"The thing I like about Ellis Hollow," commented a resident of a near-by community, "is that you do things - swim, have picnics and parties. We just fund-raise." Ellis Hollow does too, but only once a year at a big bash where everyone turns out, meets their neighbors and waves hello to most of Ithaca as they go by with balloons, cotton candy and small children in hand.The money raised at the Fair each fall pays for the Center's operating expenses and activities for the next year.
The Ellis Hollow Country Fair began with an auction in the fall of 1952. Residents cleaned out their barns and attics to help raise money for the Community Center. The auction, organized by the Ogdens, the DeMottes, the Whitlocks and several other families made $500. "Oh, we had fun," Pert Ogden commented. "You never saw so much stuff. It was 3 a.m. before we were done. I'll never forget the auctioneer. He donated his time, but he said, 'You know, these Community Centers, they last a few years. Then people get to quarreling and that's the end of it'."
The next year, at the suggestion of Katrina Morse, the auction was made part of a country fair, held on the grounds of the little school house. The Ellis Hollow Country Fair, the community's only fund-raising event, has been held every year since. In 1972, the site of the Fair shifted to the new Community Center grounds on Genung Road. The Fair was a success from the very beginning. The first 1952 Fair netted $463, the 1975 Fair made $6,190.
While the Fair varies from year to year depending on the imagination of the chairs and the talent of the current residents, several ingredients have remained constant to keep it a small friendly country fair despite crowds of well over 6,000 people some years. There is no admission charged and only few outside concessions.
Hand crafts and baked goods are homemade and the produce is home grown by Hollow residents. Prices are kept low and many games and booths are designed for children. Many Hollow residents feel working at the Fair is even more fun than attending.
"It never rains on the Ellis Hollow Fair," we residents all assured ourselves as the black clouds gathered on the morning of the Fair in our soggy Bicentennial year. Actually it had rained once before for the last hour of the 1967 Fair, but no one counts that. We consulted the weather maps and we voted - shouted for the Fair to go on. And it did. And it rained. Poured. The big surprise was that the Fair still made money. The Ellis Hollow Fair had become such an important part of Ithaca's autumn that even bad weather did not keep crowds away.
The Fair is held on the Saturday after Labor Day. There is always a large gift booth of hand-made items. People work on wall hangings, dolls, jewelry, stuffed animals, aprons, Christmas tree ornaments, place mats and a hundred other items for this booth all during the year. Tuesday was "gift booth work bee day" at the Community Center for many years. More recently neighborhood groups have gathered to help make items for the Fair. Sweet corn, which used to be fresh-picked hourly from Reuben Shapley's field, is sold at the vegetable stand along with a large variety of vegetables from local gardens. Plants, used books, cut flowers, dried flower arrangements and white elephants are sold at other booths. There are all kinds of games for the children.
The first hand-made quilt raffled off at the Fair was the Album Quilt, organized by Donna Lemon in 1966. Each contributor designed her own square to represent a phase of life in Ellis Hollow. Other quilts have been the Toy Quilt, the Apple Quilt, Leaves, Snowflake Quilt, Garden Quilt, Bird Quilt, Bicentennial Quilt, Butterfly Quilt, a Yellow NYS Wildflowers Quilt and a Red Tulip Quilt. The first ten were exhibited at the Tompkins County Library in May, 1976 as part of the Bicentennial celebration.
2002 Fair Quilt - "Woodland Animals"
For the first nineteen years Ellis Hollow Fairs were held on the grounds of the old Community Center at the corner of Ellis Hollow and Turkey Hill Roads. After the 1965 Fair, Zelle Pritchard wrote "A Vignette" for the Ellis Hollow Gazette:
While at the Ellis Hollow Fair this year, as I looked over that immense crowd gathered in that small rectangle, my gaze went beyond, over the big house, now the home of Mrs. DeMotte, and so outwardly unchanged over the years.
I thought of the old couple who lived there in my school days, Azell and Mary Ann Lawrence. They were a highly respected pair, very fastidious as to their house and farm, and very penny conscious. We school kids were a great trial to them, and Mary Ann was always on the alert when we were not corralled in the school house. If a boy thought he could jump the fence into their orchard and toss some apples back to the rest of us, Mary Ann would be out yelling "You brats, go right on, on home. Them's all the apples we've got."
I wonder if, by chance, there was a hold in that "mystic curtain' and the old couple could peek through at the crowd milling around in their sheep pasture, see all that money changing hands, and they not getting a nickel of it. Mary Ann would be vigorously shaking her cane and I think I hear Azell saying "This ain't Heaven, Mary Ann."
The 25th Anniversary of the Fair:
In celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Fair, a lovely, large silver Lunt engraved bowl was raffled off during the 1977 Fair, unfortunately pictures of that bowl have not been retained so we can only go by its description. It was reported in one local paper that in addition to the bowl, "unique commemorative wooden nickels were used as legal tender at the game booths and also kept as collector's items." In addition, the original book Ellis Hollow came out in 1977 and was sold at the Fair.
