A local fair that’s been running for more than seven decades has its hamlet’s history to thank for its unusual name.
The 71st annual Punkintown Fair, hosted by the New Salem Volunteer Fire Department, kicks off Thursday, July 25, this year, and runs through Saturday, July 27, with doors opening at 6 p.m. each day. Though the hometown fair raises funds for the volunteer fire company, the event purportedly began before the fire department was established. Many things about the quaint fair remain tied to its roots, with a family-friendly tradition shared by generations.
Around 1770, the area of New Salem was settled as farmland with a road running through the community. Stu Morrison, past event chairman and former fire department captain, said the area was known as Punkintown before a post office was established in the hamlet in the 1830s.
Why the area was called Punkintown is tied to its superior gourd produce.
“Supposedly, there was a pig that raised her piglets in a huge pumpkin that was chewed out,” Morrison said.
The fire department entered an annual contract with the town in 1949, but additional funds were still needed to operate, according to the New Scotland Historical Association. The fire district surrounds the Village of Voorheesville and covers around 23 square miles, or 40 percent of the town.
“The history is it actually started out prior to the fire department being formed during WWII and the fair was used to raise money for troops overseas,” Morrison said. “There are not too many people left that remember when it was started, but from the town historian that is what I get as gospel.”
The fair remains the biggest fundraiser for the department if there isn’t inclement weather, Morrison said.
“When we have a good year, it is easily our biggest fundraiser and when it rains it is number two,” he said.
For many people, it is also about a family tradition, he said, with the fair acting like a sort of homecoming for some former residents that have left the hamlet.
“A lot of people that grew up here come back and bring their kids because they remember coming here as a kid,” he said. “I remember coming here as a kid and winning my goldfish.”
Morrison even said he has a couple fish at his house he won at the fair around seven years ago.
Originally, the fire department owned its own rides, but for several years it has contracted out that portion of the event. That has led to more rides, too.
“It is more of classic fair feel now,” Morrison said, “because kids can go on the big swing and things that make them hurl up their lunch.”
Raffle tickets were mailed out, but tickets will also be available during the fair at the announcer’s booth. The raffle has a first place prize of $2,500, second place prize of $1,000 and third place prize of $500.
Opening night there will be a “meet and greet” with local D.I.R.T Modified Racing Champion Matt DeLorenzo, whose father is a fire company member. Then on the following two nights, Dean Davis and his “animals that nobody loves” will be the special attraction. Of course, classic fair food will be offered.
“Every year we try to update some of the older things and keep it fresh,” Morrison said. “We are all family people and we run it as such. We very much want to make it a good experience for everyone.”