Notes on Glen Ellen History
How the Village Fair got started, 1988-1990
By Margie Foster and the Glen Ellen Historical Society
Around 1988, there was a huge division in town. The empty lot that once housed the Rustic Inn at the bend in Arnold Drive had been vacant for years after the Inn had burned down around 1973. Some people wanted a community center put in, others wanted a park, and one guy wanted to erect a Wild West-themed strip mall. Tempers flared.
The Glen Ellen Association, a forerunner of the Glen Ellen Forum, tried to come up with ideas that could bring the town together. The board, which included Anne Teller, George and Phyllis Ellman, Margie Foster, and others, came up with the idea of a country fair to unite the town.
The board voted for an old-fashioned country festival, and finally called it the Glen Ellen Village Fair. Country festivals included watermelon-seed-spitting, a greased-pig-chasing contest, a yodeling contest, and more. They thought this could pull the acrimonious factions together.
Margie Foster and Shari Glago, looking for a place to hold the fair, considered the lot at Chauvet and Williams, then a big, grassy, wild lot with old pig styes and falling-down buildings — but it didn’t work out. Win Smith, the fire chief at the time, mentioned that there used to be 49ers Celebrations in the town in the 1930’s; more recently, they used to close down Arnold Drive for a Glen Ellen Arts Festival and street fair in the 1960’s. Then and there, the idea to close down Arnold for a modern street fair was born.
Sylvia Crawford advertised the fair in her column in the Sonoma Index-Tribune. Shari Glago became the logistics person, driving up to Santa Rosa to get a permit to close off Arnold Drive from Warm Springs Road to just south of where the market is now. Mary-Ann Carr managed the artisan booths lining the street selling jewelry, clothes, snacks, and more, soliciting her entire family to help in the process.
It was decided that October would be a good time to hold the fair. The first one was held on a Saturday, but all the kids were in sports practice, so after that it was held on Sundays. Janet Laursen made the first logo: a wagon wheel with grapevines threaded through the spokes. Posters and a T-shirt were created. The first poster, in 1993, featured computer clip art. Rory Pool and others set up the stages and Mark Gonsalves hauled in the hay bales for seating. There was a main stage in front of the post office and an “Amateur Hour” with a whistling contest and poetry on a smaller stage at the foot of Carquinez. The idea was to keep the fair small and local, so it wasn’t advertised outside of town.
Insurance, county permits, and California Highway Patrol officers cost money, however — how to raise the money needed up front? Margie Foster thought of making a quilt to raffle. A group of village quilters made a bed quilt on the theme of “Valley of the Moon Favorite Scenes (what makes it special to you?),” which brought in additional funds to cover the initial costs. Raffle tickets were sold in front of Shone’s (now the Village Market), at the firehouse Mothers’ Day breakfast, and elsewhere around Sonoma. These funds served, along with some loans, as start-up money. Later quilts have featured “Wildflowers of the Valley,” “Night Sky,” “Our Town,” “Birds,” “Food, Wine, and MFK Fisher,” “Jack London,” “Harvest,” and an imaginative one called “Entryways of Glen Ellen.” The handmade quilts always include recognizable local features.
Somebody said, “Let’s have a parade” — so they did. Over the years, the parade has included a marching display of the quilt, antique cars, bands, horseback riders, kids on bikes, bagpipers, old fire trucks, a mariachi band, kids with pets, and Shone’s huge grocery truck throwing candy out to eager kids sitting curbside. It is always led by the Boy Scouts’ Honor Guard.
Many notable Glen Ellen people have been honored as parade Grand Marshals riding atop Neil Shepard’s handsom wagon drawn by Clydesdales. These have included Becky London, Bill Meglan, George and Phyllis Ellman, Don Shone and Dale Downing, Ann Teller, Helen Benziger, Mary Ann Carr, Win Smith, Jim Shere, Jim Berkland, Neil Shepard himself, and many more.
Carmel Avenue was closed off and became Kids Alley. In Kids Alley there were pony rides with real ponies, a sausage-stuffing contest, a dunk tank with local celebrities, like Dunbar School teachers, and more thrills for the under-12 set.
Then and now lining the street are booths for organizations and artisans. Jewelry and clothing are sold, food from local restaurants is offered, and the Volunteer Fireman’s Association provides the much lauded and well-received Beer Booth.
The Glen Ellen Village Fair has been going on now for 30 years and does seem to have pulled the town together.
This year, the fair will be held on Sunday, Oct. 10, from noon to 5 p.m., and the theme, appropriately, is “The Good Ol’ Days.” Rick Dunham is the Grand Marshal.