Just as the fall air begins to collide with the waning summer, the St. Michael’s Fair descends on the Naugatuck Green. Also known as The Village Green Fair, it has been part of what makes Naugatuck great since its inception in 1960.
The list of helpers in the early years reads like a who’s who for the borough, The Leuchars, Anderson, Clark, Wilmont, Zwick families to name just a few.
And most importantly the countless church members who worked tirelessly behind the scenes.
Henry Zwick took great pride in his Country Store at the fair, at times featuring fresh grown fruits and vegetables, Vermont and New York state cheeses, Lebanon bologna and also homemade donuts cooked right in "the store,” located in the choir room.
In 1968, Mrs. Alden Saunders had the candy booth stocked with large quantities of homemade candy and fudge.
Nearly every woman in the church baked pies, cookies, cakes and bread to be sold at the baked goods booth. Many came to the church as well and baked in the parish kitchen both days of the fair, selling the items as fast as they could be made.
The Saturday auction has always been a highlight. For many years, local resident Dom Scavone was the auctioneer creating a great deal of excitement as folks jockeyed to obtain one of the many treasures donated from attics, basement and garages.
Children’s attractions once included pony rides across the street at Salem School as well as the games of skill and a used toy booth you will find today. Almost 3 generation of families have now taken a ride on the kiddie train, which makes its way around the green countless times during the event. It’s a bumpy ride at best for adults but shear delight to every child. At times, its handcrafted wooden frame seems to have memorized every curve and bump in the sidewalk, bending accordingly.
In 1965, Paul Gyer, a glassblower from Guilford, demonstrated his art creating vases, pitchers and animals of glass. The crowd was in awe of a vase he had on display that was 2,500 years old.
Local artist Marian Nies attended that same year, showing off her beautiful talent in the many sketches made for fair goers.
Visitors to the fair wonder how each and every bite of peach shortcake is ripe to perfection. As the generous portion of fresh whipped cream and homemade short bread dripping with chunks of peaches seems to disappear before your eyes, there is no match for the disappointment of waiting to get your shortcake until late Saturday afternoon — only to find it is sold out.
Trust me, this fair takes careful planning if you want to do it right. At 10 a.m. sharp on Friday you hit the Country Corner, eyes taking a quick scan and quickly scooping up your must haves. Then to the tag sale type tent outside keeping an open mind that a hidden treasure can surely be hiding in there somewhere.
In my 26th year of attending the fair, I can say that many of my most cherished possessions have been purchased at the Country Corner located inside the building with the shortbread. It is hard to pick my favorite, perhaps the antique German ceramic perfume bottle with its original cork for 99 cents or the sea foam green McCoy vase for one dollar. It could be the original penny candy canisters that cost me just five dollars for the pair, and that my children have left a million fingerprints on reaching for homemade cookies after school.
After a busy first week of the kids back at school, a relaxing Friday evening spent on the green listening to live music was always such a treat. The kids looked forward to the meal of their choice followed by as much penny candy as they could fit in one of the little brown bags provided. Even in the lean years, it never broke the bank.
Many a Saturday mornings chores were interrupted on that second weekend in September with a trip to the fair to stock up on the homemade donuts. The perfect combination of warm crispy edge and soft center, coated with a dusting of cinnamon sugar.
When you enter the fair, you leave behind all the troubles of the day. Calories don’t matter and if you listen carefully, you can still hear the voices of long ago, grandmothers, aunts and uncles that have now passed on but once filled the chairs around you. Perhaps as you tug on your child’s hand, you will feel the gentle tug of your own mom scurrying you along to get in line for the train.
It is these moments, when the present softly echoes the past, which can help us push into the future with hope.
So many of the treasures of Naugatuck are simply memories but this is one of the rarified events that still lives on.
This traditional New England church fair of an age long ago has indeed survived thanks to the hard work of the parishioners of St Michael’s Episcopal Church.
Please enjoy this recipe taken from the cookbook “Out of Naugatuck Kitchens” put together by St Michael’s Church many years ago. I have not been able to date the book but some of the advertisers include O’Toole’s Pharmacy, Rossi Tot Shop, Self Service Home Market and Tranquility Farm Dairy owned and operated by the J.H. Whittemore Company.
6 or 7 apples, ½ cup Tranquility Farm Dairy butter, ¾ cup bread flour, ¾ cup brown sugar, a little nutmeg and cinnamon
Add chopped apples in glass pie plate. Press down firmly and evenly. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and work with fingers until crumbly.
Spread over apples firmly and bake for about ¾ of an hour at 400 degrees.
Cool and serve over Tranquility Farm Dairy whipped cream or ice cream.
Until next week when we find another place in Naugatuck history, enjoy the 52st year of the Village Green Fair but please don’t eat all the shortcake… until I get there.
Credits: Naugatuck Daily News Archives
Editor's Note: The fair begins today and continues to Saturday.