Local History

Mt. Washington Church Fair Celebrates 91 Years

By Published On: May 31st, 2024

The town of Mount Washington is nestled in the Berkshires along the Massachusetts/New York border and boasts a population of only 144 people, per the annual town report. But at the start of the summer, the population more than doubles as part-time residents come to bask in the comfort of the mountains for the summer season. 

The Mount Washington Church of Christ only operates for ten Sundays each summer because there aren’t enough people to attend services during the winter. In addition to resuming services, the church also hosts its biggest fundraiser of the year, the Mount Washington Church Fair, every summer. The bulk of the funds raised by the fair support various local, national, and international charities, and the rest supports church maintenance and operations. Some of the charities that have received funds from the church include Doctors Without Borders, the Children’s Defense Fund Action Council, Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the Egremont Fire Department, and Fairview Hospital. 

This year, the fair will take place on Saturday, August 3. 

The fair’s history 

Fair chair Lila Wilkinson shared that there is evidence that the fair took place all the way back in the late 19th century, but it’s definitely been an annual occurrence since 1933, making this year its 91st edition. 

Over that impressive tenure, the fair has expanded from a homemade event where the ladies of the mountain got together, cooked delicious food, and ran some booths to an event that draws nearly 500 people annually. 

Lila’s parents were involved with the fair, so she has been an active participant since she was a child. When she was young, her mother hosted an antiques table and her father grilled hamburgers and hot dogs.  

The fair is renowned for its handmade crafts and homemade food, all of which are made and donated by local residents. “It was a simpler fair and a simpler time,” Lila said. “But it’s still simple in a way. It’s homemade, handmade, and has a very personal quality to it. That’s one of the most important aspects.” 

What to expect

Features at the fair include a white elephant tent, which offers gently used household goods, sports equipment, books, and other items, and an artists and artisans table that features handcrafted items that are stitched, knitted, quilted, carved, and painted by mountain residents. Also for sale will be an array of Mount Washington merchandise, including T-shirts, hats, aprons, and tote bags. 

For food, you will find lots of hamburgers and hot dogs, as well as a wide array of salads at the salad bar. This year, there will also be a new edition of the Mount Washington Salad Bar Cookbook, detailing all of the recipes of the homemade salads that are offered at the fair each year. 

The dessert table will include a huge variety of homemade pies – apple, blueberry, and blueberry cream, among others – as well as funnel cakes that are provided by Harriet Bergmann and her family. Other homemade delights at the Mountain Goods table include pastries, jams, pickles, and grab-and-go goodies, some of which are gluten free. 

A “kids’ neighborhood” will include games, face painting, a story corner, and a nature craft table that will feature leaves, twigs, and other natural items that kids can use to create collages. 

This year, local guitarist Steve Adams returns to the fair to provide music for the afternoon. 

Fairgoers can bid on higher-end items in a silent auction, and the winners will be announced at the end. Each fairgoer also receives a door prize ticket with entry, that winner will also be announced at the end of the afternoon. The fair will be raffling off a variety of gift certificates to restaurants in the Southern Berkshires. 

In addition to all of the other fun events that occur at the fair, the big draw is the quilt that gets raffled off every other year. For years, the “mountain stitchers” have been stitching quilts by hand. Each person that volunteers to participate stitches and embroiders a square for the quilt that then gets sewn together. One of the most important parts about the quilt production is the laborious hand-quilting process by many people over the course of many weeks. The assembled quilt is then stretched on a quilt frame at someone’s home. 

“They’re truly astonishing works,” Lila said. “The quilts are a huge, traditional part of the fair.” Some quilts from previous years have been returned for a number of different reasons, so at this year’s fair, they will be re-raffling the 1989 quilt. 

Creating community

Lila shared that by far, the most amazing part of the fair each year is watching the way people from all walks of life come together for a common goal. “The most extraordinary thing about it is the collaboration. The collaboration between the neighbors on the mountain, most of whom don’t go to the church and many of whom come from a variety of backgrounds, is incredible.”

Lila, who has an MFA and DFA from Yale School of Drama and has been teaching theater at colleges and universities for over 30 years, compares organizing the fair to putting on a production. “I love working with people, and I love designing something that’s going to be presented to an audience,” she said. “The process is very similar to creating a participatory stage piece. I love conceiving what it’s going to look like and how people are going to move through the fair. It’s a lot of fun.” 

Lila shared that the Mount Washington Church Fair experience is different from attending a larger fair or expo. “It’s personal and it’s homey,” she said. “In an age of technology and less and less face-to-face contact, this is so important. The more you can be in the moment, the better. That’s what we strive for here.” •

To learn more about the 2024 Mount Washington Church Fair, visit its website at churchofchristmtwashington.org.