Today is Sunday, August 20, 2017

History of the Wilson County Fair- Part 2

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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.

In 1983, the theme was HAVE WE GOT A FAIR FOR YOU. That tradition established the yearly theme selected by the Fair Board. The dates of the 1983 fair were August 29 through September 3. The carnival that year was Golden Empire Shows, owned by Richard Vinson. Goofo the Clown played his calliope while roaming the fairgrounds. No attendance figures are available for this fair. The 1983 fair had the Chicago Knockers, a female mud wrestling group, and there were horse shows, a beef cattle show, dog shows, sheep shows and mule shows. There were Motocross and Three Wheeler races. Midnight Madness was created by the board of directors to entice people who went to the Friday night football games to attend the fair after the football games. If you had a ticket stub from a game in Lebanon, Mt. Juliet or Watertown, you were eligible for discounted ride tickets.

In 1984, the theme was AGRICULTURE PRESENT, PAST AND FUTURE. The 1984 Wilson County Fair was held August 20 through the 25th. The first major award was received by the fair, Most Improved Fair. This was presented at the awards ceremony at the Tennessee Association of Fairs convention in Nashville. A great combination of good weather and special promotions and attractions helped to make the 1984 Wilson county Fair a big success with an attendance of 21,000 up from the 1983 attendance of 15,500. This is the year that all of the Bradford Pear trees were planted up and down the main drive into the fairgrounds.

In 1985, the theme of the Wilson County Fair was A FAIR TO REMEMBER. The fair was held August 19 through 24th. Richard Vinson's' Golden Empire Shows provided the carnival that year. Attendance that year was up again to a total of 22,000 people. Exhibits such as Rabbit, Pigeon and Dove, Wild Bird Educational Exhibits, Youth Home Economics, Sew with Cotton contests, a Baking Show, 4-H Chicken barbeque contest, a sheep show, a Truck and Farm tractor pull, Demolition Derby, Rose Show, Beef Show, Dairy Show, Bicycle Races and many, many other shows took place to make this an outstanding fair

In 1986, the theme was 86 REASONS TO COME TO THE FAIR. "Wilson's Fair tabbed No. 1" read the headline in the Lebanon Democrat. "The Wilson County Fair of August 18-23 has been judged the Champion Fair of 1986 by the Tennessee Association of Fairs. This is truly a big honor which is accompanied by a lot of prestige," said Hale Moss, Fair Board President. The 1986 Wilson County Fair attracted 37,569 individuals. Richard Tinsley provided the carnival that year. The very first Senior Citizens Day was held that year. The fair had over 2,000 competitive entries that year.

In 1987, the theme of the fair was THERE'S A FAIR IN THE AIR. The fair ran August 16 through August 22nd. Participation in almost every category was at an all-time high. The carnival that year was again provided by Richard Tinsley's Amusements. A 1987 Pontiac 6000 was given away. Channel 5's Joe Case televised Talk of the Town during the fair. The 1987 fair continued the traditions set by the success of previous fairs. Most of the events were continued and expanded, new volunteers were attracted and support in the community grew. Most everybody considered the Wilson County Fair a blue ribbon fair, and couldn't wait until next year for the carnival to roll into town again, bringing all the fun, competition, and the excitement back to Lebanon, Tennessee.

In 1988, the theme of the Wilson County Fair was OLD TIME TRADITION. The dates of the fair were August 14 through 20th, and the fair was well on its way to becoming a successful event for the community. Attendance continued to grow with each succeeding fair. This new volunteer spirit climbed with additional members being added to the Fair Board and to the Youth Board. Educational, agricultural and industrial exhibits increased. The midway increased with Richard Tinsley's Amusements and many new food vendors. Much positive attention was given by local media to endeavors of the fair, especially the awards nominations on the state level that put the spotlight on the event in a way that helped to propel the fair to greater attendance. Old time tradition reflected well the tradition of fairs hosting political rallies and speeches of candidates running for office. However, never in the history of Wilson County had a Presidential candidate visited before a national election. Michael Dukakis was the Democratic nominee for President and was opposing Vice President George H. W. Bush.

