When talking about annual community celebrations that have an impressive multiyear track record, it’s customary for boosters to identify them as the fifth, tenth, 25th or whatever of their kind. But for the big outdoor wingding that gets pretty much everybody in the hamlet of High Falls out on the streets for one day each summer, it’s impossible to cite a how-manyeth because no one really knows anymore. So you won’t see any such numbers on the flyers for this year’s Fair Day in High Falls, scheduled for this Saturday, July 12. Ask the old-timers around town and they’ll tell you that it has just always been done, as long as they can remember.
According to Ed Schoelwer, a relative newcomer who has been involved with the High Falls Civic Association for about four years, that organization has been sponsoring Fair Day “since the ‘30s on and off, in different incarnations.” He speculates that the original organizer may have been the local Fire Company, which remains involved in the event to this day, along with the Community Church of High Falls and the D & H Canal Historical Society and Museum. “High Falls has been having a summertime community event in July forever — since at least 1800, formally or informally,” he avers.
After some years of waning local enthusiasm for the street fair, then-young and fiery restaurateurs John Novi of the DePuy Canal House and Richard Murphy of the Egg’s Nest tried to inject some new civic pride and energy into the sleepy hamlet during the 1970s. In a renegade publication called the Highfallonian, they declared High Falls the “center of the universe” (which may come as a shock to some Woodstockers) and helped revive interest in the July street festival. Schoelwer credits Novi with coining the phrase A Fair Day in High Falls, which has been the event’s “official” nomenclature ever since.
A tall pine tree next to the Canal House, site of the hamlet’s annual winter tree-lighting ceremony, is also considered the epicenter of the July celebrations. “We spread the fair all along Main Street [Route 213], but it spills over in different directions,” Schoelwer explains. “The goal of the day is to get everybody out to participate, and also to show off a bit… The fair operates on the principle of the children’s story Stone Soup. Everybody has to put something in.”
Besides all of the tiny downtown’s businesses throwing open their doors, the Fair Day action along Main Street includes an antiques and collectibles tent sale; a wellness tent offering massages; a taste of High Falls food festival, with all the community’s amazing restaurants offering samples of their specialties at a nominal charge; games for kids organized by the Community Church’s Reverend Aaron Schulte in Grady Park (the site where the Sunday flea markets are usually held); a dunking booth in the post office parking lot; and hayrides conducted by Bill Brooks, the mastermind behind the Rosendale Pickle Festival.
A new competitive event begun last year, the Locktender’s Water Relay Race, will revive the days of the firefighters’ bucket brigade by pitting teams against one another to run up the hill on Old Route 213 without spilling too much water from their pails. The winning team can claim “High Falls: Center of the Universe” tee-shirts, and local businesses and organizations are being invited to sponsor teams.
The Rosendale Improvement Association Brass Band and Social Club will be marching up and down Main Street from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., says Schoelwer, and the band Aurora Celtic will play at 2 p.m. in the Community Church parking lot and again at 4 p.m. in the field at the corner of Route 213 and Mohonk Road. The headliners when it comes to musical entertainment will be Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, who have played Fair Day in years past, but not recently. Schoelwer says that he found himself standing next to Mason at an event and worked up the courage to ask her if the much-in-demand pair would perform. “Sure, if John Novi feeds us!” she responded. The Americana icons have an affinity for historical songs, so the Canal Museum — on Mohonk Road just off Main Street — will be the perfect spot for their 1 p.m. concert. Jay & Molly will do a second set at 3 p.m. on the High Falls Green beside the Canal House.
On Mohonk Road, the Community Church will host a barbecued chicken dinner. Wired Gallery has extended the run of its very successful “Group Show #8: First Generation” in its new location at 11 Mohonk Road; it has also announced the return of the traveling “Chagall in High Falls” exhibition, which will be opening at the High Falls Emporium at 10 Old Route 213 on Fair Day with a reception from 4 to 6 p.m.
A Fair Day in High Falls activities run from 11 a.m. until well into the evening on Saturday, July 12. Admission is free and parking is plentiful along Route 213 and the side roads. To find out more about the event, sign up to become a vendor or field a team in the Locktender’s Water Relay Race, or to volunteer to help out, call (845) 687-3473 or visit www.highfallscivic.org.