Saturday, September 3, 2016

The Big E 100 Years: A Stroll Through The Avenue of the States

In advance of The Big E's Centennial Season, New England Fall Events treats you to a taste of what this classic New England festival has in store for you and your family. Each of our posts leading up to their 100th year will feature a different section of the The Big E experience but if you want the whole enchilada at once, click to read our article "New England Fall Events' Complete Guide to The Big E."

The Avenue of the States
In planning our trip to The Big E, we were advised by a life-long, Big E devotee to check out of the State Buildings at the top of the day because she insisted the buildings get more crowded as the day goes on—and she was right.  As the Avenue of the States and Storrowtown Village were already on our own “must-see” list, we happily made a beeline to this section of the grounds to start our day.

The handsome buildings lining the avenue are modeled after the six New England states’ original State Houses. Each building is managed independently by that state rather than The Big E and it functions as a showcase for homegrown businesses. It’s a place where goods and services important to that state as well as popular and native foods associated with their agricultural economy can be found. Each state building definitely had its own personality based on the kinds of booths they held.
The particular Friday we attended The Big E happened to land on the designated “New Hampshire Day so it seemed apropos that we begin exploring their building first. A brass band playing jaunty tunes welcomed us to the Granite State’s building.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_State House Buildings
The buildings along the Avenue of the States are modeled replicas of the original State House buildings.

Inside the New Hampshire building we found booths and stations featuring NH-based businesses and goods. The food stations, predictably, drew long lines for chowder served in bread bowls or to load up with a plate of creamy mac and cheese. A sample of what you’ll find in the various vendor stalls inside New Hampshire include herb dip, blueberry pie, whittled tchotchkes, chocolate covered fruit kebobs, hand-thrown pottery, maple cotton candy, Critter Gear (catnip goodies, leashed), maple syrup treats, hand-woven rugs, Moxie souvenirs, and more…all made in or with some connection to New Hampshire.

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L to R: Moxie soda souvenirs, creamy mac and cheese, and jugs of maple syrup in the NH state building.

Experienced Big E attendees appeared to collectively browse through the buildings in a counter-clockwise direction—a crowd pattern—unofficial or not—that we got wise to a bit too late. If you think of each building as a wheel, it seemed as if those who walked through more swiftly opted to walk near the center/hub of the wheel; those who leisurely browsed or who stopped into every booth shuffled along more slowly on the perimeter.  

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L to R: Whittle wood characters, Bunny Boogie hand lotions and creams, sign in the CT building points us towards NH.

You can enter and exit through the front of the state buildings or, more efficiently, exit through a side door (after completing your counter-clockwise trip of the booths) which offers a convenient way to exit one state building and enter through the side door of the next state house, in this case, Connecticut.

We found the Connecticut booths to be the most varied of the states with booths highlighting everything from the CT Wine Trail, to a cigar/tobacconist, universities, casinos, taffy pulling, and woodturning. It is the Connecticut building that is “Home of the Original Chocolate Covered Bacon” which is a draw for many.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_CT Building
The Lego booth inside the CT building was abuzz with fair-goers making their mini Lego cow.

The busiest booth by far inside Connecticut was the bustling Lego station where visitors are invited to create a “make and take” mini Lego cow at their step-by-step building table (Enfield, CT is where the US Headquarters for Lego resides). Another favorite area in the Connecticut house is situated in the rear building where the Connecticut Dinosaur Park has a few sandpits set up for children to play archaeologist by digging up and clearing “bones” and which sports a large Parasaurolophus for a fun photo op. Connecticut’s rear building also holds many picnic tables which is handy for resting your tired feet (important!), enjoying some food at a proper table, and enjoying the live band that keeps the energy in the building lively.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_CT Building_Bacon_Dino Park
CT booths included a confectioner serving up chocolate covered bacon, a dinosaur dig for kids, and a CT tobacconist.

Vermont is the next building in line and the lovely stained glass transom over the front door offers a sneak peek at the agriculture and flavor of Vermont—cheese, apples, pie, bread, and dairy set against a verdant hilly landscape. The booths in the Vermont building sell smoked and cured meats, maple candy, cheese, maple syrup, flannel clothingVermont breweries, and apple desserts. We couldn’t resist a slice of deep dish apple pie served Vermont-style which New Englanders would know arrives with a chunky slice of sharp cheddar on the side.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_VT Building_Apple Pie_Stained Glass
The VT building featured a lovely stained glass transom, cheddar apple pie, and a maple candy maker.

The vaulted ceilings of Maine’s building give it open log-cabin feel as the sunlight pours into the atrium. Maine’s offerings included tons of tasty treats such as maple coffee, blueberry crisp, lobster rolls, a dozen whoopee pie varieties, more maple cotton candy, smoked salmon on a stick, and maple French toast sundaes. One of The Big E food “must-haves” folks mentioned is the loaded baked potato which can be found in the Maine building and the insanely long queue of people underscored its immense popularity. More than just food, Maine also had non-food related booths, some highlights being the rustic log beds and lamps, handmade soaps, and Alan Claude graphic lighthouse prints.

New England Fall Events_The Big E_Avenue of the States_Maine Building_Loaded Baked Potato, Lighthouse Prints
Maine's state building was host to lighthouse prints for sale, handmade furniture, and the popular loaded baked potato.

Many of the Massachusetts’ booths are food-focused and you won’t hear any complaints from us about that! Springfield’s own Koffee Kup Bakery showcased giant cupcakes while others doled out mini maple cream cones, lobster rolls, cups of fresh raspberries, homemade ice cream, chili dogs, sweet and savory pies, cider donuts, and even a Friendlys booth.

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Massachusetts' building held many food booths. The sports team cupcakes were a hit and the raspberry cups were so fresh!

Massachusetts’ central hallway is devoted to booths promoting tourism across the state (regional areas, local wineries, amusement parks, etc). Here you will find Massachusetts farm info from the likes of the New England Apples Association and MassGrown, and tables with brochures and maps for local services such as Mass DCR’s park systems.

A larger than life Mr. Potato Head holds court in the foyer of the Rhode Island building which is a nod to “his” Rhody roots with the RI-headquartered Hasbro toy company. Mr. Potato Head is also an unofficial ambassador with several life-sized spud statues dotted throughout the state as an enticement to draw family tourism. 

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Rhode Island touted Del's Frozen Lemonade, a giant Mr. Potato Head, and a miniature vintage Dunkin Donuts store.

Inside the state building here at The Big E, Rhode Island is lovingly honored at the “My Little Town” collectible booth, Autocrat and Eclipse coffee syrup ornaments, RI-manufactured drill bits, bread bowl chowders, Kenyon’s Grist Mill Clam Cakes, seafood, Del’s Frozen Lemonade, handmade children’s clothing, jewelry, tea, and others.

Ready for more? Read our Complete Guide to New England's The Big E!

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