At its inception, The Ellis Hollow Fair was well attended, not only because of its old-fashioned country-fair feel, but also because there were not many other events going on during the weekend after Labor Day. During the ensuing years, more and more events appeared around the area vying for patronage on the same day as the Fair, but the Fair still holds its own and continues to be an "institution" in Tompkins county, with its old-fashioned fun.
Our 50th Anniversary:
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Ellis Hollow Fair, it remains an old-fashioned country Fair. There are no rides, except the hayrides pulled by horses or a tractor. It consists of an auction of goods and services from local providers; the annual quilt raffle; a variety of game booths, including a dunk 'em booth; clowns and balloons; dried flowers and crafts; numerous food and baked goods booths; a white elephant sale; and various other specialty booths and vendors. Local bands also participate. The Fair has a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it that Fair-goers, young and old, still enjoy. People come from all over the area to join in the day of festivities.
For a half century, Ellis Hollow has celebrated this tradition, which makes possible the luxury of very low-cost memberships for the pool and "free" memberships for residents for most of the other activities and pleasures afforded by the Community Center. Consequently, it is vital that new volunteers come forth each year, as older volunteers retire, to help with the Fair so that it can continue to fund the Center's expenses.
Most Fair volunteers find that helping with the Fair is not only fun, but also rewarding. The Fair provides the opportunity for volunteers to meet and get to know their neighbors, to enjoy the festivities, and to provide support for their community at the same time. Many lasting friendships have developed as a result of working at the Fair.
The Ellis Hollow Fair is the way our Community Center earns the money to carry on the upkeep of its property and buildings and to fund its day-to-day expenses. Without that income, the Community Center would fall into disrepair, and we would lose something very precious to Ellis Hollow and its residents. The Fair is generally held on the second Saturday in September, unless a conflict arises.
Some special items and draws at the 50th Annual Fair were a lovely memorial clock provided at cost by Schooleys Jewelers, Ithaca. The back of the clock was engraved (donated by A&B Engraving, Ithaca) with the occasion and date, and was raffled off during the Fair.
A special T-shirt was designed by a board member (Christine Becraft) with a full color logo for the Fair this year. The beautiful scene depicted the rural nature of Ellis Hollow along with scenes depicting the fair and recreational nature of the area, against a backdrop of a brillant sun with clockface which tied to the theme of, "It's Ellis Hollow time.
The quilt for the 50th Anniversary was "Woodland Animals" and proved to be a popular draw for fairgoers. In addition a local car club sent a few representatives with classic cars from the 1950's, which drew a lot of admirers of times past. Another special item were bottles of Ellis Hollow Maple Syrup donated by Fingerlakes Maple Products, taken from the sugar maple trees in the Hollow.
It was a perfect day for the fair with temperatures in the 70's and partly cloudy most of the day. Attendance was good and the 50th annual fair proved to be a good provider for the EHCC coffers. Thanks to all from the community and local businesses who helped!
Betty Shapley Poem
Betty Shapley, one of the founders of our Community Association and Country Fair, had written a number of poems in the early 1950's before her death in 1955. Reuben Shapley shared his first wife's book of poems with Virginia Bizzell who asked that Betty's poem about the second year's fair be included in the Gazette, so we thought it fitting to include here:
THE SECOND ANNUAL ELLIS HOLLOW COUNTRY FAIR (PAST)
The second annual Ellis Hollow Fair is a thing of the past
But the memories of that day long will last
The day dawned anything but fair and fine
With little prospect of sunshine
"To be or not to be?" --was the question most asked
While everyone continued busy with his own task.
At last the question was placed before all workers there;
"Shall we or shall we not have a Fair?"
Many pros and cons were heard
Then a local character spoke a word:
"I feel in my bones the day will be right"
Others willing to cause a rumpus or fight
Agreed the Fair should be held as planned
Soon all exhibits were in order and well manned.
We could continue this story for sometime
But let's just add a conclusion to this foolish rhyme.
People came to the Fair, had fun, and spent their dough
And went away lauding the Ellis Hollow show.
P.S. I was one who stayed away.
But not because I feared the day
My mind was at the Fair--though I couldn't go
But there is one thing I wish you to know
The big sample of the Fair you sent me
Made me as thrilled as could be.
The "foods for the Gods" which Mary Alice did bake
All the Shapleys found it fun to partake.
The note with the cake gave me a lift
At writing the correct thing, M.A. has a gift
The apron in my own colors is a gorgeous creation
The bird under Nellie's hat sings and is a real sensation.
The dried arrangement is a work of art
These with the card and flowers made me feel I'd had a part.
-Betty Shapley 1955