TOPSFIELD, Mass. — America’s oldest county fair is the latest victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Topsfield Fair, only cancelled twice over the past 200 years, is a scratch for this fall.

The Essex Agricultural Society, which runs the fair, announced its decision Wednesday citing concern for the safety of fairgoers, staff, volunteers, vendors, exhibitors and sponsors.

“It takes a good two months to set up the fair … and we were hoping that things would change,” said James O’Brien, the fair’s general manager.

Discussions with state health officials made clear that wouldn’t be the case, he said.

The state is in Phase 3 of its reopening from the shutdown due to COVID-19. Group outdoor gatherings are limited to 100 people, and the state requires everyone to wear masks indoors or when social distancing isn’t possible outdoors.

“There was no way forward at this time with the way the virus is,” O’Brien said.

The annual fair dates to 1818. Held 20 miles north of Boston, the week-and-a-half long fair draws well over 400,000 people to concerts and performances, agricultural demonstrations and carnival rides.

It was previously cancelled in 1918, when all agricultural fairs in the state were closed due to the Spanish flu, and again from 1943 to 1945 due to World War II.

O’Brien said the fair may still hold some of its many contests for growers and crafters, albeit without crowds to come gawk at the winners.

Meanwhile, the Route 1 fairgrounds have been turned into a drive-in seven nights a week, offering such iconic selections as “Grease” and “The Goonies.”

Two hundred cars can fit in the lot with social distancing measures in place. O’Brien said it’s been sold out every night.

Next year’s fair is scheduled for Oct. 1.

John Castelluccio writes for The Salem (Mass.) News. Write to him at

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