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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 – 1949||Outdoor Movies at night|
|Antique Car Show & Parade – 1949||Book Sale – AAUW -1955|
|Country Auction – 1949||Square and Round Dances- 1950|
|Pet Shows -1949||PTA Bake Sale – 1955|
|Greased Pig Chase – 1950||Vegetable Contest|
|Art Exhibits – 1950||Automobile Reactometer Display – 1954|
|Poultry Exhibit – 4 H Club||Salvation Army Flood Relief Victims Booth – 1955|
|Dairy Exhibits – 1949||Tennis Matches|
|The Slowest Car Challenge – Down the hill||Ridge High School Band Concert – 1960s|
|Crowning of the King and Queen||Teen Dance|
|Paper on a straw run||Voter Registration|
|Peanut on a Spoon race||Rock Concerts – 1970s|
|Watermelon Eating Contest – 1953||Scout Bike Tests – 1970s|
|Potato Race – 1949||Creative Arts & Krafts – YMCA|
|Three Legged Race – 1949||Lace Making & Quilling exhibits|
|Pony Rides||Bicentennial Tree Planting – Pinebrook Nursery 1975|
|Baseball Games||Baking Contest – 1983|
|Pancake Breakfast – Boy Scout Troop||KI-SHY Run – 5k and 10k – 1984|
|Charcoal Drawing – 1953||Flea Market – 1985|
|Flower Show – Basking Ridge Garden Club||Clarabelle the Clown from Howdy Doody Show – 1985|