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Retrospective: The Acclaimed Kiwanis Community Fair in Basking Ridge

As with all Mr. Local History retrospectives, we often update the post when we learn stories and are sent photos from our community. We will continue to grow this piece as information becomes available. The story is expanding as we learn more about the family. If you have a comment or photo, feel free to post at the bottom of this page.

Mr. Local History Project

What started back on Labor Day weekend back in 1949 will hold a place in many a local residents heart as one of the biggest and best community annual events held over the Labor Day weekend. We take a look back at the history of the Kiwanis Fair in Basking Ridge and hope it brings back some memories. We encourage you to share any fair memories you have at the end of the piece.

1960 Kiwanis Queen being crowned. Source: Courier News

As the local historian we get all kinds of requests coming in to research people, properties, and events from our local history. The Basking Ridge Kiwanis Community Fair is an event that ran in Bernards Township from 1949 to . and was held on the Saturday and Monday each Labor Day weekend. Sunday’s were reserved for Church service, so the fair was closed. The event went to a full three day format in 1993.

The 1950 greased pig contest was a big hit.
See all the winners from 2nd annual Basking Ridge Kiwanis Fair below

The Kiwanis Community Fair started on Labor Day weekend in 1949. The event was officially called “Bernards Township Community Day” program that was to be held on Labor Day, Monday, September 5, 1949 at the Oak Street School grounds on in Basking Ridge. James F. Foley and E. Delbert Edgar served as co-chairs for the event. Vernon O. Craig was the chapter chairman.

We are just trying to prove that we can have fun at home and do not have to torment ourselves in those traffic jams to have a good time over the holiday.”

F. H Bockhoven, Kiwanis Club Spokesman – 1950

The list of judges were a “who’s who” of local residents. As with all community events, there were some memorable activities and events that brought the area together on what was a typically a quiet weekend.

  • Horace Brink judged the poultry event
  • Vernon Hill of Lee’s Hill Farm judged the dairy exhibit
  • Mrs. Carl Ott judged the homemakers art exhibit
  • Raymond Moffit judged the pet shows
  • Ransford Crane and Thomas Cross umpired the baseball game
  • Gus Day served as auctioneer
  • Clyde Swendsen, manager at New Haven Farm ran the greased pig chase
  • William Badgley was in charge of the dance

What is Labor Day weekend in the Somerset Hills without the Bernards Township Kiwanis Fair – nothing. But with the Fair: Everything.

Bernardsville News – 1967

The fair had a number of great exhibits. Every year a king and queen would be crowned. Exhibits from local merchants showcased their offerings like the Somerset Hills Bank showcasing in a film how currency was made. The Boy Scout Troop 77 gave out pancakes and fritters to anyone who wanted them. The Bedminster Air Explorers put kids into their Piper Cup airplane that was on exhibit. Oh yes, there was always a big tent including displays from the local library, the Somerset Hills Chamber of Commerce’s Soap Box Derby cars, as well as all the areas of worship.

This is a picture of when my dad, Lyn Carlin Sr., was in the Kiwanis Club and worked at the fair. Many good memories c1960s. Source: Jeanie Carlin Bruns

During the fair, numerous events were held. Cars paraded in the annual antique auto parade along with the local fire departments. There was a maypole contest, a slow race, the 25 yard dash, Apple on a Spoon Race, Race while holding a piece of paper on a straw, a country auction, firefighting demonstration, free movies, a dog and cat show with over 100 entries to name just a few. Later years included events like parades, bike races, and ferris wheel rides and the infamous “orbitron” gyroscope ride.

Kiwanis Community Fair Highlights

In 1950, the second year of the Labor Day weekend fair, over 2,000 people attended at the Oak Street School location. Township Clerk Charles Anstedt wrote a letter of commendation to the Bernards Township Kiwanis Club for presenting such a fine event. Over 300 residents packed the Oak Street gymnasium on Saturday night for an old fashioned square and “round” dance featuring the Pop Stout orchestra. Events included pet shows, a greased pig chase, a baseball game, a cattle show, poultry show and yes games.The event sold over 185 pounds of beef making for some great hamburgers.

Greased pig chase was a big event back in the 1950s. While this photo is from the era, we were unable to find an actual Kiwanis Fair image of the event.
Kiwanis Fair 1950 – Click the image to read the activities and winners at the Kiwanis Fair.
1969 Basking Ridge Kiwanis Fair agenda.

At the 1962 Kiwanis fair there was a massive 24 foot by 6 foot mural created by Mrs. Edgar Townley of 12 Orchard Place depicting “The Helping Hands of the Community Chest,” showcasing eight volunteer organizations in the area.

The 1962 Kiwanis Fair could be remembered as the “Fair of the Artists” year.

Over 40 women artists joined to create an exhibit at the 1962 Kiwanis Fair. And the state of New Jersey brought the infamous “Historymobile” a traveling mobile exhibit showcasing the tricentennial of New Jersey’s 300th anniversary. The Historymobile was financed by New Jersey Bell, the Ford Motor Company and New Jersey Manufacturers Association.

