The express purpose of the writing of this column is very simple. Many, many people and families have moved to Lebanon, Tennessee and to Wilson County, Tennessee from other places who have absolutely no knowledge of our history and of how we came to be and of who we are and of what we are.
Long gone are the valued historians such as I.W. P. Buchanan, G. Frank Burns, Dixon Lanier Merritt, J. Bill Frame, Virginia and Dick Lawlor, Eugene Sloan, Hugh Walker, Ellen Schlink, Herman Eskew, Jr., Paul Wooten, Jr. and many others.
In this edition, since it is almost time for the award-winning Wilson County Fair to take place, our topic will be just that-- THE WILSON COUNTY FAIR!
In this edition, you the reader must again pardon me for being long-winded. However, the true history of some subjects cannot be told accurately by just telling "snippets" of the truth. Sometimes, you must tell the whole story.
The first known fair to be held in Wilson County was the Third Division Fair held in 1853. "The period from about 1850 to 1870 was what historians call the golden age of the agricultural fair. It was the golden age not just because of the manifold expansion of agricultural societies and fairs, but because in this era before experimental farms, agricultural colleges, and farmer's mobility in the form of the automobile, fairs provided the greatest share of new agricultural ideas and education and the best social event for growers across the country. To improve their practices, farmers and ranchers of the era had to rely on trial and error, intuition, neighbor's advice--and the fair. According to Fair Historian Wayne Neely, "Christmas, the Fourth of July, and the county fair, varied by the occasional picnic or circus, long remained the traditional holidays of rural America."
The location of the 1853 Wilson county Fair was on Coles Ferry Pike, where the Jimmy Floyd Center stands today. The old fairgrounds and the location were chosen because of the everlasting spring of water. The spring is still flowing today and is rightfully known as the "Fair Spring". The fair was held annually at this location until about 1884.
In 1919, a group of citizens organized and held a two day fair on the Public Square with exhibits being housed in the Courthouse on the Square. This fair was so successful that a fair board was formed and land was acquired on Coles Ferry Pike, being the very same land used for previous fairs. This was considered to be the first fair of the 1900's, even though a small two day fair was held in that year. This fair was held for the express purpose of determining if there was enough interest from the community to formally organize a structure to hold an annual county fair. Mr. Homer Hancock was the President, and he later became Commissioner of Agriculture for the State of Tennessee, while Mr. A. W. McCartney was Secretary of the body.
IN 1920, a grandstand, stables and one cattle barn were erected and over 20,000 people attended the fair in 1920. At this time, Mr. J. H. Grissim was President of the Fair, and Mr. A.W. McCartney was the Secretary.
A very interesting story about the 1923 Fair appeared in the September 20, 1923 issue of the Lebanon Democrat:
"An exhibit which fascinated hundreds of spectators was that of the Clark Grave Vault Company in the Seagraves and Sons tent. The vault was demonstrated by a representative of the company who showed that although immersed in water it preserved its contents intact, proving this fact by placing a lighted cigar inside the vault, and after a few minutes taking it out and smoking it on the first fire. Also on display was the funeral home's new Packard ambulance which came in handy for caring for any sick or injured patrons of the fair. This ambulance was also entered in some of the ring numbers along with the Lincoln and other high priced cars. The slogan "Tennessee's Big County Fair" began to appear in advertising as the L. J. Heath Show brought in four rides: The Caterpillar, The Ferris Wheel, The Whip and the Merry-Go-Round.
In 1927, all Confederate Veterans were admitted free during the Fair.
THE 1930 COUNTY FAIR
Black horse against the green turf, contrasted in the artificial light...Hot dog stands smelling like hot dog stands....Gangling boy in overalls, a derby and a strawberry ice cream cone...Sudden, noisy silence when the motordrome engines are cut off ... Howard Edgerton riding the merry-go-round.
Couples blushing out of the Rocky Road to Dublin....Stairs behind the grandstand always crowded...as is the water tank below, with its cups hanging on chains...Allison Humphreys Sr., swinging along...Crowded, but cool and quiet, are the stalls and passageways beneath the grandstand...
The Midway, getting in everyone's blood....and they spend and like it...Students in town for the school year, wandering around vacantly,...Tough looking wrestler who takes on all comers...Ballyhooing jazz bands that aren't built to soothe....Prof. Claude Lowery, coming out of the World's Greatest Congress of Captivating Curiosities....Barkers, just as colorful as fiction paints them....Graham Baird, doing the Penny Arcade.....
And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have a few scattered irrelevancies from the first Fair story I ever wrote...and I wrote it just an even decade ago, in the September of 1930.....You can feel it...that something that makes a county fair a County Fair. You can taste it in the cotton candy; you can smell it in the onion-drenched hamburgers; you can hear it in the droning rasp of the barkers; you can see it in the dust on your shoes. Sure you can. But you can't punch it out on a typewriter, set it in hot lead, spread black ink all over it, slam it up against a sheet of white newsprint, and expect to have anything left. (I've tried.) September 12, 1940, THE LEBANON DEMOCRAT, Paul Wooten, Jr. from his column.."And IN THAT TOWN." HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY TENNESSEE, ITS LAND AND ITS LIFE. Pages 447 and 448. By Paul Wooten, Jr.
In 1936, James E. Ward was named county extension agent and numerous improvements were made to the fairgrounds including construction of a new cattle barn.
