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"Sponsored by the State Agricultural Society, the fair was held here, October 18-21, 1853." The first North Carolina State Fair was held in Raleigh just south of New Bern Avenue, between Davie and Hargett streets, in October 1853. The fair had its origins in a meeting of the North Carolina State Agricultural Society that took place in December 1850. During that meeting the possibility of holding a state fair, as many other states did at the time, was initially discussed. Though the idea was widely supported, it was not acted upon, and the Agricultural Society eventually went defunct. During its revival in October 1852, one of the first orders of business was to organize an annual state fair to encourage advanced farming techniques and the expansion of modernized manufacturing interest in North Carolina.
Funding for the fair came through private businessmen, Raleigh commissioners, the Agricultural Society itself, and the municipal governing board. With the financial help of the commissioners and the county, the aforementioned large trace was purchased, and upgrades were made to Hargett Street, where the main entrance to the fair was to be located. Sixteen acres of the tract were improved by adding wells and constructing buildings to hold animals and product displays. Farmers’ and Mechanics’ Hall was the main building on the grounds. Floral Hall was built to hold items made by ladies. At the initial fair, as with those that followed, all manner of plants, animals, and handicrafts were entered for review. Cash prizes were awarded for first and second place entries.
In preparation for the first fair, private citizens were encouraged to invite fairgoers into their homes, as it was anticipated that the public facilities would not be adequate to accommodate everyone. Indeed, on its busiest day, 4,000 people attended the first State Fair. During that first year, and for many years following, the Raleigh and Gaston Railroad transported all of the presentation materials at no charge and offered attendees a half price trip to Raleigh.
The Agricultural Society continued to hold the State Fair at this site, adding various buildings and amenities throughout the years until the Civil War interfered with its being held from 1861 to 1868. The fair was re-opened in 1869 by the Agricultural Society and remained at the same location until 1872. In 1873, through assistance by the City of Raleigh, the Agricultural Society purchased a fifty-five-acre tract on Hillsborough Street and moved the fair to that location. In 1928 the fair moved to its present location on Blue Ridge Road where it has been held since that time.
Melton McLaurin, The North Carolina State Fair: The First 150 Years (2003)
Elizabeth Reid Murray, Wake: Capital County of North Carolina
David Perkins, ed., The News & Observer’s Raleigh: A Living History of North Carolina’s Capital (1994)
North Carolina State Fair Historical Timeline, online at: http://www.ncstatefair.org/2007a/General/sfhistory.htm
Related Themes: C.S.A., Confederate States of America, Confederacy
North Carolina Civil War Historical Markers.