The Cabarrus County Fair Has Been a Tradition Since the 1870s

5 Sep 2014

Today marks the opening of the Cabarrus County Fair, which runs through next Saturday, September 13. Generations of Cabarrus residents have enjoyed the fair, which has its roots in the early county agricultural fairs of the 1870s. The fairs were a way to exhibit agricultural products and teach people about new farming methods. One was held near Poplar Tent Presbyterian Church in Concord and another was held at St. John’s Lutheran Church near Mount Pleasant. 

In the late 1880s, the two fairs combined to form the Agricultural and Mechanical Fair Association, which constructed fairgrounds near downtown Concord in an area bordered by Union Street, Spring Street, Blume Avenue and Tribune Avenue. That fair closed in the 1890s and wasn’t reorganized until 1923, when the fair moved near the intersection of U. S.  29 and Cabarrus Avenue in Concord. While there, horse races drew huge crowds. The fair closed again after the 1934 season, suffering from a lack of funding brought on by the Great Depression.

It wasn’t until 1953 that the County Fair resumed. Planned and financed by an independent fair board, it has since been an annual event. In 2002, the fair became a county operation. That same year, the fair moved to its current location at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center.

The early county agricultural fairs were especially important to Cabarrus residents when leisure time and recreational travel were hard to come by. The 1891 Fair gave people from all over Cabarrus an opportunity to enjoy exhibits, compete for blue ribbons and meet their neighbors. In an article on September 3, 1891, the Concord Standard editor urged his readers to participate, saying, “We have one of the best counties…let everybody do a little, and you will see as good a Fair as any in the State.” From all over Cabarrus, men, women and children helped out. Twelve ladies formed a committee to arrange the floral and dairy exhibits; members included Laura Tucker, Ida Burleyson, Kate Robinson and Mollie Fetzer. Men who served as Marshals included Elam Cruse, Henry J. Ritchie, W. F. Moose and D. D. Barrier. Sixteen boys served as Boy Marshals, including Paul Parks, Shakespeare Harris, Jr., Watt Rankin and Stanhope Caldwell.

Special delegations from Mecklenburg and Stanly Counties attended and all the railroads in the Carolinas advertised special rates good for Fair Week. Round-trip fare from Charlotte or Salisbury was 65¢ (about $16.60 today); from Greensboro, $1.50 ($38.31); Durham, $2.60 ($66.41); and Raleigh, $3.20 ($81.73).

The sixteen-member Third Regimental Band of the North Carolina State Guard performed in full-dress regulation uniform. Another big attraction was a race between George Murr, “the finest runner in the country,” and M. J. Corl’s “race horse”; Murr ran a quarter mile to the mule’s half-mile. Unfortunately, the Standard does not say who won!

No fair is complete without its list of blue-ribbon winners; in 1891 G. H. Barnhardt had the best bushel of May wheat and R. A. Brown had the best and largest exhibit of cattle. Mrs. G. E. Ritchie had the best butter, G. W. Petrea the best peaches and J. M. Fisher the best apple cider. Mrs. P. B. Fetzer won best silk embroidery, Miss Elina Cole the best specimen of lace, and Miss T. M. Dunn best and second best oil paintings. In the words of the Standard, the 1891 Cabarrus County Fair was a “great and powerful success!”

Today’s Cabarrus County fair continues to be a big success. Go and enjoy the fun, food and rides and become part of the tradition!

Courtesy of the Cabarrus County Public Library, Lore Local History Room