County Fair Delivers a Dose of Country to Urbanites and Suburbanites

What’s that smell?

Popcorn, onions, deep fryers, sunscreen, manure. It’s the county fair!

Many counties across the United States host fairs, and there’s not a whole lot of divergence among them. That’s what makes them so soothing. You can show up at one anywhere and expect to see cows, eat apple pie and ride the Ferris wheel.

The Montgomery County Agricultural Fair in Gaithersburg started in 1945 as an outlet for 4-H Club members to show off their hard work raising livestock and crops, as well as a way to demonstrate their skills at cooking, sewing and arts and crafts.

Suburban and city kids who have no other access to farm animals get to see and touch cows, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, rabbits and more.

A Changing Landscape

It’s hard to believe that all the subdivisions packed into the towns between D.C. and Baltimore used to be rolling hills and farmland, and you didn’t need to wait for the fair to come to town to see a cow.

Most of Maryland is still green and rural, but a look at Google Earth shows how urbanization is creeping out further and further from Baltimore and D.C., filling in the precious spaces residents compete for. The well-to-do strive to get as much house as they can for their money while still remaining within commuting distance to the city (it’s not unusual to find three hours acceptable).

The Maryland State Highway site divides the growth period of suburban Maryland into three categories: the Agricultural-Industrial Transition Period (1815-1870), the Industrial/Urban Dominance Period (1870-1930) and the Modern Period (1930-1960).

Transportation Is Key

During the mid-1800s, Baltimore’s suburbs grew tremendously, and this growth exploded in the late 1800s, when the addition of streetcars made living farther than a half-hour’s walk from your home possible.

Soon after, cars were invented, better roads were built, and more and more people left the tight urban spaces, pushing the outskirts of town farther and farther into what used to be Maryland forest and farmland.

As time and progress marched on, Montgomery County became more settled and populous, but not without a fight from some farmers clinging to their ways. The Civil War had been over for 100 years, but in Southern Maryland in particular, time had not moved as quickly, and residents were still steeped in their traditional ways of living on plantations and growing tobacco.

War Feeds Growth

Building projects during the Depression helped swell the population of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and World War II was the impetus for explosive growth, with some areas seeing a five-fold population increase.

Supermarkets, malls and independent retail outlets sprang up to serve the needs of the growing population. Roads were widened and new roads were built to accommodate the ever-growing need to get from here to there.

How it is Today

Wheat and corn once grew on farmland in Poolesville, and some of that same acreage now serves as fields for exclusive, expensive soccer clubs. Drivers who have never been through the area might be surprised when they reach the crest of a hill and spot acres of spacious, beautiful homes that sell for a half-million dollars each. Four bedrooms and four baths in 3,500 square feet is common. You might be able to get a few bedrooms for that price in D.C., but the same square footage yields zero results in a search.

Some may lament progress, but if nothing else, it gives us choices. If you don’t like the hustle and bustle of the city, if you want to raise your children on a cul-de-sac, if you love yardwork and don’t mind a long commute, these suburbs may be for you. It’s likely these areas will continue to grow, not just out, but up, too.

If you want to see what’s out there, you can enter all of your likes and dislikes into one of the free online real estate search tools to get a map of homes for sale that are perfect for you.

Whether you want to live in a hip, urban loft, a sprawling rural ranch, a McMansion or a suburban townhouse, one thing is for certain — if you ever get nostalgic for the Maryland that used to be, complete with cows, sheep and home-grown corn, you’ll be able to get your fix at the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair.

The Montgomery County Fair has closed up shop for the year, but for a similar dose of farming fun, try the Maryland State Fair, which runs Aug. 25 through Sept. 5 this year.

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