For the past 45 years, on a Saturday morning in late August, the bell in the old Lucketts schoolhouse has rung to launch the annual Lucketts Fair. That tradition comes to an end this weekend as the historic village hosts its fair for the last time.
Over the years, Lucketts carved out a niche among Loudoun’s beloved rural festivals as an old-fashioned country fair, full of homemade pies, hand-churned ice cream, lemonade, barbecue and great bluegrass.
But declining attendance and plans for a new fire station on neighboring fields have led organizers to call it quits after this year. The 2017 fair will be bittersweet for organizer Hilary Cooley, manager of the Lucketts Community Center, and it will really hit home when the first note sounds in the bandstand.
“The thing that always sends chills down my spine is when the bluegrass starts,” Cooley said. “The fair opens at nine, and bluegrass starts at 10. When they first hit the banjo, I get very excited and you know the fair has officially started.”
The Lucketts Citizens Association launched the fair in 1972 as a way to raise money for efforts to preserve the historic Lucketts School, a 1913 wood-frame schoolhouse that served as a public elementary school until 1972 when the current Lucketts Elementary School was built next door. Thanks to those early preservation efforts, the building was taken over by Loudoun County’s parks and recreation department in 1982 for use as a community center. The building was recently renovated and remains a community hub.
“We’ve tried to keep it old fashioned,” Cooley said of the fair she’s run for the past 15 years, as longtime fans come forward with memories of hot temperatures, hay mazes, antique tractors and lots of family fun.
Cooley has preserved old-school favorites like the fruit pie contest and largest vegetable competition, while adding new excitement in recent years with a book garden featuring local authors, antique dealers and sheepdog demos.
Fairgoers will also miss the annual hand-churned ice cream for sale at the fair by the Lucketts Elementary School PTA. For the first time in more than four decades, there won’t be a PTA ice cream sale at the fair this year, as the organization deals with aging equipment and a shortage of volunteers.
“Our first priority would be if at all possible to keep the traditions going because that’s part of what makes Lucketts great and what makes it stand out in the county,” said PTA President Amy Tribié.
This year, the PTA is trying to spread out ice cream sales—and the hard work involved—by selling pre-packed ice cream at the school on Saturday mornings and scooped ice cream at concerts at nearby Tarara Winery, instead of a two-day marathon at the fair.
Tribié fell in love with the community when she was hired as Lucketts Elementary’s music teacher in 2003 and later moved to Lucketts with her family. She has hardly missed a fair in 14 years and said she’ll miss favorite activities like visiting farm animals with her three children, hayrides and pony rides, along with the fair’s top-notch bluegrass.
“In a digital world, it’s a little taste of our analog past—just kind of unplugging and focusing on the simple things in life,” Tribié said.
But with or without the fair, the music that has emerged during the decades as Lucketts’ signature attraction isn’t going anywhere.
The Lucketts Bluegrass Foundation was established just after the first fair and now offers concerts on Saturday evenings from October through May each year in the newly renovated Lucketts Community Center auditorium. The series has grown over the years and now hosts the biggest names in bluegrass and draws fans from all over the East Coast.
This year’s farewell schedule at the fair’s Bluegrass Gazebo features big names like Patuxent Partners and Patent Pending, along with hot up-and-comers like the Morgantown, WV-based Hillbilly Gypsies.
In addition to the Saturday night concerts, the community will host an annual one-day Lucketts Bluegrass Festival starting in September of 2018.
For Cooley, the decision to end the fair on its 45th anniversary was a tough one. But plans to build a new fire station on land near the community center used each year for fair parking, along with declines in attendance in recent years, made it the right time to stop. Weekend attendance has gone from a high of 17,000 just under a decade ago to about 7,000 in recent years, Cooley said. And the decision was based in part on her experience as an organizer of Leesburg’s August Court Days celebration. That once-popular summer festival launched in the mid-70s, fizzled out in the mid-2000s and was canceled in 2005.
“I wanted to do one last one and say we’ve had our run and let’s do something else,” Cooley said. “This is the way to do it rather than wait until one day you open the gate and nobody shows up.”
And with a jam-packed schedule of music, food and fun, Cooley’s making sure the Lucketts Fair ends the way it’s begun for 45 years—on a high note.
The 45th Lucketts Fair takes place Saturday, Aug. 19, and Sunday, Aug. 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Lucketts Community Center, 42361 Lucketts Road north of Leesburg. Admission is $7 per person, free for children 7 and under. For more information, go to theluckettsfair.com