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The Big E: New England's Great State Fair

Traveling has always been one of my passions. It exposes us to new cultures and experiences and makes the world a more tolerant place.

Each fall brings western Massachusetts one of the most highly anticipated events of the year—the annual New England Great State Fair, otherwise known as The Big E. Started back in 1917, The Big E is a 17-day extravaganza of exhibits, entertainment, agriculture, and of course food.

With something for everyone, it’s no wonder that The Big E now draws over one million visitors annually to one of the country’s oldest and most revered fall festivals.

With its long and rich tradition, The Big E has transformed itself over the years to really become one of the largest and most visited attractions here in Massachusetts. The Big E is currently the sixth largest state fair in the country and the largest on the east coast.

Originally conceived by Joshua Brooks as a means of showcasing and expanding New England’s agricultural base, the 175-acre site in West Springfield was purchased early in the 20th century and developed with cattle barns and a Coliseum. When a group of New England businessmen convinced the National Dairy Show to move their annual fair from Chicago to West Springfield in 1916 the site was christened with its first event.

Petting Zoo

Petting Zoo

The following year the very first Eastern States Exposition was held and the fair has been held every year since except for interruptions by the two World Wars. Over the next few decades the fair thrived and in an effort to make it a truly New England event each state constructed a building that would display its products, culture, and heritage. This was the creation of the Avenue of States, one of the more popular attractions at The Big E.

Today, The Big E takes place over seventeen days starting on the second Friday after Labor Day. The fair is held on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition and is located in West Springfield, Massachusetts just over the Connecticut River from downtown Springfield.

Avenue of the States - New Hampshire Building

Avenue of the States - New Hampshire Building

Avenue of the States - Maine Building

Avenue of the States - Maine Building

Avenue of States

The Avenue of States is the area of the exposition grounds where each New England state has its own building. The building and land that they sit on actually belong to the individual states so this is the only place where someone can visit all six New England states within a few minutes.

Come Big E time the buildings become a hub of activity as each state puts its best foot forward in displaying their wares and unique native foods. If you are in the mood for a baked potato then by all means head to the Maine state-building. Have a hankering for fried clams or Del’s Lemonade, then head to the Rhode Island building. Looking for tourist information about Cape Cod, then stop into the Massachusetts building. Each state really goes all out to promote the best that they have to offer. It’s a great way to discover all six New England states in one convenient location.

The Massachusetts Building

The Massachusetts Building

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Agriculture

A big part of The Big E has always been centered around animals and the numerous livestock displays on hand. This continues the fair’s tradition and farming roots from the early days of the exposition. Toward this end, there is an entire building, the Mallory Complex that is dedicated to housing farm animals including sheep, goats, cows, pigs and chickens.

For the kids there is a petting zoo and they also put on smaller-scale pony and dog show. The 4-H and FFA (Future Farmers of America) are also very active at the Big E with over 7000 participants. It’s a wonderful site to see so many young kids and adults who have a passion for farming and taking care of the livestock.

That's one big pumpkin

That's one big pumpkin

The Butter Cow. This sculpture is made entirely of butter.

The Butter Cow. This sculpture is made entirely of butter.

Farm-A-Rama, located in the Stroh Building continues with the agriculture theme with a chick hatchery, giant pumpkins from throughout New England, and the famous Hallamore Clydesdale's that take part in The Big E daily parade. If you've never seen a Clydesdale up close and personal they are amazing animals and worth a visit.

Farm-A-Rama gives kids and adults the opportunity to touch the animals and it's a great place to see how the animals are cared for. You can watch sheep being sheared and witness hundreds of chicks being born in the hatchery. It's a great place for kids to learn what is involved in caring for animals and to respect our four legged friends.

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Food

Food is certainly one of the big attractions at The Big E and there is plenty of it here to enjoy. From the New England State buildings offering their favorite local fares to the over 140 food locations throughout the grounds you will never go hungry at The Big E. Famous for its original Craz-E Burger, this concoction takes a bacon cheeseburger and sandwiches it between the two halves of a glazed donut. Go figure! And if dessert is your thing then try one of The Big E’s famous Cream Puffs or The Big Éclair.

the-big-e-new-englands-great-state-fair

No matter what your taste buds desire, you are certain to find it here at the Big E. In honor of the 250th anniversary of the creation of the Sandwich, The Big E proudly boasts that it offers 250 different sandwiches for you to sample. If you leave The Big E hungry, you have no one to blame but yourself.

the-big-e-new-englands-great-state-fair

Entertainment

Entertaining the masses is a high priority at The Big E and they do not disappoint in this respect.

