NEW HAVEN — A familiar sight roamed the grounds of the Addison County Fair and Field Days in New Haven last week, just like he has for nearly seven decades.
Lucien Paquette, who will turn 98 on Thursday, helped found the event in the 1940s, and has since remained a part of Addison County’s annual agricultural celebration.
“I’ve been directly involved in something up until three years ago,” Paquette said this past Thursday afternoon at the New Haven fairgrounds.
Paquette earlier that day had participated in the hand mowing contest, where competitors cut hay using a scythe. Paquette first organized the event in 1978 and his technique is still described as nearly flawless.
Paquette graduated from the University of Vermont in 1940 and began working for the institution’s extension program. After organizing farm events in Grand Isle County, Paquette moved to Addison County in 1946 and created a field days event here.
“I was the only UVM Extension agent in Grand Isle County for the first four years,” Paquette recalled. “I did youth work and started a youth field days, so it was easy for me to start it when I came down here.”
There had been a fair in Addison County, but it died out during the Great Depression. Paquette and others sought to create a new agricultural celebration. At first, the event, called Addison County Field Days, was held on a different farm each year.
“The biggest change, of course, going way back, was that we were a traveling fair; we went to a different farm every year,” Paquette said. “We had no permanent home.”
In 1951, Paquette became superintendent of UVM’s Morgan Horse Farm, and arranged to host the field days there for one year.
By the 1960s, Paquette said that organizers were looking for a permanent site for Field Days. Eventually, they found a suitable location in New Haven, off of Route 17.
“We purchased this land in 1967 and started putting up some buildings, and expanding the programs that we did,” Paquette said.
Paquette said since locating permanently in New Haven, Field Days has grown in size and scope.
“The number of volunteers to keep this thing going has just been skyrocketing,” Paquette said. “It’s still not a big fair, as far as Vermont is concerned, but it has grown tremendously.”
IN THE EARLY DAYS
Harking back to the beginning of Field Days, Paquette recalled that at that time, rationing from World War II had just been lifted, meaning that products that had been restricted to consumers became available again. As manufacturing shifted away from wartime production, factories began making new farm equipment. Paquette said field days events were important, because organizers could invite manufacturers to demonstrate their new equipment.
“I thought this would lend itself well for demonstration, for providers of this type of equipment, and that’s how we started,” he said.
In fact, Paquette envisioned the event as an agricultural celebration and workshop — the notion of a fair did not come about until years later.
“I didn’t even have it in mind that this was going to be a fair,” Paquette said. “We went several years calling it ‘Field Days’ and finally put the word ‘fair’ in there.”
Paquette said organizers wanted Field Days to stick to its agricultural roots, instead of becoming too commercialized.
“One of the things we didn’t want to happen here is the development of a big midway,” Paquette said. “That has grown quite a lot, but I think all these other activities are strong — the farm, the home and the youth.”
The proud UVM alumnus said he’s glad that UVM Extension still plays a large role in Field Days.
“The Extension work, the off-campus educational part of the university, that was our basic interest, to continue that,” he said.
And though Paquette may not care for the amusement park aspect of Field Days, he does not shun his role as a grandfather and great-grandfather.
“I would go on (the rides) with my grandchildren once or twice,” he acknowledged.
He said the fair remains a great family event for both urban dwellers and country folk.
“I probably carry a little prejudice for this, because I’ve been involved with it for so long, but I’m just plain pleased it operates the way it does, because so much of what I was interested in when I started continues today,” Paquette said. “This isn’t one of the larger fairs in Vermont, but I think it’s an awfully nice family-type event.”
Paquette wasn’t hard to spot at Field Days last week in his yellow cap, emblazoned with the words “Wirthmore Feeds,” a company that went out of business in the 1960s. He laughed at the symbolism.
“I’m kind of an antique, so I thought we’d both go together today,” he said.