The arrival of Dukakis at the Wilson County Fair caused an unprecedented flurry of activity for the tiny, but growing event. Mr. Dukakis was scheduled to spend 40 minutes, up to an hour at the fair during the middle of the afternoon. The attendees for that event were Michael and Kitty Dukakis, Governor Ned McWhorter, Senator Jim Sasser, Congressman Bart Gordon and Al Gore.

In 1989, the theme was A PROUD PAST....A PROMISING FUTURE. This fair ran from August 13 through the 19th, with an attendance of 59,015 individuals. This edition of the Wilson County Fair won Tennessee's highest honor in fair competitions for the 1989 Sweepstakes Award. In 1989, the Wilson County Fair beat out Putnam Co., Benton Co., and Carroll Co., for the top state honor. This award was presented to the top fair of the previous four years county fair champions making this the most coveted award that could be received. In order for the fair to compete and to win in the state category, that fair must have lots and lots exhibits and exhibitors. The 1989 fair sent out a plea to the community to bring in their farm crops and vegetables.

Competition returned to the 1989 fair with the Do-Si-Do Square Dancing contest, the local Talent Search contest, and the Rose Show. Community pride in the Ward Ag Center was evident when the Lebanon Jaycees along with the Lebanon Democrat Charity Classic Horse Show purchased and donated a fountain to grace the fair entrance. In addition, the Twin States Iris Society prepared and planted iris bulbs along the fence of the Ward Ag Center. The Trap and Skeet Shoot along with Horseshow Pitching gave participants the opportunity to pit their skills against each other.

In 1990, the theme of the Wilson County Fair was WHERE MEMORIES ARE MADE. All American Shows, owned by Terry and Teresa Portemont provided the midway for the 1990 fair. This carnival met the criteria and standards of the Fair Board, and a relationship was born that lasted for over a decade. The Portemonts were professional business people who endeavored to seek a working relationship with the Fair Board and the community that they served. The Portemonts, Johnny and Marilyn, Terry and Teresa, hosted a dinner for the Executive Committee and their wives during the fair. This caused quite a sensation among the officers because no carnival group had ever before acknowledged that they wanted any type of social interaction. Then , the Portemont family and All American Shows became an integral part of the Wilson County Fair and helped to grow the attendance by providing good, clean, safe rides during the many years that they played the Wilson County Fair, until they ceased operations in 2007. Exciting events that expanded from the previous year included the Antique Tractor Pull, Three and Four Wheeler Races, and the Demolition Derby. Fair officials brought in some exciting and new special attractions. The Flying Valentines was a troupe of trapeze artists who performed each night, while Jim and the All Animal Band was a big hit with young and old alike.

This year, 1990, the spotlight on people honored the Korean War Veterans with an opening ceremony which recognized veterans. A color guard and a 21 cannon salute honored veterans, and Major General Carl Wallace delivered a speech. All Veterans and their spouses were admitted to the fair for free on this day. Approximately 1,280 Wilson Countians served in the Korean War. Eight died in action, one was taken prisoner, and four others were killed in accidents while in service. The Tennessee Korean War Memorial Association sought donations for a memorial and also showed film footage from the war in their educational booth.

In 1991, the theme of the fair was PEACE, PATRIOTISM AND PROSPERITY. The dates of the fair were August 17 through 24th. Again, the Wilson County Fair captured the prestigious title of Tennessee's Champion Fair. The attendance figures topped out at an amazing 80,511 individuals. The carnival, All American Shows brought a great show with new rides, including the Super Loop. The fair kicked off the week- long activities with a Celebrity Goat Milking Contest between County Sheriff Terry Ashe, State Senator Bob Rochelle, State Representative Joe Bell, County Executive Don Simpson and Lebanon Mayor Bobby Jewell. The event was scheduled to highlight a fair first--an ADGA sanctioned dairy goat show. The Showboat Puppet Show and WAZAT the Clown were also new.

