The Declaration of Independence was only 78 years old when the first
recorded fair was conducted in
Greenbrier Valley, VA. In 1854 the Greenbrier Agricultural Society began
organizing and having an annual fair where agricultural accomplishments
could be displayed. This popular event attracted entries of livestock,
produce, and household items from farms throughout the area.
The first fair was conducted at Mr. Nesmith’s Gove on approximately 2
acres of land. The location of
this event was determined by current historians to be at the corner of
Washington and Lee Streets in
Lewisburg about 150’ northeast of the present location of Lewisburg
United Methodist Church. A transcript of the minutes from the first
event include…(Transcript of Greenbrier Agricultural Society Minutes)
The first recorded fair was conducted in Greenbrier Valley, Virginia
beginning August 29, 1854 at Mr. Nesmith’s Grove. The Greenbrier
Agricultural Society was called to order by President of the Society,
Louis A. Alderson, at 11 o’clock A.M. – which being done, the President
of the Society introduced to the assembled crowd, William H. McFarland
Esq. of Richmond City, who had been invited and accepted the invitation
to deliver an address to the Society at the First annual exhibition,
after which the Company partook of the sumptuous repast prepared by the
Ladies of Lewisburg and
vicinity – the judges of the various Classes of Stock and articles
entered to contend for premiums and entered upon the duties for which
they were selected – at half past 5 o’clock P.M. it was moved that the
exhibition be closed until 10 o’clock tomorrow morning which was carried
– At 10 o’clock A.M. August 30th the Society was again called to order
by President Alderson – at 11 o’clock A.M. Dr. E. P. White of Caroline
County delivered a very interesting address and was elected an Honorary
member of the Society.
At 2 o’clock P.M. the judges rendered awards for the various Classes of
Animals, cattle: cows, bulls,
heifers, steers and oxen; horses: stallions, brood mares, saddle mares,
colts, jacks, jennets and mules; sheep; & chickens. Also included in the
judged entries were agricultural implements: plows, ox yoke & wheat
fans; fruits & dairy products; household manufactures: quilts, woolen
items, embroidery, bread, corned beef, & bacon ham; and finally,
domestic manufactures: bureaus, bed stands, saddles, harnesses, flour,
cooking stoves, oil painting and penmanship.
In 1858 the Lewisburg event gained the distinction of being called “a
fair of proportions” and featured
many entries including an iron-gray yearling colt that took home the
blue ribbon. (The colt would later gain fame as Robert E. Lee’s
warhorse, Traveler.) Also on display at this show was the first sewing
machine ever brought to the county.
The formation of West Virginia during the Civil War placed Greenbrier
County in the new state and it
was in 1869 that a fair was conducted for the first time in Lewisburg,
WV. Once again a famous animal was entered in the fair as the Ludington
Steer took home top honors. This Shorthorn steer, owned by Mr. Samuel C.
Ludington, was the largest steer in the world, weighing 4,450 pounds and
was noted for being “so broad across the back that a half-bushel of
shelled corn could be poured on its back and not a grain would roll
The next county fair was named the Greenbrier Valley Industrial
Exposition when it was conducted in
Alderson from 1883 to 1889. This fair was the first noted exhibition
where demonstrations and displays of technology were shown along with
the agricultural displays. Recent advances in farming equipment and
house wares were popular attractions for fairgoers of all ages.
The fairgrounds were located just north of Alderson on property
later owned by Camp Greenbrier. When the fair returned to
Lewisburg in 1891, it was conducted on property that accommodated
many of the activities. An announcement in the Rules and Premiums
book for that year describes the fairgrounds as…The Grand Stand is
so situated as to completely overlook the Race Course, and from
any position in it the gazer can see each stroke of the hoof of
the speeding courser from the start to the finish, and is capable
of seating 1,200 persons. A splendid speed track one-half mile in
length. Everything is fresh, new and inviting.
Ample provisions have been made for the safety and
sheltering of stock. Capacious cisterns will furnish an abundant supply
of water, and all that tends to the comfort of man and beast will be
supplied…The grounds, situated one-fourth mile south of Lewisburg and
three and one-half miles north of Ronceverte, Ches. & Ohio Railroad, afford facilities to persons living
at a distance to visit the Exposition, and are easily accessible to all.