In 1963 there was a parade on Front Street (now South Finley Avenue) complete with floats. Cub Pack 202 showcased its “Statue of Liberty” float that got delayed because it got stuck in the overhead power lines. But it eventually crossed past the dignitary viewing stand. Miss Independence was also there. Over 14,000 attended the fair in 1963.

1966 Fair Breaks all Records

The 1966 two day Kiwanis Fair in Bernards Township ended up being one of their most special events. That year, over 20,000 people made their way to the two day event breaking all previous records according to Jack Kelly, chairman of the Fair. “The NASA exhibit was a real hit,” stated Kelly.

In 1975 the Basking Ridge Garden Club prepared dried flower arrangements for the fair. The club had been meeting for months prior to create the arrangements that they sold.

A Big Hit in 1985 – Children’s ID Cards

In 1985, the Bernards Township Police Department issued over 1,000 child ID cards. Do you still have yours? The JCP&L event was one of the most popular activities that year and was a laminated card that included your fingerprint.

Kiwanis Fair 1985 – Bernardsville News

1993 honored the 45th edition of the fair and brought in over $13,000 for the organization. The event was held for the first time on what was referred to as “the Lord’s Day.” This years donation recipients included the Matheny School, the Basking Ridge Little League, and the New Jersey Foundation Pediatric Trauma Center as well as others.

What killed the Kiwanis Community Fair?

1993 saw the last Kiwanis Fair at the Oak Street school grounds.

The 1993 Kiwanis Fair in Basking Ridge was the last time area residents could participate at the Kiwanis Fair. Source: Courier News

In March 1994, the Bernardsville News had a story about the Kiwanis Club proposing to move the fair to the Far Hills Fairgrounds.  That was ultimately denied, and in July 1994 the fair was cancelled. 

A number of people told me at the time that the AAUW book sale was a big part of the fair and that crowds dropped off when the book sale relocated to Liberty Corner School in 1986.

Jake Perry – Bernardsville News Reporter

What led to the Kiwanis Fair Downfall?

Area events started to compete with the Kiwanis Fair:

  • AAUW book sale moved from the Kiwanis Fair to Liberty Corner in 1986.
  • Competitive adult and kids’ bicycle races in 1992. “It’s basically the ‘Welcome back from summer’ for all the Somerset Hills area residents,” said Greg Cordasco, owner of Liberty Cycle, which presented the event in conjunction with The Olde Mill Inn and the Bernards Township Parks and Recreation Department. He passed suddenly in 2019 and the event has been postponed since.
  • A runners road race also started around 1992.

The fair ended. What most locals have indicated is just interest had deteriorated and the committee decided to cancel the event.

It’s Not the Kiwanis Fair, but Charter Day the following year did fill the community “Social Gap

The first Charter Day celebration in Bernards Township marked the end of an era. The Kiwanis Fair never occured again.
“The first Charter Day celebration in Bernards Township marked the end of an era. The Kiwanis Fair was never held again after 1993. In 1995, the Business and Professional Organization of Basking Ridge. Mayor Diana Boquist oversaw Charter Day. Source: Bernardsville News May 17, 1995.

The Kiwanis Club

The Kiwanis Club is still active in Basking Ridge. The Kiwanis Club of Somerset Hills invites the public to the Kiwanis Easter Egg Hunt typically on the 2nd Saturday in April. It is a free event held each year at the same the Oak Street School grounds at 70 W. Oak Street in Basking Ridge, NJ.

Kiwanis International is a global community of clubs, members and partners dedicated to improving the lives of children one community at a time. Today, we stand with more than 550,000 members from K-Kids to Key Club to Kiwanis and many ages in between in 80 countries and geographic areas. Each community has different needs, and Kiwanis empowers members to pursue creative ways to serve the needs of children, such as fighting hunger, improving literacy and offering guidance.

Kiwanis clubs host nearly 150,000 service projects each year.

What was Your Favorite Event?
Add it below along with the year you attended.

For history please post any memories you have about the Basking Ridge Kiwanis Fair. If we missed any event below, let us know.

Basking Ridge Kiwanis Fair Events Over the Years

As we scanned news articles over the years and talked with locals, the Kiwanis Community Fair held an extensive list of events and exhibits over the years that the attendees loved. Each year they’d add or subtract events that the committee thought the public wanted. The parade, the country auction, the pet shows were a staple every year. Let’s list a few others:

