The Big E, one of the country’s largest regional fairs, began as a response to a regional decline in farming activity. In December 1917, Joshua L. Brooks purchased 175 acres of swampland on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield. He would go on to use this land as space for local farming events, spearheading the “Eastern States Movement” to revitalize the agricultural economy.
The Expo’s first event was the National Dairy Show, held in 1916. At first, the event directors rejected the proposal of moving the show from the Midwest to West Springfield. They feared the region’s small farming community wouldn’t generate enough revenue or interest to justify the cost of hosting the event. Brooks persuaded the directors to take a chance and change the venue. Their risk paid off, drawing in an impressive crowd of 45,000.
The annual fall festival hosted at the Eastern States Exposition, later named the Big E, opened to the public in 1917. It has run every year since then, interrupted only by World Wars I and II. During this time, the military requisitioned the fairgrounds and used them as supply depots. The Big E has grown in popularity over the years and become a beloved New England tradition.
The Exposition fairgrounds house over 25 buildings including the Coliseum, the Better Living Center, and buildings dedicated to each of the six New England states. Each building showcases many different agricultural, commercial and cultural products and demonstrations. Connecting the buildings is world’s largest traveling midway, where visitors can find hundreds of food stands, retailers and rides.
Other than the Big E, the Exposition fairgrounds host a variety of events throughout the year. Popular examples include the Amherst Railway Society Railroad Hobby Show, the Big East Cattle Show and the Fiber Festival of New England. The fairgrounds are also home to the historic Storrowton Village.