Entertainment during The Industrial Expositions consisted of flat
racing, harness racing and novelty
contests for visitors such as wheelbarrow races, potato races, and
greased-pole climbing. Entries consisted of Agricultural Implements
(Department XI) in which farming machinery including a turnip drill,
root slicer, fanning mill, hillside plough, road scraper, and a gangplow
Throughout the early fairs, individuals and businesses offered special
prizes for specific contests or
classes. Money was offered as premiums for displays such as: the best
saddle Colt, halter broke, under one year old ($2.50) by Jas. T. Rucker;
$2.50 by Silas B. Mason for the best Loaf of Bread; $5 for the best
drilled Soldier in the West Va. National Guards, by J.W. A. Ford; and
$2.50 was offered by John D. Johnston for the best Bed-Spread knit by a
girl 14 years or under.
Early successes and failures of fairs in Greenbrier County set the stage
for the formation of an annual
event that would be more popular and successful than any of its
predecessors. Although there are no records to show the existence of an
annual event during the early years of the 1900s, small community fairs,
which consisted of neighbors meeting to display their goods, continued
throughout the period.
One of the highlights of attending the fair was the family picnic. The
first notation of picnics on the
fairgrounds was in the 1896 Exhibitors’ Guide that had everything
closing from 12:30 p.m. until 1:00 p.m. for dinner. This tradition,
which had existed from the earliest fairs, was a stopping point for
everyone to relax and regroup before continuing their exciting day.
Preparing for the picnic was usually done the day before attending the
fair and the meal almost always consisted of the same basic foods
including fried chicken, potato salad, fresh tomatoes, and other fresh
Valley Fair: Predecessor of Today’s State Fair
From 1917 through 1920 a successful Shorthorn Association Show began
the movement to have an
annual fair in the county. A group of local men incorporated the
Greenbrier Valley Fair on March 19, 1921, and an annual tradition was
born. Land was purchased about a mile east of the Watts Farm where the
Shorthorn Show had been held in 1917 and 1919. (In 1918 the show was at
the Ross Tuckwiller Farm west of Lewisburg.) The new location placed the
fair between the outskirts of the growing town of Lewisburg and the
railroad boomtown of Ronceverte.
On March 19, 1921, the founders of the Greenbrier Valley Fair chartered
their annual event with the
signing of a document and began a tradition that would become the
State’s largest fair. The first two Fair catalogues listed the place of
the exhibition as Ronceverte, as designated in the charter of the event,
and in 1923 the location of the grounds was listed as
Lewisburg-Ronceverte. As the community between Lewisburg and Ronceverte
grew, a post office was established and the area became
known as Fairlea, which is the physical location of today’s fairgrounds.
During the first stockholders meeting it was approved that the Board of
Directors be “authorized,
empowered and directed” to carry out the contract with A.M. Caldwell for
the purchase of property
(approximately 40 acres of land) lying on the road leading from
Lewisburg to Ronceverte, adjoining Howard Smith and the Ott heirs, and
known as the Driscol Land, at the price of $11,500 to use for the
During the early years, the Fair consisted of five event-filled days and
the fairgrounds immediately
began to take shape as buildings and other contest areas were created.
In April, 1921, an old railroad track was taken up and a racetrack
graded by teams of horses furnished by Wilson Bros., Tuckwiller Bros.,
John Sydenstricker, Julian Arbuckle, Bright Farrier, Ed Sydenstricker,
Howard Arbuckle, and Alex Arbuckle. Together they built the one-half
mile track that is still used today.
Within a few years of the charter signing there were stables, cattle
barns, and exhibit building, a
grandstand, and a sage on the fairgrounds. Cattle and horses dominated
the animal shows with the largest number of cattle representing the
Shorthorn breed. Sheep, swine, rabbits, chickens, ducks, and other farm
animals filled the barns and show rings.
In addition to the open shows, there were boys and girls representing
Agricultural Clubs (4-H) from
throughout the state competing in Junior Livestock Judging Contests and
showing their livestock.
For many fairgoers and exhibitors, coming to the fair involved traveling
for several miles in slow moving vehicles or on horseback, over rough
roads, and sometimes not in the best weather conditions. Exhibitors
carefully prepared their items for showing. Home sewn items were folded
and protected during the trip by older items or newspaper. Canned goods
usually arrived packed securely in crates. Farm equipment which was to
be displayed arrived on wagons, was pulled to the fairgrounds, or was
driven and then carefully cleaned and polished for the show. Many
exhibitors entered several categories and some had entries in different
departments. The prizes were ribbons, money, certificates, or other
special rewards that denoted the exhibit’s winnings at the Fair.
Contracting national entertainers to perform began when the gates opened
to the fair in 1921.
Showcased during that first exhibition was Harry Wheadon in his
Sensational Novelty Slack Wire Act; the Roza Rentz Trio featuring one
lady and two gentlemen in mid-air attractions; Robin, King of the Comedy
Jugglers; and a nightly finale by Pain’s Fireworks which proclaimed
“nothing like it has ever been seen in West Virginia.” Fair officials
took great pride in offering the finest entertainment each year.
