West Virginia has a rich heritage of fairs and festivals that grew out of early agricultural exhibitions, at community, county, and multi-county levels. These early exhibitions were intended to spread knowledge of farming methods and the selection of superior animals or crops, and to foster pride in agricultural achievements. Today’s county fairs serve the same purposes and many others.
The exhibition of animals and animal and plant products in competition remains a central theme. Thus fairs draw entries of products from apples and black walnuts to yams and zucchini, and of canned and baked goods, as well as numerous breeds and species of domestic animals, ranging in size from rabbits to draft horses. Organizations charged with rural development take advantage of these opportunities to showcase new ideas. Fairs provide a venue for youth in 4-H and Future Farmers of America clubs to exhibit the products of their projects in friendly competition. These events are meant to instill a respect for animals and to promote ethical practices in raising and showing animals and plant products.
Contests of skill, or just for fun, from attempts to catch greased pigs to horse or tractor pulling contests, and from animal showmanship to sheep shearing, became prominent events as fairs developed. Country music shows in the evening, food booths (many with specialties prepared on site), and carnival rides and booths have been added over the years. Fairs are important social and entertainment events, looked forward to throughout the year. Many a farm-raised child remembers the thrill of a first Ferris wheel ride, and many a ‘‘town kid’’ was awed to learn where milk comes from, by the size of a bull, or by the cuddliness of a lamb or bunny in a close encounter at the county fair.
Exhibits and demonstrations of farm machinery and products for farm use have become staple events at West Virginia county fairs. Parades began in early years as animals were paraded to open the fair. They have evolved to parades through the local town, featuring a fair queen and her court, floats from many organizations, bands, fire trucks, horses and buggies, and marching units ranging from dance schools to riding clubs. Craft demonstrations, shows, and sales, and raffles of cars, guns, or equipment have become common events at rural fairs.
County fairs take place throughout the state. In 2003, the West Virginia Association of Fairs and Festivals had 132 member events statewide, including county fairs as well as craft festivals and similar events. These fairs and festivals occur in 49 of the 55 counties.
This Article was written by Keith Inskeep
Last Revised on November 12, 2010