Fairgoers get in a bit of last-minute fun as the Delaware State Fair winds down for another year

The sights and sounds of the Delaware State Fair are unmistakable and unforgettable, and over the 97 years of its history have drawn in millions.
Just as the first Kent and Sussex County Fair, as it was known then, became an attraction in 1920, today’s Delaware State Fair has become the place to be during the last few days of July each year.

Despite Delaware’s climate, which means fairgoers must deal with heat, humidity and the occasional thunderstorm more often than not, each year the fair sees an average of more than 300,000 people pass through its gates.

For many groups and organizations, the Fair is an opportunity to raise money for their causes.

Donna Salerno of Frederica said the Murderkill Lions Club has volunteers on hand every year.

“We do it to help the people,” she said. The club uses money earned at the Fair for its various eyesight programs, which includes training service dogs, buying glasses for those who cannot afford them and for scholarships for local students.

“If it wasn’t for this, we’d have no way of helping people in need,” she said.

John Davis, a farmer from Preston, Maryland, noted his family travels to Harrington each year partly for fun and partly for business.

“I like to look at all the new equipment and the animals,” he said.

Seeing the different types of farm animals -- as well as some of the more exotic creatures such as giraffes and sugar gliders -- has proved educational for 2-year-old William Zimmerman of Georgetown.

It’s young William’s second trip to the Fair, noted dad Michael Zimmerman, as he helped feed some hungry goats.

“We came here to introduce him to different things,” Zimmerman said of his son. “It’s educational, although at his age, its more about just seeing the animals.”

The Fair has grown and changed over the years, noted John Van Ness of Harrington, who has been a fairgoer for the past four decades. A lot of those improvements has been due to the presence of the Harrington raceway and casino, which shares space with the Fair.

“It’s a lot better,” he said, thinking back to the 1970s. “All of the new pavement and the buildings, that’s all due to the slots.

“Before then, we just had old, small buildings for the horses and cows and it was either dusty when it was dry or nothing but mud when it rained.”

A particularly pleasant memory for Van Ness is the appearance of a young LeAnn Rimes in 1997. At the time the singer was 15 years old and just making a name for herself in country music.

“She was so young and had such a beautiful voice,” he recalled.