For a week at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, humble canvas tents become dream homes.
Their occupants look forward all year to backing up trucks loaded with furniture, “Grapes of Wrath” style, and camping alongside old friends for the duration of the fair. It’s what their parents and grandparents always did at the end of August, and it’s what their children and grandchildren do now.
It’s what makes the fair unique.
Tradition defines the fair, now 133 years old and considered the last agricultural tenting fair in the country. Families return to tent sites held for generations. In the rare cases when they don’t, the spot goes to one of the patient hundreds waiting years for the chance. Lottery winners should be so happy.
Across the fairgrounds in Centre Hall, these tenters join recreational vehicle owners in creating an instant, sprawling town. Kids scamper down rows. Neighbors sit in lawn chairs and gossip on front “porches.” A giant reunion unfolds, the soul of perhaps the quintessential Centre County event.
“How many fairs do you see around where up to 1,000 families move into ugly green army tents for a week and have a blast?” wrote Jen Lee, of Pleasant Gap, among the many readers who nominated Grange Fair as one of the 7 Wonders of Centre County.
But the Fair, as it’s popularly called, isn’t a private party. Tens of thousands of visitors arrive for the livestock shows, tractor pulls, concerts, exhibits and enough fried, grilled, baked and iced goodies to drain wallets and bust belts.
No matter what’s going on in the world, Grange Fair is a constant, an eddy in time. Only a glance at the calendar will reveal the year. Children groom hand-raised animals for shows or cruise the midway — just like their parents did. Adults catch up and renew friendships — just like their parents did.
And another summer passes into history.