Days Gone By: Williamson County Fair

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2016 Williamson County Fair •  August 5-13 • WC Ag Expo

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.50.18 PMFrom the earliest days, downtown Franklin was the center of life for Williamson County. Well into the 20th century, accounts of livestock shows on the Public Square were common in the local newspapers. But, the origin of the Williamson County Fair goes back much farther than that.

Driving around downtown these days, you’ll see Fair Street, and off Columbia Avenue, Fairground Street. Ask Rick Warwick, historian with the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County, and he’ll tell you that both harken back to major events during different periods of time. In fact, at least six locations have been home to the Williamson County Fair, with the first dating back to 1857.

“The first one opened on November 4th that year, down where the new Bicentennial Park is located, and the Masonic Hall held the ladies’ exhibits,” Warwick says. “An article in the Weekly Review stated that the Hall was crowded with articles for exhibition – ‘specimens of the fine arts, embroideries, domestic manufactures, mechanical implements, home and horticultural products, flowers and fruits, minerals and curiosities.’ It was a two-day event, and considered to be a big success.”

That event was moved to what is now known as Fair Street in 1859 and 1860, on undeveloped land in the Hincheyville neighborhood, but the Civil War would soon derail the effort for the next seven years. When Franklin once again hosted the county fair in October 1867, it was where the Carnton visitors’ center now resides, according to Warwick.

“As opposed to the free fairs before the war, the new model was a three-day event with a gate fee of 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children under the age of 15. Prizes were limited to $15 per class,” he says. “Then they got serious and the Williamson County Agricultural and Mechanical Joint Stock Association bought a piece of land that was the site of the fair for the next decade, before it was sold for the development of 21 home lots. That’s what we now call Fairground Street.”

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While smaller livestock and craft exhibits would pop up around town, it wasn’t until October 1923 that the Fair returned to town, this time at Jewell’s tobacco barn on Hardbargain Hill, across 96 West from downtown, where the John Deere tractor store is today. The event apparently continued successfully until World War II caused its dissolution in 1941. That hiatus continued until 1948, when the Junior Chamber of Commerce took the reins and moved it to the Franklin High football field and county center on Columbia Avenue, where the Optimist Gym was just removed to become part of the Carter House state historical site.

“The county was still very much rural back then, and farm products were basically the focus,” Warwick says. “Home demonstrations and 4-H clubs were the backbone of the exhibits. There’s been a steep decline since then in the rural-agricultural life of the county, but the midway and the smell of cotton candy and popcorn can not replace the real purpose of having a county fair: the promotion of farming and farm products, and a place to exhibit and compete with peers for ribbons and premiums.”

Sisters Marjorie Clair and Carolyn Lee Hughes with their grandfather Papa Mac (David McDonal) pictured beside the court house with their 4-H heifers in the mid 1940’s.

Sisters Marjorie Clair and Carolyn Lee Hughes with their grandfather Papa Mac (David McDonal) pictured beside the court house with their 4-H heifers in the mid 1940’s.

Fortunately, the non-profit Williamson County Fair Board responsible for hosting the modern-day event agrees. The intervening years included a series of weather catastrophes that ultimately caused the Fair to disband in the 1950s, and it wasn’t until the construction of the Williamson County Agricultural Expo that the community had the wherewithal to produce a proper fair again. People like County Historian Louise Lynch and Fair Board Historian Dewayne Perry remember that time well.

“It had come a flood for the ages, and they had plastic down but it didn’t do any good,” Lynch says. “People were up to their knees in mud, and it had rained a number of years before and they just had, had it.”

Perry says that while we went a good 50 years without an official Williamson County Fair, there were 4-H shows, chicken barbecues, implement auctions and other smaller events that all pulled together to support the new Fair.

“There were a number of efforts back in the ‘50s, but it always seemed like they had a disaster. Big storms would come through and blow all the tents over and ruin all the quilts,” he says. “For years, folks would talk about it, but it wasn’t until the Expo was built that we had a place to do it.”

In 1946 Williamson County 4-H’ers participated in the dairy show which was held on the street in downtown Franklin.

In 1946 Williamson County 4-H’ers participated in the dairy show which was held on the street in downtown Franklin.

This year, more than 200,000 people are expected to attend the Williamson County Fair from August 5-13 at the County Ag Expo. And while kids and adults alike have come to expect great food and a world-class midway – longtime operator Jimmy Drew of Drew Expositions was just enshrined in the industry’s international Hall of Fame – the Fair Board has remained true to its roots: Hundreds of exhibits and competitions are designed to showcase our agricultural legacy and the impact it continues to have today.    

County Mayor Rogers Anderson, who chairs the Fair Board, says it’s all about preserving those elements that make our community unique.

“There’s an educational opportunity that doesn’t exist anywhere else, not only for school children but for so many who are new to Williamson County,” he says. “The best part is it’s all a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to unveiling it to the public on August 5th.”

Early bird ticket deals and more information on rides, vendors, exhibits and competitions can be found online at williamsoncountyfair.com.

 

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