Flag raising – 1949Outdoor Movies at night
Antique Car Show & Parade – 1949Book Sale – AAUW -1955
Country Auction – 1949Square and Round Dances- 1950
Pet Shows -1949PTA Bake Sale – 1955
Greased Pig Chase – 1950Vegetable Contest
Art Exhibits – 1950Automobile Reactometer Display – 1954
Poultry Exhibit – 4 H ClubSalvation Army Flood Relief Victims Booth – 1955
Dairy Exhibits – 1949Tennis Matches
The Slowest Car Challenge – Down the hillRidge High School Band Concert – 1960s
Crowning of the King and QueenTeen Dance
Paper on a straw runVoter Registration
Peanut on a Spoon raceRock Concerts – 1970s
Watermelon Eating Contest – 1953Scout Bike Tests – 1970s
Potato Race – 1949Creative Arts & Krafts – YMCA
Three Legged Race – 1949Lace Making & Quilling exhibits
Pony RidesBicentennial Tree Planting – Pinebrook Nursery 1975
Baseball GamesBaking Contest – 1983
Pancake Breakfast – Boy Scout TroopKI-SHY Run – 5k and 10k – 1984
Charcoal Drawing – 1953Flea Market – 1985
Flower Show – Basking Ridge Garden ClubClarabelle the Clown from Howdy Doody Show – 1985
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19 thoughts on “Retrospective: The Acclaimed Kiwanis Community Fair in Basking Ridge”

  1. Chris Lewis Such great childhood memories. The Oompa Band and birch beer on tap. The antique car show where they had the rolling down the hill contest. The year Forbes had a hot air balloon and gave tethered rides. And, of course, the year Bums in the Park performed 😉

  2. Patricia Murphy Steege Loved the Kiwanis Fair! I remember the large wooden boat ride, the swings, and the AAUW booksale in the basement.
    I’d ride in the Kielblock’s antique car down the Oak Street School hillside. Which car, with the motor off, could roll the farthers?
    Then in high school, we’d come back from Band Camp, in Johnsonburg, and play at the Fair.
    I saw a few familiar names in this article. Thank you for sharing.
    Lots of wonderful memories.

  3. Robin Evans Love it, end of the summer, seeing classmates before school began. My favorite year was Ty Kashmiry and the twins (?) playing the Stones…..anyone remember the name of the Band?

  4. Beth Scheidig Knapp

    I remember one year, probably one of the coldest August days ever, Patty Milne and I got dunked in the dunking booth. Boy were our Moms mad.

  5. We took our young boys there in the ‘90’s. We could walk there from our house which is close to Oak Street School in whose parking lot it took place. The boys showed our dog there in the dog show. They also purchased gold fish. It was a wonderful low key fair where you didn’t have to worry about losing a child. And everyone knew each other. Our boys have such fond memories of the fair and were so upset when they stopped having it.

  6. I was 3 when we moved to Spencer Rd in Basking Ridge. The Kiwanis Fair was such a big part of growing up there! My mother, Marge West, worked in the food booth selling hamburgers. I have so many memories from that fair! Jane Forbes crowning Gretchen Heyer! I remember that! Thanks so much for posting this! Makes me smile!

  7. Kiwanis fair was the highlight of the summer…I remember standing in line for the ferris wheel, and hearing some girls talking about Woodstock…riding ponies…and of course winning a goldfish…every year…great times…sad that future generations won’t get to experience the same

  8. Eileen Wall Mundorff

    I ran into Eric Mundorff at the Fair in 1968. We knew each other from Ridge High. He graduated in ’66 and I graduated in ’67. We spent the evening together, wandering the Fair and catching up. Married 49 years as of September 18, 2020.

  9. The year the Forbes balloon was there, must have been ’76 or ’77, my buddies and I ended up helping to haul the balloon down after each ride. It was hard work but we weren’t doing anything else. At the end of the day the Forbes crew rewarded us with some ice cold Coors! (we were all over 18) Back then Coors was never seen east of the Mississippi indeed some would say it was illegal east of the Mississippi (yes children, Smoky and Bandit was an almost semi-true story) We were thrilled!!

  10. Karolyn Burger Nilsen

    It was a true end of summer rite of passage for myself and my sister in the 70’s. We would leave the beach life and it was back to Basking Ridge before school started back again after Labor Day. First time I ever had cotton candy was at the Fair and every year I would win the goldfish, carry it home in the plastic bag and hope i could keep it alive until Christmas!

  11. Lynn Heckel Griffith

    I remember going to the fair in the 1950’s . It was one of the highlights of my childhood. The Eastern Star tended the cotton candy booth back then and since my mom, Ruth Heckel, was a member, she would volunteer to make the cotton candy.
    Great memories!

  12. I attended the fair from the late ’50s until 1970.
    My father was one of the organizers for the Bishop Janes men’s group’s candy booth. It was fun going with him to Morristown to order the candy. The cases were stored on our cellar stairs. He let me pick out 25 cents worth of candy (Most candy bars were just a nickle then, a few candies were less). It was amazing how far I could make a quarter go.
    Some years, local amateur radio “Hams” had a booth. Might’ve been the local Civil Defense organization. My mom was a member. Their hand-operated generator was a hit.
    I adored the book sale. I’d get a bonus allowance of $5 to spend and came home with armloads of books.
    My mother got a treadle sewing machine for $10 at the auction. It’s what I learned to sew on.
    One year, I entered our beagle Sock in the dog show. He rolled in poop right before the start. I still remember some older kids (I might’ve been 7 or 8) laughing hysterically at the dog who’d obviously made his own memories that weekend.

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