Fair next Saturday provides full day of fun, food & music

By Lynn R. Parks

George Beauchamp thinks that Western Sussex County has a lot to offer the average tourist. Specifically, the director of the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce believes that the Ross Plantation, home of William H. Ross, Democratic governor of Delaware from 1851 to 1855, is "a great gift" to people who are interested in history. "We want to let people know what is happening on the western side of Sussex," said Beauchamp. "We want to encourage people to spend the night here at one of our fine hotels and see this side of the county." On Labor Day weekend, tourists will have more reason than usual to visit Seaford and its Ross Plantation. The sixth annual Towne and Country Fair, sponsored by the chamber and the Seaford Historical Society, will present entertainment, a craft show, children's games and other activities on the grounds of the plantation. "This festival will showcase Seaford," said Beauchamp. "It will also showcase the Ross Plantation and all the renovations that have been accomplished out there." The Ross Plantation, which features the renovated mansion in which Gov. Ross lived, is owned by the Seaford Historical Society. Recent renovations on the property include those of the plantation's slave quarters and of the honeymoon cottage, which was brought back to the Ross property from a lot east of Middleford and completely redone. It now stands at the entrance to the plantation and serves as a gate house and gift shop. Visitors to the festival this year will be able to view the newly remodeled governor's bedroom. According to Claudia Melson, president of the historical society, a bedroom wall that had been taken out has been replaced and the room is freshly painted and wallpapered. Furnishings include period pieces as well as some family items. In addition to the various outbuildings, the mansion itself will be open the day of the fair. Tours will be conducted beginning at noon; admission is $2. Each tour will take about 30 minutes. The plantation was in full operation during the years of the Civil War. In order to contribute to the historical society's goals to show off what life was like during the 1860s, a Civil War encampment will be set up on the grounds, featuring Confederate troops.

Beauchamp said that organizers would like to also feature Union troops in the fair. "If we don't have both sides, then we can't have skirmishes," he said. But, he added, Union reenacting groups are all based on the west side of the Chesapeake and "on Labor Day weekend, coming over that bridge is impossible," he said. "The traffic is horrendous." For that reason, organizers are considering moving next year's fair to the weekend before Labor Day. Organizers have already changed the fair from a two-day to a one-day affair, following the suggestion of events coordinator Sue Breeding, Seaford. "It has always been two days," said Beauchamp. "But this year, Sue was looking at the schedule and she said, 'What are you doing on Sunday that will make me want to come back?' And she had a point." Saturday's activities will get under way at 10 a.m. with an opening ceremony featuring the Seaford High School band. Scattered throughout the grounds will be craft vendors, food vendors and children's games. Demonstrations will include broom making, rope making and weaving. A blacksmith will show off his skills and carriage and stagecoach rides, led by horses and oxen, will take sightseers around the grounds. Throughout the day, a car show featuring street rods, antique cars and trucks and antique tractors, will be open on the grounds. In addition, participants in a bike ride along parts of the Southern Delaware Heritage Trail, sponsored by the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club that same day, will be able to pedal to the fairgrounds. At 11 a.m., the Little Miss Towne and Country Fair pageant will get under way on the stage in front of the plantation. Girls age 4 to 7 the day of the fair are eligible to participate. Registration forms are available at the chamber of commerce office in the PNC Bank building, West Stein Highway, and are due Aug. 29. Participation fee is $5. Girls will be judged on ability to talk with the master of ceremonies, Dave Layton, ability to sing or recite, poise, appearance, personality and curtsy. Karaoke, again with Layton as master of ceremonies, will take place at the stage from 11:30 to 1. Beginning at one, entertainment including Country Grass, Harvest Christian Group and Lollipop the Clown will take the stage. The Convertibles, performing rock and roll from the 1950s and 1960s, will appear at 5, 6:15 and 7:30. A fireworks show, presented by Wal-Mart, will begin at dusk. Beauchamp, who is also a member of the Seaford Historical Society, said that it is important for members of the community as well as tourists to visit and appreciate the Ross Plantation. "It has been successful in so many ways in reintroducing the history of the area to the public," he said. A history buff, he added, "I feel very strongly about the importance of preservation. It brings alive something which has been dead and brings it into a new perspective. It is much needed in our communities." "This is a whole other lifestyle, a time period, not interpreted in Delaware in any other place," said Melson. Referring to the plantation's slave quarters, she added, "These are good things for people to think about. This is history. We are not responsible for the decisions our ancestors made, but we are responsible for our decisions of today. Understanding history helps us not to repeat the mistakes they made."