Other first time events included a Radio Controlled Off Road Jamboree which featured controlled car and truck races on a dirt track. An exciting first time event for the 4-H and FFA members was the Greased Pig contest. Grounds improvements included lighted parking, new ticket booths, a first aid station, a new permanent concession stand, an archway over the entrance, and a new poultry barn were added. Many people came for the animals which included rabbits, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, dairy and beef cattle, jacks, jennets, draft horses and dogs in various shows, competitions and events. The newest and most publicized activity for the 1991 fair was the dedication of Fiddler's Grove. It is a small village nestled in a grove of trees which depicted a way of life of the early settlers of Wilson County. The village was composed of buildings, equipment, furniture, and many other items, donated by Wilson County residents who wanted to share their heritage with visitors to the fair. Fiddler's Grove was so named by G. Frank Burns, a Wilson County history professor who taught at Cumberland University. The dedication for Fiddlers Grove Historical Village by Wilson County Promotions was held on Tuesday, August 20, 1991 at 6:30 p.m. at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center. Entertainment was provided by students from Tucker's Crossroads School directed by Tony Cook. A special thank you was given to Carlton and Geneva Thomas for their endless work and dedication to Fiddler's Grove. For the opening of the Village, a post office, bank and blacksmith shop were made ready for the fair. In addition, three log houses with 100 year old timbers were relocated to the grounds. The Village had seven buildings with others slated for a later arrival.

In 1992, the theme of the Wilson County Fair was CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES. This was selected as a continuation of the county wide theme, "Celebration of the Wilson County Lifestyle". The weekly attendance of 93,770 individuals helped the fair to bring home the most coveted award in the state, Champion of Champions! Fair week started on August 15 and ran through August 22nd, 1992. The fair started on a strong note in 1992 with the publicity and growing community pride of the award-winning 1991 Champion Fair. With Fiddler's Grove Historical Village unveiled during the fair of the previous year, the Grove continued to grow with the completion of the jail. A church and school were planned additions to the 1992 fair. Also in the Grove, the Stringtown Store was completed with Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores donating $4,000 toward the building. A resolution was sent to the county commission naming the road around Fiddler's Grove in honor of Carlton and Geneva Thomas who had donated so much time to the Fiddler's Grove project. Events during the fair included mule races, a nightly volleyball tournament, battery powered toy race, Ronald McDonald magic Show, racing pigs and ducks, the World's Largest Steer Big Blu, and a children's train ride. All American Shows brought in three new rides, the Gondola Wheel, the Wipeout and the Majestic Scooter. The Pedal Push Tractor Pull enthralled the children as the adults looked on. The Demolition Derby continued to draw large crowds. An increase in entrances and lighted parking facilities, new events, a new permanent building, and more entertainment all combined to create one of the best fairs in the history of Wilson County Promotions.

In 1993, the theme of the Wilson County Fair was VIEW FROM THE TOP. The dates for the 1993 fair were August 16 through 21st. The theme, A VIEW FROM THE TOP was in tribute to the 100th year anniversary of the Ferris Wheel and proclaimed to the community the coveted award received for the 1992 Champion of Champions Fair. Little did anyone realize at the time that the 1993 Fair would also win that coveted title once again. The Wilson County Fair was the only fair to win the award in back to back years.

The Ferris Wheel was introduced at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The record breaking attendance for the Wilson County Fair that year was 108,348 individuals! Competition was stiff again that year with 3,015 entries in everything from baking to photography to farm crops. Several events and competitions for children included the popular School Day events on Saturday, the Ride Toy Race and Pedal Push Race and a coloring contest that was a new event that year. The Ronald McDonald Magic Show and McGruff the Crime Dog puppet sponsored by the Wilson County Sheriff's Office were two events that entertained the younger set. A couple was married on the Ferris Wheel with their pastor, while the Wheel was some 80 feet up in the air. All American Shows brought in three new rides to the Midway. The centerpiece of the Midway in 1993 was the amazing new whirly-gig, the Kamikaze. For children, the Berry Go Round was a ride in a wildly spinning strawberry. The Century Wheel was a brand new single axle wheel which was larger than any in the world. Senior citizens were given free rides on this giant Ferris Wheel.

