The County Fairs   Leave a comment

John Dodson Taylor, Jr.

Above:  John Dodson Taylor, Jr., in 1940

Cropped from a Photograph Courtesy of Randolph Fleming Taylor


I read accounts, such as this one from my grandfather, of small town life in former generations, and know that such a lifestyle is foreign to me.  Although I grew up in small towns and in the countrysides of various counties in Georgia (usually in the southern part of the state), I was never really at home there.  No, I am naturally an urban dweller.  I do live in Athens-Clarke County, home of one of the few unified governments in Georgia.  Clarke County, 159th of 159 counties in terms of land area, is number 19 in terms of population.  And I am home here.



From Leaves in the Wind, pages 17-18


In the early fall of each year, the county fair was held in the streets; and, with the exceptions of Christmas and the Fourth of July, “Fair Week” was the high spot of the year.  People looked forward to it all the year, coming from everywhere to join in the festivities.  The trains were loaded, as were the wagons, buggies, and surries, yes,

with the fringe on top.

Many rode horses and mules; many walked.  It was a time of good fellowship, and many families seized the occasion to have family reunions.

The merchants’ dollar-volume was almost equal to that of the Christmas season.  A carnival atmosphere was everywhere, and an air of suppressed excitement promised to erupt at any moment.  People on the crowded sidewalks chatted happily.  Hawkers did a brisk business with balloons, whistles, hats, pennants, and the like.  Young and old had great fun with these novelties, the remains of which were taken home and cherished until next year’s fair.

Fair exhibits were displayed in the courthouse and on the lawn.  Farmers placed their offerings on the sloped platforms erected on the lawn.  Many of the shade trees had stalks of corn and cotton tied to their trunks.  All of these exhibits were wonderful, and there were so many that often it was necessary to place the overflow in the hallways of the building.  I shall never forget visiting these displays one year and finding the professional card of a certain gentleman of color which proclaimed to the world that he–the minister–considered

funerals and marriages a specialty.

During the fair, the offices of the county government ceased to function in order that the schools and other organizations might use the office spaces for displays.  Every school in the county operated a stand where excellent food was sold.  Other groups also realized handsome profits from the operation of such stands.  The carnivals, which were excellent for those days, were usually located in the streets.

One part of all this excitement was brought each year by a Mr. Gilreath, who operated his merry-go-round, or

flyin’ jinny,

which was the center of admiration and wonder of all who saw it.  Between seasons, he kept it parked in the loft of his barn; and youngsters used to slip off and go to his home just to see it, to sit and dream of the day when it would be back in operation.  Mr. Gilreath usually set it down in a lot not far from Big Spring and took in money as fast as it could be handed to him.  At a nickel a ride, he made a small fortune off this steam-powered outfit.  I remember one farmer who sold a bale of cotton one day and rode out the entire amount from that sale, at a nickel a ride, without ever getting off!

The entire length of Broad Street was roped off for the races and other contests.  There were the usual foot races, relays, and broad jumps; but the two most exciting contests were the climbing–or trying to climb–the greased pole, to reach the top for the money prize–and the race for the greased pig.  Such fun and excitement!  Such a greasy mess for each child taking part!

Wes’ Shropshire, as grand marshall, presided over all these festivities.  Resplenent in his brown riding habit, atop his chestnut roan, he was the perfect master of such an occasion.  As I watched him, I thought that no fair could have been a success with Wes’ Shropshire as grand marshall.


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