Hayrides, visits to historic churches, carnival games, live music and handmade food. Old-fashioned fun is on the agenda at the 139th annual St. Ambrose Spring Fair — the oldest fair in St. Johns County — which takes place from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday on the grounds of the Catholic Church. St. Ambrose, 6070 Church Road, Elkton.
As the church was surrounded by farmland, Catholic Mass was originally celebrated with settlers in a barn in the early 1800s. In 1875 Father Stephen Langlade, a skilled carpenter from France, built a small church frame and established St. Ambrose Parish.
In 1907, the priest had also participated in the construction of a rectory, a school, a convent and a larger church. This larger structure is still standing and self-guided tours are available during the fair.
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This annual event, launched in the early 1880s, was on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2019 St. Ambrose Fall Fair was the latest event to take place at the site. However, parishioners voted to end the fall event.
“We actually had a meeting after the last fair…and the vote was unanimous: no fall fair,” said Mary Ellen Masters, a parishioner who leads the chowder team each year. Menorca at the fair.
The masters explained that it takes dozens and dozens to organize and run the fair each year, and that the spring fair – a major fundraiser for the parish – is enough for them to manage.
Of course, the most popular item at the fair is Menorcan clam chowder, which sells for 160 gallons every year. The spicy concoction features the famous Datil pepper and a family recipe passed down from generation to generation.
Known around town as “The Chowder Queen,” Masters said she used to make 100 gallons, but increased that amount several years ago due to demand. She also wants to let visitors know that there will be a slight price increase in 2022 due to the increased cost of food needed to make the chowder.
After 139 years, there are bound to be changes, and this year will be several: Live music from popular band Chillula will replace The Red River Band. Instead of Menorcan pilaf, pulled pork dinners and pulled pork tacos will be on the menu, along with corndogs, fries, hot dogs, cabbage dogs, hamburgers, homemade desserts, ice cream, sodas, water and beer.
“Pilaf requests were dwindling and we had too many leftovers last time, so we decided to go for pulled pork…and add tacos.”
Also on the program: Hayrides towed by a tractor through the church grounds; a small vintage car display by the St. Augustine Cruisers; carnival games for children; a garage sale/garage sales; a bake sale; and a country store area with handcrafted items made by locals.
“As we say every year, follow the signs to the fair,” Masters said. “We will be there waiting for you.”
Fair signs will be posted along State Road 207 and County Roads 13 and 13A. Free entry and parking.
For information, visit saintambrose-church.org or call 904-692-1366.