CAPE MAY COURT HOUSE — Late Thursday morning, volunteers with the Cape May County 4-H drove the last anchor spikes into the vendor tents before the organization’s annual fair began.

The 22-acre fairgrounds, off Court House-South Dennis Road, have been home to the annual festival and fundraiser celebrating local agriculture, craft and education for 50 years, sharing a golden anniversary with major American historical events like the moon landing and Woodstock.

“We’ve moved things around and expanded, but a lot of the programs are the same,” said Cliff Lockwood, 63, of Woodbine.

Lockwood, vice president of the 4-H Foundation Board of Directors, has been a part of the local 4-H community for most of his life.

“I was born into it,” he said.

Lockwood’s father, Melville, was one of the many people who were integral in purchasing, clearing and developing the fairgrounds 50 years ago. The Cape May County 4-H Foundation was established to support the program’s classes and scholarships.

“This photo was in March, and you can see the bulldozer,” said Lockwood, pointing to the blown-up newspaper images on display inside the 4-H Lockwood Youth Center. “By April the land was cleared and the volunteers started building. It took a lot of people to get this together.”

Lenora Boninfante, county program assistant with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, helped display newspaper articles from the original purchase of the 4-H fairgrounds and coverage of the first exhibitions at the fairgrounds.

“The 4-H signed a 50-year lease for $1 per year in 1969,” Boninfante said. “It was renewed this year, another 50 years, for the same good price.”

Prior to leasing the fairgrounds from the county, the annual 4-H Fair moved throughout the county, including the nearby county park on the other side of Route 9 and once at the Stardust Motel in Wildwood.

For Lockwood, the standout moment of the 1969 4-H Fair wasn’t at the fairgrounds, but above the atmosphere.

“1969 was a big year,” he said. Lockwood recalled coming home from the first 4-H Fair in its new location to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing with family and friends.

“It was that Sunday, and I remember everyone gathering around the TV. It was a big summer with the fair, then the Moon Landing and then Woodstock ... but I wasn’t old enough for that.”

The Lockwood family stayed involved with the county 4-H, as programs expanded and the fairgrounds modernized.

In 1978, the youth center was built on the fairground site and dedicated to Melville Lockwood.

“This used to be where the big rides were, and the displays in here used to be in the tents,” Lockwood said. This year, the youth center held the small project displays for the arts and science clubs, as well as the Best in Show display.

Many of the 4-H programs have stayed the same — gardening, fishing, etc. — but new clubs have been added, including the Scales and Tails herpetology club, for those interested in the study of amphibians, reptiles and arachnids.

Scales and Tails member Rainbow McAfee, 10, took her 2-year-old bearded dragon, named Dragon, out of his cage.

“Last year, I walked around the fair with him on my head,” she said, “he likes it.”

Across the fairgrounds, 4-H members in the Pitchforks and Buckets” club tended to the livestock. Emma Gotwols, 9, of Cape May Court House, tended to her rabbit, Goldie, while her mother, Christy Gotwols, 36, cooled off the chickens with a spray bottle.

“A lot of people don’t realize 4-H is more than just animals,” Christy Gotwols said. Aside from helping her daughter with the chickens the family raises, Gotwols volunteers as a leader of the Science Rocks club. Gotwols started as a member of Atlantic County’s 4-H program when she was a kid and is now bringing up the next generation of members.

The Cape May County 4-H Foundation expects more than 1,000 people each day during the three-day fair, including nearly 400 for the annual chicken barbecue. The all-volunteer-run fair is open to the public from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

For more information on the Cape May County 4-H Foundation, visit cmc4h.com.

Contact: 609-272-7286 LCarroll@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPress_LC

Staff Writer

Joined the Press in November 2016. Graduate of Quinnipiac University. Previously worked as a freelance reporter in suburban Philadelphia and news/talk radio producer.

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