2017-10-27 / On Second Thought

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What is the history of the South Carolina State Fair?
Compiled by Warren Hughes

Since its early days actually going back to 1839, the S.C. State Fair has been a big deal for people throughout the region.

In my family’s case, my maternal grandparents met during the State Fair of 1911. I fondly remember my grandmother reminiscing about that fateful meeting during the exciting state fair of long ago. I also have happy memories of her gathering her grandchildren like a covey of quail for an annual trip to the fair complete with a picnic lunch.

The contemporary annual State Fair, which wrapped up last Sunday, just celebrated its 148th year following a reorganization in 1869 after the Civil War. Since its inception, the State Fair has existed to benefit its citizens. The fair annually awards 50 scholarships to South Carolina high school students, donating approximately $300,000 for that purpose each year.

Originally, the fair was on Elmwood Avenue downtown. In 1861, Confederate authorities occupied the fair’s buildings, using them as a place to make war munitions.

In 1865, Sherman’s army burned the buildings. In 1869 the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina was resurrected. The City of Columbia partially reconstructed the buildings and private funds were raised to restore the fair as an annual event. When it outgrew its Elmwood location, the society moved the fair to its present location on Rosewood Drive.

Although called the “State Fair,” it is neither state-owned nor funded by any state appropriations. It operates as a private nonprofit organization with a mission of supporting education. Ranked as one of the top fairs in the country, it is best known for bringing 12 days of exhibits, competitions, food, midway rides, and big-name entertainment to Columbia each October. However, the organization operates year-round.

With six exhibit halls and 115 acres adjacent to USC’s Williams-Brice Stadium, the fair offers football parking and is a popular venue for major events such as craft shows, home and garden shows, boat shows, civic functions, and charitable fundraisers.

For more information, see scstatefair.org.

We want to add to the community’s storehouse of knowledge, whether it is a neighborhood matter, a larger issue or a simple curiosity. We’ll do the footwork for you. Submit your questions to mimim@thecolumbiastar.com or pams@thecolumbiastar.com.

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