1938 saw the dates of the fair change from September to August.
1939 saw excellent results reported from the change in dates.
In 1940 the fair returned to September 11, 12, 13 and 14. Reports indicate that the fair opened each day at 8:00 a.m. Roth's Blue Ribbon Shows provided eleven rides on the midway. The fair continued during World War II as a morale booster with servicemen being given special discounts.
1942, Patriotism was the theme of the fair.
In 1943, the dates of the fair were delayed because the fairgrounds were occupied by the Army which was on maneuvers here in Wilson County. Less congestion on the roads around the fairgrounds was promised by the Army and no blackouts would be in effect during the fair.
1944 was the 25th year for the fair. Shortly after the fair had ended "On Thursday night around 11 o'clock, September 21, 1944, a fire destroyed the grandstands at the Wilson County Fair. A livestock sale had been held at the fairgrounds that afternoon and although the grandstand was a total loss, the firefighters did save the livestock barn which contained over $10,000 worth of livestock from the sale. Lost in the fire were equipment owned by the fair board and B. O. Tucker and Green H. Tucker. Fair secretary A. W. McCartney estimated the loss at about $15,000 of which about one third was insured. He was quick to point out that the fair would continue despite the loss and that a new facility would replace the one lost in the blaze. Fairgoers of the 50's and 60's will remember this new grandstand.
In 1945, a new larger grandstand was built for the fair. The 27th edition of the Great Wilson County Fair.
In 1946 the fair set an attendance record that year with over 12,000 people in attendance on Friday night alone. There was good cause for celebration too. The war was over, the maneuvers were gone, and wartime restrictions had been lifted. The L. J. Heath Shows brought a big midway to the fair, featuring a giant military searchlight which, according to the show, could be seen for up to 100 miles.
In 1950, the big attraction for the fair was a television set. The fair continued through the 1950s and was purchased by a new group of stockholders in the 1960s. The last year for the fair under the ownership of the stockholders was 1969. From 1970 through 1972, no fair was held in Wilson County.
In 1973, the Lebanon Jaycees revived the fair. The fair continued to be held on the Coles Ferry Pike property until 1974, when the fairgrounds were sold at auction. In 1974, a group of individuals met at the Farm Bureau office to organize a campaign to ask the county to purchase 10 acres of the Baddour Property on the Sparta Pike in Lebanon. The Baddour Estate, which was represented by Mayor Bill Baird, comprised approximately 104 acres. This group was told by Mayor Baird that they could purchase either ten acres or all 104 acres. After contacting the members of the County Court, the citizens knew that there was enough support to purchase a ten acre tract of the Baddour property. When the County Court met in March 1974, a member of the Court, Mr. Bob Burton, of LaGuardo, made the motion to purchase the entire 104 acre tract of the Baddour estate. The motion was seconded by Mr. Nathan Hankins and was passed by the County Court. In 1975, the fair moved to the new James E. Ward Agricultural Center and was then renamed the Mid-State Fair. Johnny's United Shows ran the midway that year. The Jaycees continued to sponsor the fair through 1978, when it was discontinued.
In 1979, Wilson County Promotions was formed with the twofold purpose of holding the Wilson County Fair and for the purpose of improving the county owned James E. Ward Agricultural Center. The first item of business for the new organization was to continue with the 1979 Wilson County Fair. Forming a new Fair Board and electing officers was essential to being able to hold a fair under the new leadership in the fall of 1979. This Fair Board started with 30 members and was willing to start a new beginning for a Wilson County Fair. The 1979 Wilson County Fair was held August 27 through September 1. Big Hearted Jerry's Amusements owned by Jerry Bohlander served as the carnival for the 1979 Wilson County Fair. In 1979, attendance topped out at 12,000 people.
In 1980, the theme was Building Community Pride. Competition is one key aspect of the county fair. Many contests scheduled for the 1980 fair included pageant events, such as the Doll Parade, King of the Fair, Fair Princess, Fairest of the Fair and the Baby Show were big draws for these early fairs.
In 1981, the theme was Building A Tradition. Events added to the 1981 fair were recommended and approved: Dog Show, Poultry Show, Rose Show, Duck Calling Contest, Goofo the Clown, a Parade, School Day events, Chain Saw Contests and a Honey Show. The carnival that year was Big Hearted Jerry. The Old Fiddle Contest was scheduled for Friday from 6:00 until midnight and it included Bluegrass Music with Buck dancing and Square dancing. Five categories of competition included Fiddle, banjo, String Band, and Open with no electrical instruments. Admission that year was $1.50 and children under 6 admitted for free.
In 1982, the theme was Building Blocks and Stepping Stones. The carnival was Johnny's United Shows, owned by Arthur Lampkin. The fair attendance that year was 15,500 people. Fifty members of the Antique Automobile Club of America brought out their antique vehicles to the fair. Among the antique vehicles was a 1928 Ford Roadster, a 1955 Thunderbird, a 1924 Depot Hack, a 1949 Ford Two Door Sedan, a 1955 Four Door Belair, a 1926 Chrysler, a 1926 Chrysler, a 1926 Plymouth Coupe, a 1938 Dodge Doctor's Coupe, and a 1925 Model T Touring Car which had been used to make a coal hauling run to Norene before being purchased by H. L. Smith. The cars in this exhibit ranged in price from $5,000 to $25,000.