The Mardi Gras Parade is a much anticipated daily event and the Court of Honor Stage holds daily concerts that are free to all.

Look for the Big Top on the grounds and you've found the Big E Super Circus that gives three free shows daily.

And if all of this is not enough there is the Comcast Arena with a seating capacity of 6,000 for open-air weekend concerts. Past shows have included Chris Daugherty, Destiny’s Child, Willey Nelson, Brad Paisley, Jessica Simpson, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, and American Idols Jordan Sparks.

Up until a few years ago the concerts were free but with such big names coming to town and the demand far exceeding the capacity of the venue they now sell tickets to these marquee events. Get your tickets early!

Mardi Gras Parade

Mardi Gras Parade

Mardi Gras Parade

Equine Events

If you love horses then you are in for a treat as The Big E hosts three horse shows. Whether it’s Hunter/Jumpers, Saddle Horses, or the big, beautiful draft horses, there is a show for you. The draft horses will amaze you with their brute strength as they drive their wagons across the coliseum. And don’t forget to pay a visit to my personal favorites, the Clydesdales.

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Rides and Games

What kind of fair would it be if they didn't have the Midway for kids of all ages? If rides and games are your thing then head to The Big E’s North American Midway to be spun, flipped, and twirled around on your favorite rides. With rides for kids of all ages as well as adults there is something here to satisfy every thrill seeking adventurous soul.

The Midway

The Midway

The Midway

Shopping

If you’re in a shopping mood then there is plenty for you at The Big E as hundreds of vendors line the streets and walkways of the fair grounds.

Many local businesses from throughout New England will setup shop here to sell their goods. You can find a wide variety of items ranging from clothing to household goods to state-specific items.

Two large buildings on the fair grounds are dedicated to vendors. The Better Living Center is the largest and contains vendors selling home improvement, cooking and other household wares.

The International Building is where you will find vendors selling multi-culture items including imported goods from Italy and Ireland in keeping with New England’s diverse cultural background.

Big E Info

  • Most exhibits and buildings are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Tickets are $15 but coupons are available from many sources.
  • A 17-day unlimited pass is available for $40.
  • Kids 6–12 are $10
  • Age 5 and under are free
  • Monday to Thursday is Six after Five, tickets are $6 after 5 p.m.

The Big E truly is a wonderful collaboration of the best that New England has to offer. The attendance numbers every year are a testament to the popularity and diversity that this annual event brings to the region. If you are looking for a great day of fun, food, culture and entertainment then plan on spending a day at New England’s Great State Fair.

Aerial View of the Eastern Exposition Grounds

Other Articles on New England by the Author

  • Forest Park, the Jewel of Springfield, Massachusetts
    Check out all there is to do at Forest Park, the jewel of Springfield, Massachusetts. This park has something for everyone including the Forest Park Zoo and the nationally acclaimed Brights Nights Holiday display.
  • The Wistariahurst Museum, Holyoke, Massachusetts
    Get all the information you need to plan a visit to the Wistariahurst Museum located in Holyoke. Massachusetts. This beautiful Victorian era home and gardens was once the home of William Skinner and his family.
  • Block Island Travel Guide
    Everything you need to know for a great day trip out to Block Island. This beautiful island located just off the coast of Rhode Island makes for a great destination for those who love the beach and the great outdoors.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there a Big E Fair guide?

Answer: Yes, their website has all of the information you will need including an entertainment guide, concerts, parade schedule, food options, etc. I have included it here. It's very comprehensive, and you should be able to find pretty much anything you need about the Fair:

https://www.thebige.com/.

Question: Does the Big E Fair have wheelchairs available?

Answer: Yes, the Big E Fair does have wheelchairs and scooters available for rent. I believe wheelchairs are $15 per day and the electric scooters and $50 per day.

Question: Is there an RV park close by to the Big E state fair?

Answer: The closest RV Parks that I could find are located in Northampton and Southwick. The one in Southwick, called Southwick Acres is about 25 minutes from the Big E fair grounds in West Springfield. The one in Northampton is about 35 minutes away.

