The Greatest Fair in Our County's History
When the air is cool, when most of the cotton had been taken to the gin, and when the kids were back in school, residents of Laurens County turned their thoughts to one of the most highly anticipated events of the year. No, it wasn't the November general elections. It was the Fall fair, held each year in each of Georgia's twelve congressional districts. During the second decade of the 20th century, most of these fairs were held in Dublin. Along with the Chautauqua festivals in the summer months, these district fairs were often the highlight of the year in the host cities.
The first 12th District fair was held in Dublin in 1911 on the second floor of the Gilbert Hardware Building at 123 W. Jackson St., the former main office of Farmers and Merchants Bank. The second fair was held at the southwest corner of West Madison Street and South Monroe Street behind Theatre Dublin and the Fred Roberts Hotel. The rapid growth of the fair caused the organizers to look for a permanent and larger site to hold the annual event. The leaders purchased a tract on the north side of Telfair Street between Troup and Joiner Streets on the old Fuller property. Peter S. Twitty, Jr. was chosen to manage the fair that year under the overall leadership of pioneer fair organizer and farmer, W.B. Rice. N.G. Bartlett, Dublin school superintendent, served as secretary of the organization.
Fairs of the early Twentieth Century were a far cry from the fairs in the latter half of the century. Planners often staged different events and exhibits daily in order to attract repeat fair goers. The fair began on Monday and lasted until Saturday, often the biggest day of the week. The first day of the fair featured a series of speeches and musical numbers. The second day of the fair was designated as "Good Roads Day," and visitors were induced to attend through free admission. Transportation experts from all over the state came to town to discuss the importance of good roads in Laurens County. The big event on Wednesday was the Kit Carson Wild Wild West Show. "Big Sing Day" featured the best in local school musical talent, organized by Prof. J.M. Spivey of Adrian and Prof. A.M. Pace of Eastman. Prizes were awarded to the best school class in amounts of fifty, twenty-five, and ten dollars. Friday was set aside to salute the school children of the district. Saturday, the day when most of the country folks came to town, was devoted to the farmers and agricultural products of the district.
One of the biggest events of the fair, possibly one of the biggest in the early history of the county, was the exhibition of daredevil flying skills by aviator Gene Heth. The airplane, which was still a novelty in East Central Georgia, brought out three thousand people to the air strip and many more thousands to the fair grounds to witness Heth's flight. Heth took off from the Pritchett field, which was located between the Laurens County Library and Dublin Jr. High School, for a circular trip around the city, across the Oconee River, and back to the starting point. After a little difficulty getting started, Heth, who held the world altitude record for a passenger carrying plane, thrilled the crowds in the airplane, which was built by Wilbur Wright. The plane was put on display for everyone to view between flights.
The other big event on Wednesday was the Kit Karson Wild West Show at Stubbs Park. The show, the second largest in the United States, featured sixteen railroad cars of animals, one car of horses and buffaloes, Russian cossacks, Spanish gouchos, and scores of cowboys, cowgirls, and real sure enough Indians. The highlight of the show was a re-enactment of the Battle of Wounded Knee. Trick shooting, lassoing, and an attack on a stage coach were also featured. One of the negative aspects of the show was the large number of empty wallets and purses found around where the railcars of the show were parked, undoubtedly lifted by light-fingered grafters working the crowds.
F.W. Stanley of the U.S. Department of Agriculture put on an demonstration of irrigation equipment on the W.B. Rice farm, which was located west of town on the present site of the Vinson V.A. Medical Center. During fair week, the newly opened Bertha Theatre presented a live production of George M. Cohan's "The Little Millionaire," starring Burt Leigh and Hazel Burgess. Another popular and thrilling exhibit was the motordrome, which was an oval track, twenty one feet wide at the base and forty feet wide at the top. Four motorcycle riders raced each other at speeds up to sixty miles an hour on the nearly vertical track. The Coney Island Company's tent featured top Vaudeville performers. Among the other big shows were the Merry Makers Vaudeville shows, Colliers Famous Old Plantation Minstrel Show, McFall's Dog and Monkey Circus, Harry Kojan's Theatrical Girls Show, and a Big Street Parade. Those attending the fair could stop in at the telegraph of the Courier Herald to catch up on the latest scores in the World Series games between the Athletics and the Giants.
In addition to being "School Day," Friday was also the day that the politicians made their off year election speeches to the crowds. Georgia Governor, John M. Slaton, and 12th District Congressman, Dudley Hughes, arrived at the M.D. and S. depot, greeted by thousands of supporters and serenaded by the Dublin Band. The men were taken up the street to the New Dublin Hotel for the formal welcome by Dublin's leading businessmen and professionals. The local folks liked to show off their city, so they took the men on a ride around town which wound up at the fairgrounds. Slaton and Hughes were treated to a dinner following their speeches to the crowd. The speeches were congratulatory and laudatory in saluting the accomplishments of the district and the state during the past year.
The final day of the fair was a salute to the heart and soul of the district, agriculture. Houston County won the first place award for agricultural display, followed by Twiggs and Laurens Counties. Hundreds of prizes were awarded in a multitude of categories, including agricultural products, livestock, cooking, canned fruits and vegetables, pickles, sewing, crafts, painting, flower arranging, and wood working. Among the prize winners that week were Carl Nelson for the best handmade hammer handle; Kellie Ballard for the best cakes; Dorothy Hooks for the best cornbread and biscuits (my personal favorites); and Mrs. W.C. Faulk of Jeffersonville for the best lace display.
Attendance at the fair was truly remarkable. Special trains from all points in the district made runs into Dublin several times a day. Each edition of the Courier Herald was devoted to the fair. Businessmen put out an all out effort to attract the visitors to their establishments. Every motel and boarding house room in the city were full for the entire week. Seventy men spent the night in the City Hall for most of the week. The crowd was estimated to be at least five thousand persons per day with at least twenty thousand coming on Wednesday for the big events, bringing the total attendance to approximately fifty thousand people, many of them, repeat visitors. The county fairs of that era are a now a bygone part of Americana. In today's "rush-rush" world, such an event wouldn't be possible, but it surely would be a welcome change.