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Mike Watson: Adair County Fairs, A Brief History

July 4, 2014, marks the start of two weeks of celebrating at the county fair. The Adair County Fair & Horse Show has a rich history, a chronicle - with a few hiatuses - which dates back to 1856, and, before that to a statewide organization fostering interest in the fairs and exhibitions throughout the Commonwealth, when a son of Columbia was one of the 13 vice presidents of the Kentucky State Agriculture Society. Historian Mike Watson has encapusulated the most important details, gleaned from his own vast knowledge and many printed sources, to write this timely story.
The fair remains the premier reunion and homecoming event in Adair County. Adair County Fair & Horse Show, July 4, 7-12, 2014 2014 Adair Co. Fair Information and Schedule of Events

By Mike Watson, Adair County historian

Agriculture was the mainstay for the vast majority of Kentucky citizens in the 1800s. Since the early 1800s, agricultural meets, horse shows and general fairs had become a special interest of agricultural Kentucky. They began in the Bluegrass and spread across the state. To foster diversification and to bring new breeds and varieties into common use, agricultural fairs were promoted in the state as early as the 1830s. In April 1838 a second Kentucky State Agricultural Society was created to promote local agriculture and the societies it hoped would be formed to encourage production. Edward B. Gaither, son of Dr. Nathan Gaither, of Columbia, was one of the thirteen vice presidents of this Society, scattered across the state.


Columbia Fairgrounds Association formed in 1856

The Columbia Fairgrounds Association of Adair County was established on 10 March 1856 with Junius Caldwell, Robert Coffey, William N. Robinson, William Walker and Milton P. Wheat as commissioners. A capital stock of $3,000 was voted and shares were to sell for $25 each. The fairgrounds were limited to a total of twenty-five acres. This was the first attempt to bring organization to what would become a semi-annual fair.

Russell County had a fair in 1840

In 1840 Russell County had a "fair," but our first recorded interest in the fair business, locally, was this 1856 incorporation. It is not known how many fairs were held prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, but at least one or two are likely. The War brought this activity to a virtual standstill.

Adair County Agricultural & Mechanical Asssociation form in 1868

The Adair County Agricultural and Mechanical Association was incorporated 9 January 1868 with the following incorporators: Timoleon Bradshaw, Dr. Hector Owens, S.K. Rhorer, Henderson Wilson, Sydney Dunbar, Joseph Hunter, Thomas C. Winfrey, Alfred Gilmer, Joseph Coffey, William E. Baker, James R. Hindman and Thomas T. Alexander. The price of stock shares was set at $30,000, $25 each. This was part of the movement across the nation for agricultural advancement that came with the close of the War. The Adair County A&M, like associations across the state, was designed to foster interest in the agricultural pursuits of the local farmers and businessmen. This was the forerunner of the Adair County Fair.

Adair Agricultural Association formed in 1884

The Adair Agricultural Association was formed 15 March 1884 and incorporated 28 April 1884 with the purpose of holding a four-day fair to promote local farm products. It was a direct result of a small agricultural exhibition held the previous year on William Henry Hudson's land on the old Stanford Road. Organizers were William Henry Hudson, James P. Dohoney, G.W. Atkins, G.A. Thomas, Herschel C. Baker, W.T. Moore, W.B. Rowe and others. The capital was set at $3,000 to $10,000 and shares were $50 each. The compiler of this history has one of the original books of unsold stock certificates in his collection.

Officers were: H.C. Baker, president; G.A. Thomas, William L. Walker, O.B. Patterson, John C. Dunbar, Charles M. Sallee, T.P. Jeffries and George Lee, vice presidents; Joseph Coffey, treasurer; Dr. Buford T. Wood, secretary. Directors were H. C. Baker, Wm. H. Hudson, W. M. Smith, H. P. Willis, Z. M. Staples, George W. Atkins and W. Conover.

First fair, in 1884, last four days

The first fair was held in mid-August 1884 at the Association's grounds in Columbia and lasted four days. The ACAA had constructed an amphitheater, racecourse, music and judges stand, stock barns, etc. Food booths were abundant, but many families brought their lunch baskets. The amphitheater was oval and set inside the present racetrack, among the grove of trees. Inside the amphitheater was the show ring. The horse shows were the highlight of all the early fairs.

Kentucky Secretary of State opens 1885 fair

The 1885 fair began on 18 August with an address from James A. Kensey, Kentucky's Secretary of State, music was provided by the Louisville Legion Band. Over 5,000 attended on Thursday, traditionally the biggest day of any of the fairs. A fair was not held every year, usually due to weather conditions or the lack of profits the previous year. There was a fair in 1885, 1891.

Articles of incorporation signed in 1893

Articles of incorporation for the Columbia Fair Association were signed 18 March 1893 by Mont Cravens, N.M. Tutt, Wm. H. Hudson, H. D. Murray and John N. Conover, capital stock was set at not less than $3,000, with shares selling for $30. On 17 May of the same year Wm. H. Hudson and wife Mary, deeded the Fair Association nineteen acres on Russell Creek, known as the "Fairgrounds," for $3,000.

