It’s summertime, and that means preparation is well underway for Wilson County’s world famous Wilson County Fair, to be held this year from Friday, August 12th through Saturday, August 20th.
STORY By SUE SIENS
It’s summertime, and that means preparation is well underway for Wilson County’s world famous Wilson County Fair, to be held this year from Friday, August 12th through Saturday, August 20th. Hundreds of Fair Board members, County workers and community volunteers are hard at work readying the James E. Ward Agricultural Center for this year’s historic event.
The Fair’s roots go back as far as 1853, when according to the Wilson County Fair history book, the first known Fair was held here. The location of that Fair was on Coles Ferry Pike, where Lebanon’s Jimmy Floyd Family Center stands today. It appears the Fair was held throughout most of the late 1800’s.
In 1919, a two-day fair was held on Lebanon’s Town Square. That event proved so successful, a Fair Board was formed, and the land was purchased on Coles Ferry Pike for future fairs. On this site, a grandstand, stables and a cattle barn were erected. Over 20,000 people attended the 1920 Fair. The Fair was traditionally held in either August or September. Much of the Fair focused on farming and agriculture, education and entertainment (a tradition that continues today). A 1920 Fair Catalogue states the Fair Committee’s purpose; “This Association was organized by a number of Wilson County citizens who felt the need of an annual event to which the people can bring the choicest of the fruits of their efforts on their farms and in their homes, and by comparison learn the great lessons of correct values of the same. We realize that a good fair must be for a two-fold purpose. First, it must be educational. Second, it must be entertaining and amusing…” In 1925, the Fair advertised four large rides: the Caterpillar, Ferris Wheel, Whip and Merry-Go-Round.
As times changed, so did The Wilson County Fair. During the Depression in 1932, the Fair admission was reduced from 50 cents to 35 cents for adults, with children admitted free.
The Fair was delayed in 1943 because the fairgrounds were occupied by the Army which held war maneuvers in Wilson County. In 1945, the fair-goers celebrated the end of World War II, and a giant military searchlight was brought to the midway, which was said to be seen for up to 100 miles. And in 1950, the big Fair attraction was a television set.
Throughout the years, various groups were the stockholders of the Fair Board. From 1970 through 1972, no fair was held in Wilson County, but thankfully, the Lebanon Jaycees revived the Fair in 1973. They operated the Fair at the Coles Ferry site until 1975, when it was moved to the James E. Ward Agricultural Center, where it is held today. The Jaycees sponsored the Fair through 1978.
In 1979, Wilson County Promotions (a non-profit organization) was formed, with thirty members of the County, who established a new and exciting beginning for he Wilson County Fair. Of those original members, six continue to actively serve on the Board today, including Hale Moss (current President), Randall Clemons, Nelson Steed, Gordon Skeen, Virginia Jordan and Barbara Hagan Allison, while several others still serve as volunteers. Today, the Fair Board includes 300 members and an Executive Board. There are also hundreds of community volunteers who serve on the Youth Fair Board and dozens of fair committees. (Last year’s estimate of volunteers was 808, with more than 58,000 volunteer hours.) The Fair is also supported and made possible by many hundreds of businesses, exhibitors, churches and non-profit organizations.
Truly, the Wilson County Fair comprises the whole of Wilson County’s communities and citizens. The proceeds of the Fair each year are used to improve the Ward Agricultural Center and have funded land purchases and new building construction, the Fiddler’s Grove and various other improvements.
By 2008, the Wilson County Fair grew to be recognized as one of the “top 50 fairs in the nation”. Setting a record attendance of 505,434 in 2009, The Wilson County Fair attracts visitors from across the State, nation and even from other countries. Last year, license plates in the parking lot were identified from 30 states, 46 Tennessee counties and three countries. It is now the largest fair held in the State of Tennessee. Wilson County’s mid-state location near I-40 makes it a natural hub for more rural and surrounding counties.
Hale Moss, President of Wilson County Promotions, noted that the mission of the Fair Board is much the same as the 1920 philosophy. He said, “The Fair Board’s goal is to produce a fair that reflects our community, with education, entertainment and agriculture. We want to offer something for all ages and interests and also keep with our traditional roots. Whether it’s the beef cattle shows, art, agriculture displays, competitions, demolition derby, baby shows, pageants, music and concerts or the huge carnival, there is something for everyone.
The wonderful facility we have and the unique attractions offered in Fiddler’s Grove, with crafts, bluegrass, gospel and history, makes our Fair a destination. Many people mark their calendars each year and plan for it.”
This year, the Fair will host many of the traditional events and favorite features, like Michael Blaine, the hypnotist and the “racing” pigs, and it will offer a few new and different attractions.
New attractions include the Paul Bunyon Lumberjack Show, an action-packed show with log-rolling, axe throwing, “dragster” chainsaw and world champion lumberjacks. Other new shows will be children’s entertainer and story-teller, Conductor Jack, and unicyclist, comedian, and juggler, Wade Henry. The agricultural education feature this year will be “The Year of the Soybean.”
Ladies and gents, get your hats ready for this year’s Fair theme, “Hats Off to the Wilson County Fair”. I’m sure you can already imagine the music, the thrills of the midway rides, the smells and tastes from the food concessions (yum) and the laughter from excited children. Many of you are planning your fair booths and getting fair entries ready. The Wilson County Fair is “the place” to meet and see many friends and family members. Registration dates for some of the competitions are prior to the August 12th opening night, and there are many fun events and features at this year’s Fair.
Visit the Wilson Living Magazine at the Wilson County Fair
For more information, please log onto the Wilson County Fair website at
www.WilsonCountyFair.net or call (615) 443-2626. See you at the fair!