August 30, 2004, Doug Davis, The Daily News Journal
Rutherford’s agricultural events remembered fondly, but lack of money, interest ended them
Rutherford County once held weeklong agricultural fairs and some would like to see them return, but many feel the obstacles and competition would be too great. Some of those difficulties may have led to the downfall of the former fairs.
The Jaycees sponsored the event for approximately six years in the 1970s. Daily News Journal storied documented the event from 1972-1977 at the Rutherford County Agricultural Center (present day Old Fort Park). Itmay have continued until 1978.
Jerry Brown, now retired from State Farm’s Murfreesboro Operation Center, was president of the Jaycees from 1971-72 and chairman of the Jaycees Fair Board in 1974.
“The Midway was set up where the youth baseball/softball field is now,” he said. “The 4-H Club had exhibits grown or made by 4-H members in the ag building.”
Johnny Smith is still employed by State Farm and is also a past Jaycee president. He also served as chairman of the fair board for two years.
“It was a six-day fair, usually in August. We had a commercial tent with a lot of booths for local merchants,” Smith said. “We also had a fairest of the fair beauty contest, a mule pull and a tractor pull. One of the biggest things we drew people in on was the mule pull.”
Smith added that country music artist such as Faron Young performed at the fair, and entertainer Tiny Tim of Laugh In and Tonight Show fame, made an appearance one year.
The Daily News Journal of August 21, 1977, reported that the sixth annual fair featured 65 exhibits, the 4-H girls’ fashion show, cattle shows, two nights of tractor pulls, the mule pull and a demolition derby.
“The size of the crowds was real good for the first four or five years, then they just started dying off,” said Smith. “We just got into too much competition. The Wilson County Fair was growing, and our proximity to Nashville (and the state fair) made it difficult. We didn’t have any permanent buildings. It just wasn;t cost justified for the Jaycess to continue that.”
“I think the day the county fair has come and gone (here),” said Smith. “Lincoln County is not far away and Nashville is close. That makes it difficult to compete,”
Both of these locations have very successful fairs, he explained.
“I would like to see the old fair return to Rutherford County, but I don;t know if Rutherford County would support it,” said Brown, the former Jaycee. “There is so much diversity in Murfreesboro now. It is easy for people to go to Nashville now, and there are all the professional sports there.”
In the 1940s and 1950s, two three-day fairs were in operation in Rutherford County: The Mid-State Colored Fair and the Lions Club Exposition.
The Exposition was held on the site of the old Rutherford County Fairgrounds on South Church Street near the county workhouse and Shoney’s Inn.
The Lions sold raffle tickets to give away a new car one year and another year a house was given away to draw big crowds.
Billy Pearson, a current Lions Club member, remembers his father (E.B. Pearson) winning a new Ford Deluxe at the Lions Club Exposition in 1946.
“It was a tremendous amount of work,” Tom Kendrick said of the three-day event. Kendrick has been a Lions Club member since 1948. “We had about 100 members at the time, but you can just work that many volunteers for so ling.”
The liability of running a fair became an issue as well.
“As I recall, we were afraid someone was going to get seriously hurt,” he said.
Kendrick said it would be great if Rutherford County and Murfreesboro had a fair but that it would be “a big undertaking.”
The Rutherford County Fair Association board ran a weeklong fair at the old fairgrounds on South Church Street from the late 1800s into the 1940s.
C.B. Arnette, 86, said his earliest memory of this fair was 1923.
“My father had a stand there and sold hamburgers, hot dogs and soda pop,” he said. “It was my job to dispense the drink. I was five years old at the time.”
Arnette remembers pony and mule races in the morning and the jog cart racing in the afternoon. He came in second place in the pony race for 12-to-14 year olds one year and won a 25-pound bag of flour.
The local historian recalled the ladies were decked out in hats and gowns during the carriage show.
“My parents took me to the fair,” Pearson, now 70, said. “I remember the grandstands, the track and the harness races. They had a good Midway and as a young boy that was the main thing that interested me.
Arnette said stunts provided by the carnival were always an attraction for him. Once, he saw a mule jump off a ladder into a pool of water.
Though her interest in the races was not great, 86-year-old Katherine ‘Kacky’ Holden remembers attending the old fair as well.
“There was a big grandstand, and I remember the races,” she said. “That was the place to be.”
Her friend Susan Bragg, 85, remembers the rides, the cotton candy and the women’s building, where needlework, sewing, cooked and canned items were on display.
“It was a happening. People came from all over.” said Larry ‘Bud’ Nelson, 77, of Murfreesboro, describing the ‘jog cart’ races.
He trained horses at the Rutherford County fairgrounds track from 1955-57 but never raced there.
“I would like to have horse races reinstated, but I don;t know how practical it would be,” said Nelson. “There is so much competition for the entertainment dollar now.”
Retired Farm Bureau insurance agent Rober Rose, 84, remembers the later years of the fair.
“I went at least twice, maybe 1944-45,” he said. “They had all kinds of agricultural exhibits.”
Farmers brought dairy and beef cattle, hogs, sheep, lambs and chickens to be judged. Many 4-H students would also show livestock.
The home demonstration club women would bring cakes, pies, canned goods, quilts, dresses and rugs to be judged, Rose said.
The fair had some of the best food you could find,” he said. “Hamburgers, weenies, friend chicken and cooked onions. You could smell them all over the fairground.
Arnette speculates World War II may have led to both the deterioration of the grandstand and the downfall of the fair.
“There wasn’t anyone to keep up things, and there was a lack of interest,” he said.
Myers Parsons attended the fair with his parents in the 1930s. He later taught at Central High School Future Farmers of America students, who displayed the goods there. Parsons, once an agriculture teacher at the school, thinks it was costing too much to put on the fair that is why it ended.
Lions Club member Pearson said a new Rutherford County fair would be good, even though he admitted the carnival wouldn’t have the same interest for him that it once did. He also said Murfreesboro has changed.
“Murfreesboro is not rural, mostly suburban now. It is not a dairy center now. A lot of farmland is suburbs now,” he said.
Joe McKenzie, former director of the Rutherford County Agricultural Extension Service (1981-2002), agreed it would be ‘most difficult’ to have a successful fair in Rutherford County today.
Holden thinks the time for county fairs and trotting races is over, but her friend disagrees.
“The fair and races would bring the city and county people together,” Bragg said.
Dewayne Trail, director of Rutherford County Extension Office since 2003, said even though there is no countywide fair now, 4-H shows continue at Old Fort Park, and the Ag Center facilities are also used for various horse shows.