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South Central Fair

Celebrating 106 years

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South Central Fair Association, Written by Marilyn McCluster, Manager, South Central Fair

“Something for everyone and always in October” has been the South Central Fair’s motto since it’s inception in 1911. Although the board of directors have occasionally deviated from the month of October to late September the motto still holds true.

The County Fair began in the early 1900’s when area farmers in Mecklenburg County gathered to determine who had “bragging rights” to the largest livestock, and home-grown vegetables. This has become the Mecklenburg County Fair, and was held on the lawn of the Mecklenburg hotel. In 1912 the present site was secured and the construction of buildings soon began. The fair expanded in 1927 to include Charlotte and Lunenburg Counties and was known as the “Tri-County Fair”. In 1959 it gained its present name of “South Central Fair” including Brunswick County with attendance gaining momentum. People arrive at the fair from all areas of Virginia and neighboring states.

During the early years the fair lasted only four days and nights. The event would kick off on Tuesday with a large parade down Main Street Chase City. Schools closed so students could participate and many state politicians were on hand for the opening of the fair. In 1919, Governor Westmoreland Davis spoke on the opening day with Congressman Watkins M. Abbott, Commission of Agriculture C. M. Walton, State Treasurer Jesse W. Dillon and Mecklenburg Delegate C. W. Cleaton attending. The 1913 fair opened with the “silver tongued orator” William Jennings Bryan giving the opening address. Mr. Bryan was Secretary of State under President Woodrow Wilson and drew a crowd of 10,000. Governor William Hodges Mann made the opening address in 1912 and State Senator A. S. Harrison spoke in 1953.

The fairgrounds have remained the same since 1911 and consist of 25 acres of land. The addition of concession stands, restrooms, exhibit halls, office and grandstand area has improved the area for fairgoers over the years. The first grandstand section was built in 1947 and new gate was installed in 1949. The present gate was installed in 1955 after Hurricane Hazel destroyed the original one in 1954. The present grandstand area was built in 1997 with a seating capacity for over 1,500 people, and a covered stage area was included. In 2005 one concession stand was demolished and a new one built with a second one being remodeled. 1998 saw the grounds excavated to better accommodate rides and 2005 saw the grandstand area excavated to help with water drainage.

The South Central Fair has provided numerous forms of entertainment over the year. While horse racing was legal, it was the main event at the fair. The Fair Association, in 1937, secured a private 40 stall stable in town to house racing horses, complete with attendants on duty 24-hours a day to care for these valuable animals. Across the years entertainment has included barn dances, girl revues, seafood counters, mule races, animal performance, black-face minstrel shows, sundry daredevil acts, baseball and football games, tractor operator contest, boxing gorillas, old-time turkey shoots, helicopter rides, rodeos, acrobatic acts, wrestling, demolition derby’s, area high school band and numerous musical acts.

The Miss South Central Fair Pageant began in 1958 and has produced two state winters and two first runner-ups to that title.

The exhibits have always proved to be educational as well as entertaining to the public. The new Buggs Island Damn progress exhibit in 1949 was a huge success. An aromatic leaf type tobacco was introduced in 1960. Wide spread attention was received in 1963 by Lucy Bugg of Boydton for her construction of an 8 foot South American Python Skeleton. 2003 saw the addition of the Agricultural Science Fair to the exhibits. Area junior and senior high school students compete with agricultural/science projects. Students are required to be present on Tuesday night to explain their projects and answers questions from a panel of judges. Cash awards and trophies are awarded.

The fair experienced a period of financial difficulty right after World War I when the bank foreclosed on the Mecklenburg Agricultural Fair Association, Inc. The grounds were sold at auction to four private individuals, but in time the Mecklenburg County Fair Association was chartered in 1921 and stock was sold in the new corporation, which required ownership of property.

Almost a 100 years old and the fair has only been interrupted by Mother Nature a few times. In 1954, 1964 and 2004 were interrupted by hurricanes. 1943 and 1944 the fair did not operate because of World War II. Attendance was affected in 1929 by a quarantine of Boydton children due to an outbreak of four cases of infantile paralysis and 1965 the county Sheriff imposed a restriction on gambling that lowered attendance.