Spectators wave at parade participants

Spectators wave to Washington Town & Country Fair participants Aug. 1, 2021, as the parade travels down 5th Street.

Following an unprecedented year for the Washington Town & Country Fair and the city’s history, the 2021 fair dug its toes in over the weekend with good showings at its first events. The 5K, 10K and kids 200-yard dash Saturday morning and Sunday’s well-attended parade and kickoff party marked the start to an eagerly awaited week. 

Organizers estimated there were upwards of 5,000 people watching along the parade’s route, which started at Circle and High streets and traversed Fifth, Jefferson and Main streets before ending at Cedar Street. 

Jon Ballmann, fair board chairman, said the crowd was larger than average and that organizers were excited to welcome back the classic Washington event. 

“Roughly thanks to the weather, and I think also people (being) hungry to get out and have something to do, it was a very good crowd,” he said Monday. “There’s a lot of excitement for the fair. We’re here, and we’re ready.” 

Before and after the parade, the Washington Area Chamber of Commerce also welcomed hundreds of people to its annual kickoff party at the city park pavilion.

In addition to the spectators lining almost the entire route, around a thousand people walked, rode and danced down the street passing out candy and other party favors. Several antique firetrucks made an appearance, as did modern UTVs, sleek convertibles and tractors. The lineup included 61 entries, fewer than in years past, but they still took over an hour to all get through the route. 

The fair’s theme of “Just Dig It” was prominent in several floats, namely the first-place-winning entry from St. Francis Borgia Regional High School depicting a large papier-mache dog wagging its tail as it dug into the dirt at Ballmann’s Flower Patch. 

Borgia Grade School came in second with its entry featuring students wearing construction vehicle costumes, and the local chapter of the National FFA Organization came in third with a float depicting a bulldozer and a Ferris wheel. 

Following the marching VFW and Legion members was Tina Houseman, who served as the grand marshal in honor of her late husband, longtime Washington Historical Society Museum Director Marc Houseman. Tina Houseman held a poster-sized photo of her husband dressed as Benjamin Franklin from her seat in a convertible.

Patriotic music could be heard throughout most of the route as the Washington Brass Band, the Washington Marching Blue Jays and the St. Francis Borgia High School Marching Band entertained the paradegoers.

Among the crowd were hundreds of families, including many who brought toddlers to the festivities for the first time. Villa Ridge resident Tom Gambarota has been attending the parade for around four years, but Sunday was the first time he got to bring his two young sons. 

“We just like getting out and getting the little ones out,” he said. “Last year was a bust. It was rough, so now we’re trying to get back to normal. It’s their first time for a lot of stuff this year.” 

Another group of kids who looked forward to the parade was Ballmann’s two 7-year-olds, a 3-year-old and an infant. 

“Even my 3-and-a-half-year-old remembers the 2019 parade. He was pretty young, but he still talks about it,” Ballmann said. “That’s the most important part of this is just making memories. You’re only a kid once — you have to make it special. I know there were a lot of people out making memories, and that’s really our goal.”