The Evolution of the Eastern States Exposition
How the Big E became one of West Springfield and New England's finest traditions, and how it has changed through the years.
The Big E is back in session for its annual 17 day fair, showcasing unique foods, carnival rides, and branches of agriculture from all over the country. This New England tradition is one of the most cherished events to date, celebrating its centennial year in 2016. It seems as if everyone knows about this infamous event; however, what people don’t know is how it all came to be.
Before the Big E grounds and all of its buildings were created, an immense layer of swampland filled 175 acres of what is now 1305 Memorial Avenue of West Springfield, Massachusetts. In around 1916 Joshua L. Brooks, a farmer and advocate for local agriculture, took note of the regional decline and overall agricultural oblivion that seemed to prevail New England. He longed to bring the enthusiasm that farming practices produced back to the area, and thus, the idea for the Big E was born.
Brooks’ main goal was for the exposition to showcase a variety of different farming practices and direct attention back to the occupation. To do so, Brooks led the construction of the Coliseum as well as the cattle barns that, to this day, still contain goats, llamas, horses and other farm animals throughout the duration of the fair.
The first official Big E fair was in 1917 after the National Dairy Show was held on the grounds in 2016. It is estimated that about 138,000 people from all around the nation attended the fair, but Brooks still had a bigger vision: in order for the Big E to be a New England event rather than a Massachusetts event, he advised each New England state to create a building for themselves. Inside, they would showcase different characteristics of their state, including foods, products, and even architecture to reflect the way buildings were constructed in their state. These buildings are still a popular attraction at the fair, and their location is known as the Avenue of States.
Flash forward to 2018, where this annual event is even bigger and better than ever before. The Big E still showcases a great amount of agriculture, specifically in one iconic place: the Farm-A-Rama. This building contains horse stables with award-winning Clydesdales, goat, llama, and pig enclosures, live chick hatching, vegetable growing contest award winners and much more. The fair also has a great amount of livestock barns, which hold different types of cows and horses, and also have elephants, sheep, zebras, and other animals at a small petting zoo.
Despite the agricultural background and the entire meaning behind the creation of the fair, there is one thing that works to attract people the most: food.
Every year there are new additions to the hundreds of different food items that the Big E’s concession stands offer. Some specific cravings that visitors can never seem to get enough of are the Craz-E burger, which is a cheeseburger sandwiched between two glazed donuts, giant cream puffs, chocolate-covered bacon, a bucket of cinnamon-sugar donuts, and an infinite number of other options.
Specifically, the Big E is most known for its variety of obscure deep-fried food: oreos, cheesecake, snickers bars, pumpkin pie, jelly beans, and even kool-aid.
Despite their success, some of the new options may give the old classics a run for their money. In 2018, the Big E has introduced the nacho sundae, which consists of cinnamon and sugar tortilla chips with ice cream and candy toppings; the messy agnus, a pulled pork apple fritter sandwich; 40 different flavors of licorice; a hotdog-stuffed pickle coated with corndog batter, and more.
Another thing the Eastern States Exposition is known for is providing various forms of entertainment throughout the fair. Some big names from Hollywood and around the country have come to West Springfield to perform, including Blake Shelton, Johnny Cash, Destiny’s Child, and even The Beach Boys. The Beach Boys will be putting on another show on September 30 at the Xfinity Arena on the Big E grounds, and the tickets sold out rapidly after the date was announced. There are a few other smaller concert venues within the area as well, including the Court of Honor Stage, and the E Stage.
Avid Big E goers welcome the fair with open arms and are sad to see it go when the 17 days have passed. Whether visitors come from near or far, for food or rides, or just to simply take in the atmosphere of the Big E, it is an event that everyone from New England should go to in their lifetime. You’ll never truly understand the experience until you see it for yourself.
If you haven’t attended the Big E yet, don’t worry: it is open until Sunday, September 30th, and admission for adults is $15.