County fairs across the state and across the country were once places where farmers would come to blow off a little steam after muscle-aching harvests of ripened crops. In Chesterfield, suburban sprawl has gobbled up many acres of farm land forcing the county fair to become more creative, offering attractions that appeal to those with small gardens and to those who want to experience entertainment found nowhere else in the area.
The Chesterfield County Fair is celebrating the100th year since its inception, and according to fair president Julia Williams, “The fair is bigger and better than ever.” She said that the new Heritage Village, a football field in length, will educate and entertain both history buffs and those who are just slightly curious about life in the 19th century.
Kenny Chandler, vice president of the fair, is organizing the Heritage Village. He said he’s not a reenactor but a history educator. He’s included a number of historic displays that will make you feel like you’ve time traveled to the 19th century. Chandler said the village includes a blacksmith, oxen-drawn wagon rides, a weaver, soap maker as well as relic displays. The Heritage Village will also include antique tractors and participation by the Chesterfield County Historical Society and Henricus Historical Park; “and we will be firing the cannon,” Chandler said.
“Every time they fire that cannon I just jump,” added Bill Tilghman, a member of the fair’s board of directors. “You just never get used to it.”
“I set up things to educate people and encourage them to ask questions,” Chandler said. “I have a hospital tent that I bring and set up with artifacts from antique weapons to bullets. I have two displays of belt buckles and breast plates, and I bring two torpedoes; the Confederate Museum only has one.”
“We have so many new things, I can think of at least nine items; people will hardly recognize the fair this year,” Williams said.
A real crowd pleaser, said Williams, is the pig races, which will return this year, and if pigs vying for position on an oval track aren’t your cup of corn, you’ll probably enjoy the log rolling, steer roping and chain-saw sculpting.
Over the last several weeks, fair organizers have been hard at work. Asked what was the most exciting change for the fair this year, Chandler couldn’t hold back from talking about a drain culvert that was installed, which will remove a ditch that has separated the midway from the attractions at the rear of the fair.
“Now visitors will be able to walk around the fairgrounds in circular pattern rather than having to find a way across that ditch,” Chandler said.
The water-walkers attraction, mechanical bull, karaoke, Kachunga and the Alligator, camel rides, the Virginia Cowboy Association Rodeo and the Star Family Circus are also sure to please everyone, Williams said.
Williams said the Chesterfield Tractor Club has been a fixture of the fair since 1997, but the fair goes back 86 years before the tractor club became connected to the fair of yesteryear. In 1911 the fair was created and has run continuously since then; accept for two years during World War II. That really makes the fair 100 years old.
From 1911 through the late 1987 the fairgrounds was located just behind the old historic jail, separated only by a fence. There was a huge dirt racetrack with wooden grandstand and many wooden stables and display buildings. The track was used for horse shows and other livestock shows during the fair, but even football games were held there at other times of the year. The first year the fair was held, the price of admission was $.50 for adults and $.25 for children.
Over the years the fair grew both in the number of days over which it took place and the cost of admission. By 1964 the fair was three days long and cost $.60 for and adult and $.30 for a child; in 1968, the fair increased to four days and $1.00; 1975 saw the fair grow to a six-day event and the subsequent year saw gradual growth until the current nine-day extravaganza with admission at $7 for adults and $3 for children.
Eventually, the wooden buildings on the fairgrounds site were torn down and replaced with brick and metal buildings before the county began using them for offices and storage full time. In 1987, Chesterfield County took over the fairgrounds razing the buildings to make way for various office buildings. The fair spent one year at the Chesterfield County Airport before settling in at its current location opposite L.C. Bird High School.
And if history is to your liking, you’ll enjoy this year’s entertainment. In addition the traditional Elvis impersonator Keith Henderson, Britishmania, the Beatles reincarnated as well as another half-dozen others will perform over the 10 days of the fair.
And don’t forget the Miss Chesterfield County Fair and the Little Miss and Mister County Fair, which will be held on Monday, Aug. 29 and a grand parade on Tuesday, Aug. 30.
“This year’s parade grand marshal will be Corp. George Fisher,” Williams said. “He was chosen as Chesterfield’s Outstanding Police Officer of the Year.”
The Chesterfield County Fair will take place from Aug. 26 to Sept. 3.