September 20: Establishing Connecticut’s Presence at the Big E


One of the most enduring and beloved examples of New England regionalism is the annual Eastern States Exposition fair, colloquially known as “The Big E.”  Whereas most other states in the U.S. feature their own state fairs in the summer or fall seasons, the Big E represents all six New England states in one giant, multi-week event that that ranks among America’s largest annual fairs, both in size and attendance.  First held in 1916, the Eastern States Exposition began as a showcase of agricultural innovation with the hopes of encouraging young people to work in farm-related careers.  Today, over 100 years later, the 17-day extravaganza, located on expansive fairgrounds in West Springfield, Massachusetts, still features agricultural shows and contests alongside tourism booths, a recreated 19th century New England village, a midway, and hundreds of food and souvenir vendors.

One of the biggest attractions of the Big E is the Avenue of States, which features six replicas of historic state houses — one from each New England state.  On September 20, 1938, Connecticut became the fifth New England state to join the Avenue of States when Governor Wilbur Cross laid the cornerstone for the Connecticut Building, which would be modeled after the Old State House in Hartford.  The Connecticut General Assembly had approved the construction of the Connecticut building the year before, with the stipulation that 2/3 of the building costs must be privately funded — a challenge handily met by groups including the Connecticut State Grange, the Farm Bureau, and other community organizations.

A postcard from the mid-1930s featuring four of the six buildings along the Big E’s Avenue of States.

The Connecticut Building opened to the public in 1939, only to be closed two years later when it — and much of the Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds — was commandeered by the U.S. military and used as training grounds during World War II until 1946.  Each New England state owns both its respective state house building and the land it sits on along the Avenue of States, and Connecticut is no exception — during the 17 days of the Big E fair every year, the grounds of the Connecticut Building is staffed by Connecticut state troopers.  Today, the Connecticut Building serves as a state embassy of sorts, proudly showcasing Connecticut-made products and food vendors and serving as a home away from home for Connecticans who visit the Big E.

Further Reading

The Avenue of States and ESE Museum,”

History of the Eastern States Exposition,”