First Church of Evans
In 1912, wealthy property owners summering on the shores of Lake Erie gathered at the First Church of Evans for its inaugural Derby Fair.
The society was dressed in its finest couture. Women began to bob their hair and lift their hems to daring heights above the ankle. Gaiety filled the air at the church grounds, as friends reconnected with one another.
Now 100 years later, while the fashion and social norms have dramatically changed, the spirit of community that is the heart of the Derby Fair remains the same.
“It is a way of showing our feeling of friendship and welcoming,” said Shirley Phalzgraf, who has served as chair of the fair for more than a dozen years.
The 100th anniversary of the Derby Fair will be held this weekend on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the First Church of Evans, 7431 Erie Road in Derby. The celebration will include vendor booths, raffles, cooking demonstrations, dancing and musical entertainment.
“It’s going to be a very busy day,” Phalzgraf said.
The event kicks off with a 5K race and one mile fun run/walk, which will start and end at the church. Also available are many activities for children, such as inflatable rides, games with prizes, a climbing rock wall, balloon sculptures and pony rides.
Yet a special addition to this year’s Derby Fair will be a reenactment of the 1912 presidential election. First Evans’ Minister Steve Ridge, along with amateur actors John Moore and Giff Swyers will portray then-candidates William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
“They really did debate in 1912,” said Peter Hasenpusch, a fellow fair organizer. “They didn’t have TV or public address systems at the time, so they had to be verbose. There were plenty of hecklers in the crowd that would make them earn their money.” Hasenpusch added that, in true 1912 fashion, he and other fairgoers will happily play the part of the hecklers.
Remembering the past is essential to First Church of Evans parishioners, who are proud of the congregation’s rich history. Founded in 1818 originally in a log schoolhouse, the First Church of Evans has undergone much in its 194 years, including a devastating fire that wiped out the first erected church in 1914.
The neocolonial New England style structure that was rebuilt in 1915 still stands at Jerusalem Corners. Visitors taking in the picturesque steepled church may momentarily believe they have traveled back in time — a feeling enhanced once they step inside the church’s interior.
The sweeping choir loft and boxed pews seem lifted straight out of a 1900s New England church.
“Our bell is still rung by hand,” Phalzgraf said. The church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.
Shirley Phalzgraf stands next to a diorama of a long past Derby Fair, which will be on display in the Fireplace Room in the First Church of Evans’ Community Building.
To honor the history of the Derby Fair, Phalzgraf and fellow organizers assembled displays, including a diorama depicting a scene from an early fair; showcases filled with old photographs and paraphernalia; and even past articles on the fair from the Buffalo Evening News that Phalzgraf made into posters.
Phalzgraf had early Derby Fair photos such as this one from the Buffalo Evening News made into posters for the public to view.
Other ways the fair will celebrate the past include holding an antique car show on the lawn, as well as selling homemade foods and crafts.
“It’s kind of like an old-fashioned get together,” said Phalzgraf, who added that those working the fair have been encouraged to dress in period clothing. “We’ve made some long skirts for the ladies who wish to wear them,” she said.
The Town of Evans will honor the First Church of Evans with a plaque honoring the centennial celebration of the Derby Fair.
On Sunday, Sept. 9, the church will celebrate the anniversary with a 9:45 a.m. hymn sing, a 10 a.m. outdoor worship service, an 11 a.m. presentation by parishioner Janet Chapman and a 11:45 Chiavetta’s chicken picnic lunch. As with the fair, all are invited to attend the church’s Sunday celebration.
For parishioners like Hasenpusch, this fair marks 100 years of the church extending a hand of friendship.
“It’s all about the fellowship and community involvement,” he said.
For more information, see boxed schedule to the right or call 947-5419.