FROM THE ARCHIVES: The fair of a century ago

From the Archives | Sandy Main

In Greenville’s earlier days the annual fair took place in September, not in midsummer as it does now. Those earlier fairs were decidedly different from today’s exhibitions. Let’s look at the fair of 100 years ago.

“Greenville fair all next week,” announced headlines in the Greenville Independent in early September 1913. “All roads lead to this exposition. Entry list breaks record. Free attractions and ‘Midway’ will be the best and most extensive ever shown.”

The article urged residents to “Lay aside your work and make your plans to spend a part of next week at the Greenville fair. Give yourself a vacation and relax for a day or two and at the same time improve your mind. There will be ample education and entertainment to cover all classes — the farmer, the city resident, the tourist, and all others. Ample provision has been made for the care of the women, especially the mothers, in the rest tents and there will be dining halls where good meals can be procured.”

The newspaper described some of the exhibits of homegrown produce and animals fairgoers could look forward to:

“In the stock sheds will be the finest of registered horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, etc., besides a large showing of grades. This will be so especially in horses and cattle as the special premiums offered in grades for work and draft horses and milch cows ensure a large number of entries.

“An especial effort has been made this year in the fruit department, and not only will there be the fine display but also there will be demonstrations in how to care for fruit in preparing it for market, showing the kinds of cases and crates now popular with the city purchaser of fine stock as well as proper handling of the barrel grades.

“The display of fruits, as anticipated, will in all probabilities be so large that the management is now figuring on putting the grains, usually in the same building with the fruit, in another building, thus giving the fruits a building alone.”

Besides viewing the exhibits, fairgoers were offered a wide variety of entertainment:

• Horse racing — “In the speed department there will be the usual activity and will furnish the high class of entertainment demanded by lovers of this kind of sport. Of course it could hardly be expected that there would be more horses than there were last year (71 head of harness horses and gallopers) as the entries then exceeded anything of previous years, but there will be an equal number and the contests will be lively.”

• Special attractions — “There will be a balloon ascension and double parachute descent each day of the fair, the balloonist taking with him a bear, which makes a drop by himself in his own parachute. There will be Weitzell & Weitzell in gymnastic comedy acts on the horizontal bars, in which double turns and other difficult feats are performed, interspersed with high class comedy. There will also be ‘Eddie and George,’ sensational double somersault gymnasts, equilibrists, and aerobatic comiques.”

• Midway — “And then the ‘Midway’ — never has the applications for space been so numerous as this year. Merry-go-rounds, Ferris wheels, motor domes, tent shows, etc., besides the ‘red hots,’ hamburger man, popcorn man, ice cream cone man, and the varied assortment of novelties, etc., which makes a show in itself.”

Even the means of traveling to the fair was different 100 years ago. Horse-drawn conveyances and the train were the most common forms of transportation for fairgoers.

“Arrangements have been made with the Pere Marquette for ample train service and the TS&M will run a special excursion on Thursday and Friday,” the Independent announced. The special train was scheduled to leave Ashley at 7 a.m. and make stops at Pompeii, Perrinton, Middleton, Carson City, Butternut, Vickeryville, Sheridan, Millers and Eureka Place, arriving in Greenville at 8:45. The return train would leave Greenville at 7 p.m., giving travelers the whole day at the fair.

The automobile was growing in popularity but it was still new enough that it merited special mention by the newspaper.

“As the automobile has become such a factor in the enjoyment of a trip to the fair the management is arranging so that all visitors coming in machines will have good space for the storing of their autos where they will be away from the teams and general crowd. The automobile exhibits will this year be an unusual spectacle as the different dealers and manufacturers are arranging for elaborate displays.”

Did the 1913 fair live up to its advance publicity? Stay tuned.

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