It was considered a goal to always provide amusements that were
wholesome, educational, and good, clean fun. No unlawful concessions or
suggestive shows were allowed. Many types of entertainment were
represented at the Fair and leading performers or well-known groups
appeared in concerts or shows throughout the duration of the event.
From the minute the gates opened on the first day until the last visitor
left the grounds each night, the
Greenbrier Valley Fair offered fun, excitement, entertainment,
education, exhibits, and so much more to the thousands who came to see
the sights. Each year the fair changed, adapted, and reflected the
society around it.
For two decades the fair provided visitors the opportunity to escape
from their normal lives and discover something new. The annual fair in
Greenbrier County was looked forward to with great anticipation and one
of the best topics of discussion throughout the year consisted of
planning a trip to “th” FAIR!”
The Greenbrier Valley Fair was one of the state’s most popular events
and every year it attracted
thousands of people, animal shows, carnival excitement, grandstand
entertainment, races, exhibits, special contests, and much more. This
made the annual event an end-of-summer celebration for families from
West Virginia and surrounding states.
On March 19, 1941, the State Legislature, realizing the Fair’s
tremendous popularity and potential,
passed an act that designated the Greenbrier Valley Fair as the State
Fair of West Virginia. The act is recorded in Chapter 19, Article 7, and
Section 9 of the Code of West Virginia. The opening letter for the 1941
Exhibitors Guide described the change to Greenbrier Valley Fair
exhibitors…The Fair Management takes pleasure in announcing that by an
act of the 1941 Legislature our Fair has been made “The State Fair of
West Virginia,” and after this year will operate under, and be known by
name. It is through the hearty cooperation of our exhibitors, and the
loyal support of our friends and patrons throughout our state as well as
neighboring states, that this recognition has been made possible.
This milestone in the Fair’s history was to be a highlight of the 1942
event, but the celebrations had to
be postponed due to the onset of World War II. While the country was at
war, rationing of necessities,
shortages of goods, and the huge number of men who were gone from the
area led the Board of Directors to pass a resolution stating…In taking
assessment of the war situation, which has necessitated government
restricting of the sale of auto tires, the rationing of gasoline, the
regulation and the possible restrictions in the near future of all forms
of travel and transportation except that which is absolutely necessary,
we recognize an insurmountable obstacle in the way of conducting our
fair and whereas, it is also our desire to conform to the cheerfully
acquiesce in any action deemed necessary by the government in its war
effort, now therefore, in it resolved that we abandon our efforts to
operate this year and definitely call off our fair for 1942.
Not only was the Fair cancelled in 1942, it was also absent in 1943,
1944, and 1945, the Board records
show it was favored by members to have a Fair in 1945 but, when it was
not done, there are no records revealing why it was cancelled. The gates
did open again in 1946 and the annual event resumed with all of its
excitement and shows. There was something missing however as the crowds
filled the fairgrounds, and that was children. An outbreak of measles
had reached epidemic proportions and many parents, fearful of their
children being exposed to the disease, came to the Fair without their
youngsters. The children who did come discovered many of the same
attractions which kids had enjoyed for every year of the Greenbrier
Valley Fair including carnival games and rides, animal shows, racing,
entertainers, and exhibits.
In 1956 the fairgrounds began to grow with the purchase of the “Simons
Property”, and land at the
south end of the racetrack was purchased from Barton Ott. The Board also
passed a motion to build a sheep pavilion, convert the rabbit show area
to a swine facility, and to build a new rabbit house. In 1958, changes
and additions were made to the industrial building.
Capital improvements continued to be made in the 1960s with the
construction of a new grandstand.
This addition would provide more than 6,000 seats, including additional
seats placed on the racetrack. This improvement
would “set the stage” for larger shows, bigger audiences, and top
entertainers to perform at the Fair.
Through the following decades, the fairgrounds continued to change and
grow and each year the goal
is to provide a bigger and better show. The one thing that remains the
same from the early fairs thru today is the commitment to agriculture
and family values.
A mission statement adopted by the Fair’s Board of Directors states: The
mission of the State Fair of West Virginia is to produce a quality fair
committed to the traditions of agriculture, family
entertainment, and education and to develop non-fair events that utilize
the existing facilities, that create opportunities for growth, and that
benefit the community served by the facility.
Each year the Fair opens with new excitement, new shows, and the same
feeling of being at an old
time event. Since 1921 the State Fair of West Virginia has been a family
event and it will continue to be for years to come.
|Walking the Fair Grounds
||Places to eat
|Places to play
||Places to be entertained
||Remember trying to get a glimpse of the lights
of the Fair before you got there at night?