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August  27,  2007

Arden Fair comes around
for the one-hundredth time

As a long-ago summer was drawing to a close, someone whose identity has been lost to history suggested that it might be a good idea to hold one last party before returning to the city. That proved to be such a good idea that it has been repeated 99 times.

During the coming Labor Day weekend, the 100th annual Arden Fair will mark the end of the 2007 vacation season.

Not only is the Arden Fair one of the longest continuously running community events -- second only to the August Big Quarterly in this area -- as far as anyone knows it has never had to be cancelled because of the weather and, in fact, had to use its day-later rain date only once -- in 2006 -- according to Cindy Cohen, who chairs this year's edition.

Things, of course, are a lot different from what they were back in 1908.

Arden was then a wooded enclave in rural Brandywine Hundred where folks came from Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere to escape the heat. It was not so much a resort, however, as an encampment

of kindred souls. Founded at the beginning of the last century as a single-tax village of the kind advocated by social reformer Henry George, it early-on tended to attract people interested in and involved with the arts and crafts. They lived in cabins -- some in tents -- and enjoyed a communal lifestyle.

Today Arden is still a wooded enclave in the midst of suburban Brandywine Hundred. Its residences are year-around permanent homes, albeit with vestiges of its heritage. The community is actually three separately incorporated municipalities -- Arden, Ardentown

The 100th Arden Fair

WHERE: The Highway, Arden

WHEN: Saturday, September 1, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

ADMISSION: Free to fair itself; $2 to the Buzz Ware Community Center exhibit; $1.50 to the antiques & collectables area..

ENTERTAINMENT: Continuous musical entertainment in the grove behind Gild Hall

PARKING: Limited in the immediate area. Free shuttle buses will run from the Y.M.C.A. Hanby Center, off Chestnut Street near Indianfield.

CLICK HERE to access the Arden Club website for additional information.

and Ardencroft, collectively referred to by those knowledgeable as The Ardens -- with county and school property taxes paid with single checks financed by land rents.

More to the point, there are a considerable number of artists, artisans and craftspersons among the 1,100 people who live there.

Thus the Arden Fair.

Having evolved from a departure ritual into a folk event -- and for some former residents, a homecoming -- the fair highlights the arts and crafts tradition. This year there will be 110 crafts vendors displaying and selling their wares. At least a quarter of them are residents or have an Ardens connection, Cohen said.

This year for the first time the historic Arden Craft Shop, now a museum, will be open in conjunction with the fair. The fair's annual art exhibit will be a display, in various media by several artists, themed to the fair itself. The history of the Arden School will be the topic of a display in the Buzz Ware Community Center, the building which formerly housed the elementary public school.

The biggest change, of course, was the opening many years ago of the event to nonresidents.

"There are many people even now who regard Arden as having a separate identity," said Barbara Macklem, a second-generation Ardenite. "There are a lot of things that go on throughout the year, but this is one day when everybody feels welcome to the village. They find we're a vital, friendly, active community and, as my father used to say, that we don't live in trees."

"Call it a local party with a wide appeal," she added.

Typically, fair attendance ranges between 7,500 and 8,500. Proceeds go to finance Gild Hall, the home of the Arden Club, a membership organization which is the actual sponsor of the event. Club membership is open with a significant portion comprised of people who do not live in one of the villages.

Growth of the fair into a major public event is the most significant change that Betty Solway Smith has seen over the years. At age 88, she is considered the longest-tenured fair volunteer. This year she will be helping to man the Arden Club information booth. "My job is to let [fair attenders] know all the things we have here," she said.

Truth to be told, she added that she prefers the time when "it was a little fair before it got so big." However, she said she understands the need to raise money to support the club's 10 gilds. In particular, she sees a link to the future of an Ardens tradition in the 55 children, ranging to as young as five, who participated this year  in the Shakespeare Gild's Young Actors Workshop.

"Arden has always been like a large family," said Peter Renzetti, who has been involved in "at least 50" fairs. Having retired earlier this year from operating a forge specializing in decorative ironwork, he will not be demonstrating blacksmithing as he did for several years, but will be performing as a member of the 'Strings of Prussia' band.

To an extent, he said, this year's fair will restore a taste of the pageantry which used to go with the fair.

 "In honor of the 100th, we're asking people to come in a manner of dress appropriate to the fair," Cohen said. That is expected to range from decorative hats and clothing representing various times during the past century to Shakespearean and other costumes. 

Key to the success the fair has enjoyed over the years has been the effort of the some 450 volunteers who turn out to make the event possible. Macklem said it sometimes is difficult to "squeeze in time to visit the fair," especially when, as is the case with many, there are several different roles to fill during the day. But, she added, "you don't feel cheated [because] you feel you're a participant."

In a sense that continues after one is no longer able or literally not around to participate, she explained. A tradition is that the fair opens with the reading over the public-address system of the names of residents and former residents who have died during the past year. "It's not a morbid thing, but a way to acknowledge their contributions over the years," she said.

Another cherished tradition is what participants have dubbed the fair's Brigadoon parallel. "You can drive through here on Thursday night and not see anything, On Friday, the fair goes up. By Sunday afternoon it will look as if nothing happened here," Macklem said. Brigadoon is a tale about a mythical German village -- transposed to Scotland when the classical musical was written just after World War II -- which no one could tell existed except on one special day when it could be seen and visited by outsiders who later were not able to remember having done so.

Visitors to the Arden Fair are different in that they can take away remembrances, be they purchased craft items, a tee-shirt and, this year, a souvenir magnet that will be given to every attender. And someone will win a raffle and receive free admission for two to every club event during the coming year -- a prize valued at $3,000 if used at every opportunity.

Get more information about this topic

CLICK HERE to access the Arden Club website.

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