for the one-hundredth time
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
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
WHERE: The Highway, Arden
WHEN: Saturday, September 1, 10
a.m. to 6 p.m.
Free to fair itself; $2 to the Buzz Ware
Community Center exhibit; $1.50 to the
antiques & collectables area..
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.
to access the Arden Club website for
and Ardencroft, collectively
referred to by those knowledgeable as The Ardens -- with county
and school property taxes paid with single checks financed by
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.
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
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.