There is a great deal of excitement in the air! People from across the county are preparing for a grand get together, a kind of countywide family reunion. On August 5, the sweet smell of cotton candy, popcorn and fried dough, the sounds of carnival music, hucksters and laughter, the sights of a Ferris wheel on the horizon, farm animals carefully groomed and blue ribbons proudly on display will await children of all ages.
Williamson County is hosting an event that has been long overdue; the Williamson County Fair presented by Tractor Supply Company.
“I can’t wait for it to begin,” said County Mayor Rogers Anderson, one of the originators of the fair. “It has already brought together people from all parts of the county.”
The idea for a county fair didn’t come from a vision, nor was it spawned from a particular need. It was just an event whose time had come – once again.
County fairs have been an important part of life in Williamson County since 1857 when it was used as a venue to promote advances in agriculture, a major portion of the economy at that time, and an opportunity for socialization and exhibition. The first fair was held at McGavock’s Grove, now called Carnton, but the following year moved to land along what is now know as Fair Street in Franklin.
The importance of the county fair was exemplified when in 1869, following the Civil War, several prominent local businessmen jointly purchased land on Columbia Pike for the fair. A county fair was held in that location, Fairground Street, until 1927, the last fair for two decades.
Considered a rural county in 1948, the Williamson County Junior Chamber of Commerce, known as the Jaycees, held the first county fair since 1927. Even with that 21-year hiatus, the prime objective was the same as past fairs: to showcase advances in agriculture in Williamson County, to encourage residents to buy in Williamson County and to hold a social event attractive to every one of the county’s 25,000 residents.
Louise Lynch, now 72 years old, recalled going to the Jaycees’ fair located where the Williamson County Community Services building now stands on Fowlkes Street. Exhibits were set up under tents, and there was plenty of farm produce, candy, cakes, animals and dresses on display, Lynch said.
“Different businesses like McCall Electric would have a booth and give out yard sticks and fly swatters.”
The last Jaycees sponsored fair was in 1950. Some would say the proximity of the Tennessee State Fair in Nashville affected the local event. However, legend has it that a huge storm flooded the fairgrounds and dampened the enthusiasm for future fairs.
Now 55 years since the last Jaycee sponsored fair, the county has undergone a great deal of change. The most obvious was the shift from a community with more than 3,000 farms to one of sprawling cities, towns, suburbs and just a few hundred farms. But even with growth that has brought the county to a population more than 145,000, there continues to be a bond with the soil and a certain intrigue with farm life creating at least one thread of commonality: almost everyone still loves a fair. Until now the nearest fairs were the Tennessee State Fair and the Wilson County Fair.
More than two years ago, during a state agriculture convention at the Marriott, Mayor Anderson and other Williamson County employees were introduced to the term “agri-tourism” and the role it plays in bringing a community together.
“Few people showcase Williamson County agritourism,” Anderson said. “So it was suggested …‘Why don’t we have a fair?’” Inquiries yielded little information about past fairs and why the Jaycee sponsored fair was discontinued, but the idea was cast
and the decision was made to have a fair “the old timey way.”
A date was set when Hale Moss, the organizer of the Wilson County Fair, touted as the most successful fair in the state, began working with the group. The date was later changed to avoid conflicts with other fairs, and momentum and enthusiasm took over as others continued to come on board, Anderson said. The task was to put together a safe, family event that would evoke fond memories and allow fair goers young and old to experience a happy, simpler time.
"In our mission statement we wanted a fair that was beneficial and traditional, with animals, vegetables, plenty of food, and a midway,” Anderson said. “The fair used to be a way of life; a social event. We wanted to duplicate that. To do that it needed to
be fun, safe, and entertaining. And the fair had to be able to pay its own way.”
For more than a year members of the fair committee studied fairs on the internet, visited fairs around the Southeast, went to Fair Association conventions and consulted with Williamson County resident, Don Gregory, who spent most of his life in the fair business. Gregory introduced them to the Jimmy Drew Exposition; a family that has been in the fair business for more than 50 years. The big draw to the Jimmy Drew Exposition was the family’s antique pipe organ, which churns out happy carnival songs across the fair grounds to draw people to the Jimmy Drew midway attractions. The organ was on display at the Franklin Main Street Festival in April and was a big hit when the instrument spewed familiar, happy sounds. Anderson remembers the smiles of hundreds of people as they paused a moment to reminisce.
With a steadily increasing number of volunteers, and the generosity of sponsors such as Tractor Supply Company, the Pepsi Bottling Group and the law offices of Buerger, Mosley and Carson who donated their legal services to form a 5013C and take care of the dozens of necessary contracts, it appears the fair will pay its own way.
“This has truly been a team effort,” Anderson said.
The fair was once a chance for rural and urban residents to showcase their finest wares and a time to socialize with friends and neighbors seldom seen during the daily grind of making a living. Prize hogs, cattle, produce, silage, canned goods, baked goods, and handiwork went on display with ribbons and sometimes cash prizes given for the finest stock. A comparative look at the catalogue from the 1949 county fair and the 2005 fair catalogue shows the county fair hasn’t changed much.
“There’s a little something in all if us that like that atmosphere; the carefree life,” Anderson said.
The new “old timey” fair is just days away.