageant seem to have been used interchangeably. The term Fall Festival was also used and the spirit of “Merry Olde England” was a frequent theme. The September 1911 Arden Leaves invites the attendees to, “Come All! In finery new or old, bedeck yourselves, set forth the banners of your Gilds, with sheafs (sp)of wheat and flowers gay…” In the Arden Leaves of August 1912, one of our founders, Will Price, concluded his article with words that ring as true today at they did then, “So whether it be big or little, old or new, lets us cry “Hail to the Pageant.”
A letter from Bertha Brooks in the October 1981 Arden Page, recounts her childhood memories of the first Fair being held on the Arden Green in front of The Inn (formerly at 2314 Cherry Lane) and Cherry Lodge (formerly 2310 Cherry Lane). She said the next year the fair was moved to the Gild Hall, “…overhead hammers were heard, where volunteers were lying the floor upon which we would dance that night.” She also expresses concerns over the activities in the “beer garden,” but that is another story for another time.
One more piece of evidence for the first Fair being held in 1909 is a marvelous poster, also found in the Archives collection. The words on this hand drawn sign read:
You will always remember
The Western Show of The Wilds at
The Arden Town Fair
Aug. 28 1909
The poster also includes the figure of a cowboy – reminiscent of similar drawings done by Frank Stephens. If you would like to see this object please visit ardencraftshopmuseum.com for a look at this piece of our history.
There are many other stories to be told about the Arden Fair and the Museum hopes to share more of these tales in the future. (Who can forget the deluge of 2003 when fair evacuation plans were implemented?) Thru the years many, many different activities have been held during the Fair. Everything from fortune tellers to pet shows to a Russian Tea to a White Elephant booth; automobile rides were offered as a treat in many of the early fairs, all these events and more have been part of the Fair for many years. During World War II, the time was shortened, the schedule of events was more limited, and adjustments were made as some supplies were not available; but the Fair was held.
This year, however, will be remembered for many other reasons. We will probably not hear Oh, What A Beautiful Morning over the PA system to open the festivities, the names of those who have died since the last Fair will not be announced, and the Brigadoon atmosphere of a Fair that appears and disappears will not be seen in 2020. The Ardens, however, will be together. There will be artists and artisans, music and tee shirts and a community – a very special community.