In 1994, the theme of the fair was A FAMILY A-FAIR. The fair ran from August 15 through August 20th. A new attendance record was set when 108,934 individuals attended the fair. This fair was 2nd runner up for the State Champion for Tennessee after having won the Champion of Champions in 1992 and 1993. What was it that made this fair a contender for the Tennessee Champion Fair? Continuity on the Fair Board, new additions to the Fair Board and to the Youth Board must be considered contributing factors. There was continuity as well with many of the educational exhibits and shows held at the fair. Among these were the Goat Show, Senior Citizens Picnic, the Car and Cash Give-a-Way, the Antique Tractor Pull , the Trap and Skeet Shoot and Fiddle Competition. However, many new features and entertainment acts were added to the award-winning fair as officials continued to seek to make each fair better than the one the year before. All American Shows, owned by Terry and Teresa Portemont, provided the midway.

Tops among some of the new events were "Remember the Maneuvers" with Lt. Col. (retired) Jim Henderson. He spoke on Monday night in Fiddlers Grove of a time when Wilson County and Middle Tennessee were transformed into a huge military scene. Many people who had served their country during World War II and many who were children during this time were treated to interesting facts about this time and era. Lt. Col. Henderson was a military veteran who was serving as Executive Director of the Tennessee World War II Maneuvers Commission.

New in Fiddlers Grove in 1994 were the Historical Walking Tours of Fiddlers Grove. Fair officials asked the Chapel Playhouse theater group to create tours through the Grove during the fair. Members of the group took on the identities of persons from Lebanon's past, including Sam Houston, Dr. J.E. Fisher and others. While in costume and at 15-minute intervals, three characters were portrayed each night during the entire fair.

The most controversial new event at the 1994 Wilson County Fair was the Diving Mules. This entertainment venue was billed as the "world's only diving mules." During each of the three shows nightly, two mules, a pony and a dog were led to the plywood walkway. The walkway ended on a sloping edge to the six foot deep pool 30 feet below. The animals trotted up to the top without any prodding from their handler. The mules moved to the edge of the platform, extended their hooves until they fell forward with a slight spring from their rear feet. While their plunge was not accomplished with Olympic grace, the creatures emerged from the tank, furiously shaking off water and looking for a reward from their handler," stated Leon Alligood of the Nashville Banner.

The controversy arose when a woman, an animal welfare advocate and the president of the Wilson County Humane Association, questioned how the animals were trained to do something that was obviously unnatural to them. Meetings with this woman and members of the Fair Board along with local veterinarians found the mules to be well treated with no scars and they were not coerced to jump into the water from the 30 foot high platform. Tim Rivers, the trainer, said that he had heard complaints while traveling with his show before. He stated that "he did not make the mules do anything that they don't want to do. What we do is find one that likes water and start them out with low dives. I bet that we could go up to 60 feet and they would still do it because they like to."

The negative publicity was a great learning experience for Wilson County Fair officials. The officers handled the whole incident in a professional manner by meeting with all of those concerned. However, the negative publicity proved to be very valuable for the event because more people than ever poured through the gates each night to view the famous diving mule act. One funny story in an otherwise serious situation arose when Hale Moss, Nelson Steed, the woman, and Kevin Brumett met to discuss the 1994 Mule Diving act. Seeing that the woman was very concerned about the animals and trying to lighten the mood, Nelson Steed asked her, "Next year, we have another event featuring animals. How do you feel about monkeys being shot out of a cannon?".

Credits: The Fair Histories all written above should have credits given to THE WILSON COUNTY FAIR, TENESSEE'S BIG COUNTY FAIR, by Brenda Moss and James Jordan, 2009. All individual fair histories from 1853 through 2014 should have credits attributed to this book.

The synopsis of the 1930 Fair was written by Paul Wooten, Jr. in 1930 and was reprinted in THE HISTORY OF WILSON COUNTY, TENESSEE...ITS LAND AND ITS LIFE, 1961. The reprint of the article was done on September 12, 1940. This appeared in section number 31, Life of the People, Pages 447 and 448.

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