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A Brief History of the Fair
The Chatham County Agricultural Fair grew out of the tradition of “Achievement Day” held annually by Home Demonstration and 4-H Clubs in the area. This event offered a chance for people to display their talent at household arts and receive prizes for their work. The Farm and Home Agent of Chatham County, Mildred Bright Payton, presented an idea for a carnival and County Fair to be held annually, with the proceeds being used to help fund the prizes for the Achievement Day. On May 30, 1949, the Farm and Home Organization voted 16 to 2 in favor of the county fair.
The first Chatham County Colored Agricultural Fair was held in 1950 on the Goldston Lumber Company grounds, which were rented for a fee of two hundred and fifty dollars. Through mud, rain and leaks, the event attracted about three thousand people and held exhibits in a rented tent. Preparation of the fairgrounds required a lot of work, but the fair was considered a success.
The second fair, September 17-22, 1951, was held on a new tract of land offered by the Pittsboro Mayor J.A. Farrell Sr., rent-free to the Fair Association. More than one hundred exhibitors displayed their work, including canned and baked goods, clothing, needlework, and horticultural products, for an estimated seven thousand guests.
By the year of the third fair, the land was purchased from Mayor Farrell for one thousand dollars. Held September 14-19 1952, this fair was the first to use a forty by one hundred foot exhibit hall constructed to house the exhibits.
The land bought in 1952 is still owned and run by the Fair Association; the property covers 12 acres within the city limits of Pittsboro, in Chatham County. The Chatham County Fair, held annually on these grounds, is a great place for families to experience and learn about local agricultural culture. With food, music, entertainment, rides and exhibits, it promises to be an exciting outing for any family!
For a more detailed description of the Fair’s organization and experiences from its inception through 1980, written by a group of Board members, please click here for a PDF version or here for a Word file.
In 2009 Ann McCrimmon, a member of the Board and Treasurer shared her memories:>
The Chatham County Agricultural and Industrial Fair has evolved into an even greater venture than its earliest founders could have imagined. What began as an idea for Home Extension Agent Mildred Bright Peyton back in 1949 has become treasured tradition for Chatham County. Agricultural Agent Joseph Turner joined her in this endeavor and together they rallied individuals from Chatham’s African American communities to come make this effort a reality. By 1950 the Fair was officially founded. Some of the prominent members of surrounding communities who joined in making this vision reality included Mamie Jones, Fred Dowdy, Major, E.C., Laura and Lillie Lee, Clemon, Mattie, Bennie and Eleanor Paige, Elijah Powell, Sr., Manley Edwards, Roxie Small, Gade Bryant, Charlie Baldwin, Sr., Charles Lambert, London and Auburn Richardson. There were many, many more whose hard work, sacrifice and courage were building blocks for the Fair that exists today.
An Agricultural Fair allowed County Agents Peyton and Turner a venue to spotlight the production of goods, skills and crafts they had helped hone in rural black Chatham County. At the same time the Fair provided a safe, friendly place for black people from all over the county to gather and visit, the children had opportunities to indulge in all kinds of sweet treats and meet children from parts of the county they would not normally meet. Ms. Peyton was accustomed to going to churches, community gatherings and homes to share information on how to preserve, cook, prepare and serve nutritious food. Sewing, gardening, home and child care guidance was shared. Beauty and grooming tips discussed and taught. Mr. Turner, as Agricultural Agent worked with farmers to give aid and assistance in the production of crops. An aura of total community surrounded all that we had. Every agency and activity of self-help was embraced so families and culture could not only survive but thrive.
Horton Public School was segregated until the late 60’s (when I graduated in 1967, there were 104 of us in my graduating class, all black.). Principal I.E. Taylor a formidable administrator who nurtured his young students as baby chicks and held the highest expectations for those students graduating and leaving the fold was community-minded. One of the School’s activities for its students included a day to attend the Fair when it opened. Students could follow a path through the woods that lead to a rickety little foot bridge across Robertson Creek to the fairgrounds. Even today I can remember the apprehension I would feel by the time we’d reach the creek. But I never fell in nor did I pass out from the fear that lay so heavy in my chest as my turn to cross over approached. Only the prospects of the Fair made it worth the effort to dash over. All kinds of handmade items would be on display. Hand-embroidered pillow cases, crocheted and knitted doilies for chairs, tables and anything else they could be placed on. Food, food, food would abound! Not just the luscious homegrown vegetables and fruit, and all kinds of canned goods, baked pies and cakes. This stuff was for looking at. The real food for fair goers would be outside the Exhibit.
Hall, hot dogs, candied apples, taffy, popcorn balls, candy, cookies, roasted peanuts in the shell and wonderful ice cream!. We never had enough money to sample all we wanted but if your buddies were true, you could get a little pinched share of many things. The Fair turned an ordinary school day into a grand holiday!
Now the Fair today is more total community. Students are no longer walking through the woods across Robertson Creek to come. Visitors to the Fair now who are not familiar with its history would not know this fair was founded and operated by African Americans. In fact three children of the original founders serve actively on the Board of Advisers right now, past County Commissioner Margaret Pollard, her brother Wilbur Bryant, and Charlie Baldwin Jr. Charlie Baldwin Jr. loves the largest pumpkin contest so each year he sponsors the prize money for this event. He even included funds for the largest homegrown watermelon this year. The Fair has become more inclusive and representative of the Chatham we now share. Newcomers to the area have been very supportive and many long-standing residents who had not participated in years past are now very active in our Fair. Entertainment offered by vendors still includes all the wonderful foods, exhibits are just as varied, though not as proliferate as I can remember from the 50’s and 60’s. More of us are buying ready-prepared food and clothing. Community enthusiasm for displaying the fruit of labor seems to have waned; however, I believe this is due in part to our being a more mobile populace, trying to travel lightly and quickly, not savoring homegrown. During my childhood most of the families I knew owned one automobile and it was never loaned to the young, especially not for fun. Now practically ever driver in the family has a car and the choices of activities are plentiful.
A few years back I competed against my Mama, using her recipe, for pear preserves recognition at the Fair. I won a blue and red ribbon. She garnered the white. Now I don’t even think about doing preserves, because I feel like my time could be better spent doing other things. I have become engaged in so many different things that if I don’t write them down, I don’t remember to do them. But I do remember the fun Mama and I had talking about the irony of the pear preserves’ experience. Our lives now offer more variety than we care to sample. The Fair struggles to compete with this variety. But I keep a place for the Fair because I love it. I work with many other folk who love it too. Throughout the year we meet and plan the program, talk restoration and growth. The Fair is an institution that started as a notion and has become a tradition because of the community’s embrace.