This week the Jefferson County Fair opens. That may not mean much to many people except another chance to buy a funnel cake or watch cars crash into one another but to a dedicated, but small, group, it means so much more.
Not long ago a county fair was the apex of rural culture. It brought everyone off of the farm and into town for a week of interaction, competition commerce.
I have read numerous accounts of old time fairs where the judging for the best horse, cattle or swine really did mean something. In addition to bragging rights, having the prize bull or hog would mean money in a farmer’s pocket.
Those old fairs were not just about animal husbandry. The ladies could be just as competitive when it came to the best preserves, pies and cookies. Woe be to the judge who failed to award the blue ribbon correctly!
The fairs in the late 19th century also involved horse racing. The old fairgrounds in Brookville was enclosed by a harness racing track that is quite visible in the old photos. There may even have been a wager or two placed on the outcome of the races! One thing is certain, there was a great deal of pride in the result of the races.
The county fair has changed considerably since those good old days. The horse race has given way to monster trucks and demo derbies. The entertainment is no longer a greased pig but rides unloaded from traveling carnivals.
One thing has not changed in all of those years; Pride. You can see the pride in the faces of the young competitors who bring their sheep, cows, goats and horses to the fair. These kids have raised their “exhibit” from the infancy to the show ring. Farming has always been hard work and these young people have learned that lesson. Not all will win a ribbon but all of them are winners for having entered the ring.
I would urge you when you visit the fair to take a few minutes from your visit to the food stands or the carnival and stroll down through the animal barns. With any luck you will meet with one of the youngsters who own a horse or pig. You may learn something if you talk with them. They are proud of what they done and will share what they have learned with you and your children.
I would also like to give some recognition to the members of the Jefferson County Fair Board. For the casual visitor to the fair it seems like it is an easy thing to stage. It only looks easy because the fair board members have worked so hard to make it so. These dedicated individuals meet all year to plan for this one week. In between time they are managing an extensive campus that they have opened to the community. Where else could you stage a truck pull, play soccer games or have a cowboy competition?
The fair board is not compelled to do this. In fact it makes a whole lot more work for them but they are true to the mantra of a county fair.
This year will be a bit different. There will be no primary rest room facility due to the construction of a sewer line. Instead portable facilities, similar to the old country outhouse, will be in place at various locations on the fairgrounds. While some folks may feel this is taking the old time county fair theme a bit too far, it is a necessary inconvenience.
Enjoy the fair, pray for good weather and take an extra sheet of paper along!