Nineteen acre tract sold at the Courthouse door in 1895

The same nineteen-acre tract was sold for the Association at the courthouse door on the first Monday in April 1895 to James Garnett, Jr., Creed Hood, R.F. Paull, Robert Tucker, James T. Page, C.H. Smith, W.B. Rowe, M.O. Sallee, Scott Montgomery, George R. Miller, W.L. Walker, Wm. F. Jeffries and R.L. Hatcher. New articles of incorporation for the Columbia Fair Association were drawn up and signed in July 1896 by Wm. H. Hudson, L.B. Hurt, W.L. Grady, H.D. Murray, John N. Conover, W.F. Jeffries, W.A. Coffey, J.B. Coffey, Mont Cravens, W.H. Wilson and James Garnett, Jr. There was a fair in August 1896, but not another until 1901. A fair had been planned for 1898, but smallpox in the Casey Creek vicinity caused it to be postponed and later canceled.

The August 1901 fair was a success. Wm. H. Hudson was president and C.S. Harris was secretary of the association. A highlight of the fair was the horseless carriage provided by the Louisville Automobile Company, which gave demonstrations on the track each day.

1902 fair was a sensation

The 1902 fair was a sensation. This was the year of the county's centennial and a great "homecoming" was hosted for relations near and far. Thousands flocked back home from Illinois, Missouri, Texas and other western points. Another thrill of the fair was the hot air balloon that ascended every day. About this time Felix Royse and son, Sam, built and operated a wooden, manually propelled merry-go-round which was greatly enjoyed by fair-goers. In 1903 the Alexander Brothers of Burkesville brought their mechanical merry-go-round to the fair.

Columbia Brass Band provided the music in 1906

The Columbia Brass Band provided the music in 1906 and for several years thereafter. Members of the band were: George T. Flowers, president; Fred Myers, vice president; W.T. Price, secretary; J.E. Flowers, secretary; R.M. Feese, treasurer; Ewing Stults, C.C. Pickett, Ray Montgomery, Walter Sullivan, J.W. Young, Edgar Reed and L.L. Eubank.

J.H. Young purchased the grounds in 1916

J.H. Young purchased the grounds in 1916 and served as president of the fair association. The next spring he sold the land to the Wakefield Realty Company, of Shelbyville, and they divided the tract into six blocks, a total of 57 lots and proceeded to sell it. No houses were ever built upon this site. In 1921 the Columbia Fair Association was again incorporated with H.A. Walker, president; Sam Burdette, vice president; J.B. Coffey, secretary; J.L. Walker, treasurer; and W.E. Harris, O.P. Miller, L.C. Hindman, J.C. Bault, Clem Burton, Cortez Sanders and Elzy Young, board of directors. In 1926 a contract was made with Kentucky Central Electric Company to light the fairgrounds for the horse show.

Modern Horse Barns erected, floodlights installed

During 1937 and 1938 new, modern horse barns were erected and floodlights were installed so that night programs could be initiated. There were no fairs in 1942, '43, '44, or '45 due to the war.

After WWII, VFW organized; Post 6097 buys fairgrounds

When the Veterans of Foreign Wars organized in Columbia in 1946, they discussed the purchase of the fairgrounds and conversion to a Memorial Park in honor of local men who lost their lives in WWII. The sale was made. The Board of Directors: Mason Judd, president; Alfred Flowers, secretary; William L. Walker, treasurer; Charles T. Cooley, James Ingram, William Wilson, James E. Lacy, L.W. Cole, Thomas M. Watson and Edgar Troutman, directors.

The Columbia-Adair County JayCees purchased the fairgrounds from the VFW in the 1990s and have carried out a successful fair each summer since.

Selected Sources:
- Adair County Deeds, various
- Adair County Fair, 1884-1984, by Nancy Montgomery Berley and Helen Willis McKinney
- Adair County News, various years
- Agricultural Societies, American Guide Series, WPA, April 1942, by Kentucky Department of Agriculture
- An Adair County, Kentucky History, volume 1, Michael C. Watson, 2001
- Columbia Spectator, various years
- Fairs and Fairmakers of KY, volumes I and II
Compiled by Mike Watson, Adair County Historian


This story was posted on 2014-06-29 17:39:40
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The Floral Hall, the 1884 Building



2014-06-29 - Adair Co. Fairground, 413 Fairground Street, Columbia, KY - Photo CM staff photo.
The building above dates from 1884 and still stands.
The first fair was held in mid-August 1884 at the Association's grounds in Columbia and lasted four days. The ACAA had constructed an amphitheater, racecourse, music and judges stand, stock barns, etc. Food booths were abundant, but many families brought their lunch baskets. The amphitheater was oval and set inside the present racetrack, among the grove of trees. Inside the amphitheater was the show ring. The horse shows were the highlight of all the early fairs. - MIKE WATSON

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