Good Life

Grange Fair | tents

The list is yellowed and tattered and torn in places.

It contains the names of hundreds of families, some who signed it more than 25 years ago. They all hoped to someday secure a coveted tent spot at the Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair.

This year, 17 will get the call they have been waiting for.

For the first time in more than a decade, Grange Fair organizers are adding new tent sites to the encampment — an important part of the fair’s heritage and one of the last direct links to its 19th-century roots.

Darlene Confer, the fair’s general manager, said it’s those tents that make the Grange Fair unique.

So many families want to be a part of the cherished tradition that a waiting list for spots, which are often passed down from generation to generation, grew to 500 before organizers closed it.

“Adding additional names was giving false hope,” Confer said.

But this year, organizers have found a way to do something they haven’t done in 15 years.

They are adding 17 new tent spots, bringing the total number to 1,000.

So Confer will turn to her list, combing through to see who is next and who is still interested — some signed up as many as 27 years ago.

“It’s the original list from when people started signing up,” she said. “Nothing has been transferred, put on a computer. So I don’t have people say ‘you took my name off the list.’ This way it’s there.”

Confer, who has been attending the Grange Fair for 59 years, said the tents are a big part of the tradition.

“It’s a part of the experience,” she said. “Staying in tents, seeing all your friends before school starts, renewing old friendships with people you only see once a year. They forge these relationships.”

Not many know more about that tradition than Agnes Homan, who at 89-years-old estimates she has only missed four years of the celebration.

“One of my grandparents lived in Bellefonte and came across the mountain on a train,” Homan said.

“They were among the very first tenters.”

Many of the spots have belonged to families such as Homan’s for generations, passed down from grandmothers to mothers to daughters. Residents, many of whom dedicate summer vacations to the fair, look forward to returning all year.

“My grandparents lived on a farm and this was kind of their vacation for the year,” Homan said.

“It’s just like someone goes fishing or to the shore every year.”

Homan remembers as a young girl traveling to the fair in a horse and buggy driven by her father. The family had a car, but not a truck. And the wagon was needed to lug furniture to fill the tent for the week.

“I still take some of the same furniture my mother took,” Homan said. “Once you have something that fits in one of the corners, you keep it.”

But much, too, has changed over the years.

Families have created increasingly elaborate set-ups. So much so that organizers had to put their feet down about allowing air conditioners to be installed.

Some families bring everything including the kitchen sink. They spend the days before the official move-in date building wooden frames that extend outside the tents and house kitchens and porches.

“It really is amazing,” Homan said. “People just think of whatever they can do to make sure they are as comfy as possible.”

Some also bring elaborate decorations, including lights, small fences and deck chairs. Homan said organizers are bringing back the tent decorating contest next year in conjunction with the fair’s 140th anniversary.

This year, Wednesday, Aug. 21 is the official move-in date. Asking more than 1,000 people, some of them undertaking small-scale construction projects, to move in during one day used to create long traffic jams stretching from the fairgrounds in different directions.

Now that the community has grown over the years, the fair allows residents to begin arriving over the weekend to relieve congestion. This year, residents will be able to start moving at 10 a.m. on Sunday, Aug. 18.