© 2013 Bill De Giulio

Comments

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on September 28, 2013:

Hi ElleBee. Hope you had a great day at the Big E. We are going tomorrow on the last day. Hope it's not too crowded. Weather is perfect. Thanks for stopping by.

ElleBee on September 28, 2013:

Headed out to the BigE today! Just came back to check out this article again to see if there were any tips/attractions I was forgetting about.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on July 08, 2013:

Hi Kathryn. As you well know, the Big E is the "event" out here in western Mass. We never tire of it and there is always something new and interesting to see while there. Tell Andy he is missing a great time.

Thanks so much for the visit, have a wonderful day.

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on July 07, 2013:

Growing up in Western Mass, I used to go to the Big E all of the time! This article brought back lots of great memories, and sometime maybe I can convince Andy to bring me there for some fun and entertainment in the Autumn. Just thinking about the little places to shop, the delicious New England food, the Midway (although I don't think I could convince Andy to go on any rides), and the animals.... I love it!

Thanks for sharing this with us, and have a great night. Sometime I want to check out the other articles you have on New England.

~ Kathryn

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on June 17, 2013:

Hi ElleBee. So nice to find someone familiar with the Big E. I went to URI so I have a long history with Kenyon's clam cakes. The food is the number one reason we go although I do enjoy seeing the animals also. I agree, a casino on the grounds of the Big E would just ruin everything so matter what they say. Thanks for the visit.

ElleBee on June 17, 2013:

Oh how I love the Big E! Now I want some Kenyon's clam cakes, an apple cider slushie from the Vermont building, and perhaps a little maple candy to take home! In case you can't guess - the food is DEFINITELY my favorite part of the Big E! I'm hoping that W. Springfield doesn't get the casino bid, just b/c it would (in my opinion) ruin the fair!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 20, 2013:

Hi Glimmer Twin. It's a great event that we very much look forward to every year. It's a great time to be in New England. Thanks for stopping by.

Claudia Mitchell on February 20, 2013:

This looks like loads of fun. We are thinking of heading to the Northeast for a vacation and might have to tie it in with this event.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 15, 2013:

Hi hawaiianodysseus. Glad this hub lead to some new knowledge. I've lived here most of my life. Born in RI, lived in Connecticut for many years, and now live in Massachusetts. I can understand peoples confusion as New York and New Jersey certainly sound like they would be a part of New England. Anyway, thanks as usual for stopping by. Have a great weekend.

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on February 15, 2013:

I've used the term New England for as long as I remember, but it wasn't until tonight, after reading your hub, that I determined I was going to learn what six states comprise NE. So, by rote, here they are: Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Until I learned this, I thought New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland were part of New England. Just goes to show, even an old dog still has some memory banks left. LOL!

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 15, 2013:

Hi Mary. If you do get an opportunity to go I think you will enjoy it. There really is something for everyone. The fairgrounds are very large so they really do manage to get a lot of interesting things in there. I really enjoy the animals so we spend a fair amount of time in those buildings. We'll also visit the state buildings which are always interesting. And of course I've never met donut or Eclair or baked potato that I haven't consumed. Thank you for the visit, enjoy the weekend.

Mary Craig from New York on February 15, 2013:

Can you see me hanging my head? Our Ulster County Fair is a very, very, very small fair...the Dutchess County Fair is somewhat bigger, but nothing like this for sure.

Friends of ours just moved to MA, maybe we can finagle a visit there when the Big E is running. It looks great. The opening postcard is really a treasure and as always all your personal photos are great!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 15, 2013:

Hi Carol. I've had that tune in my head since I found the video. If you are not careful you can spend a lot of dinero at the Big E. We always make sure we have a coupon to cut the cost of the ticket and last year we did the Six after Five which was reasonable. It can be tough to resist the food, which is a big part of the fair. Thanks for the visit, have a great weekend.

Bill De Giulio (author) from Massachusetts on February 15, 2013:

Hi Bill. The Big E has been a great tradition out here for as long as I can remember. The Vermont building always does a great job of representing the state, in fact they all do. Thanks for stopping by and have a great weekend.

carol stanley from Arizona on February 15, 2013:

I started thinking about Meet Me in St. Louie, Louie. Very interesting and thanks for sharing this great event..What fun to go to it...However it could be quite costly. Voting up and pinning.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 15, 2013:

You know what's weird about this? I've never heard of it, and I lived in Vermont for two years. Very cool, informative hub, Bill. Thank you for continuing my education.