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Jefferson County Fair celebrates 50 years

August 19, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - J.P. Burns vividly remembers the first year the Jefferson County Fair was held at its current site on Leetown Road.

It was 1974 and only one building stood on the fairgrounds, while the exhibits were set up inside tents, said Burns.

"I remember coming out the first day. A hurricane came through and all the tents were on the ground," said Burns, fair president.

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How things have changed for the fair, which is celebrating its 50th year.

There are now five enclosed buildings for youth exhibits and commercial exhibits, five livestock barns, a show barn, a stage and grandstand, a 4-H building, a poultry and rabbit barn and two horse barns, among other facilities.

Businesses donated much of the money to build the structures and Burns estimates that more than 2,000 people have volunteered labor over the years to make improvements and do other work at the fair.

"People make a fair. Buildings don't make a fair," said Burns as he surveyed the operations on the first day of the fair Sunday.

The fair gives youth and adults a place to show livestock they have raised throughout the year and a chance at winning ribbons and prize money for top animals.

Many youths raise the animals as part of their projects for 4-H and Future Farmers of America groups.

The fair thrives even as parts of the county's agricultural landscape begins to give way to residential development, organizers say.

Bob Tabb said one reason he believes the fair does well is because people realize the valuable lessons youths learn from raising livestock.

Besides, fairs are a natural attraction, said Tabb, who is on the fair's board of directors.

Tabb said fairs continue to thrive because they tend to be the only times people can see farm animals, and it's an experience they treasure.

Two years ago, the weeklong fair saw a record attendance of 36,000 and plans are in the works on how to expand the approximately 30-acre fairgrounds.

Commemorative T-shirts, golf shirts and a book are being sold at the fair to mark the 50th anniversary.

A proclamation celebrating the event, sent from Gov. Bob Wise, was expected to be read at the stage at 6:30 p.m. Sunday and Wise is expected to visit the fair today around 5:15 p.m.

The fair was organized in 1952 and the first fair was held in 1953 at Charles Town Races. The fair was sometimes held at Charles Town Races and at other times at the former Shenandoah Downs track, said Burns. It was held at the thoroughbred tracks until 1974, when it was moved to its current location on Leetown Pike west of Charles Town, W.Va., Burns said.

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