Part I: The Early Years of the Palmersville Fair
by Nelda Rachels
I almost feel the same excitement plus trepidation that the Watergate journalists must have felt when they scooped their story in 1972 for The Washington Post—with one notable exception, however—Tom Brokaw and crew couldn’t care less about my recent discovery of the earliest recorded date for the Palmersville Fair: November 2, 1923. Yes, you read that correctly. Not only was the first Palmersville Fair not held on the last Saturday of the month as traditionally thought (November 2nd was a Friday) but also it wasn’t even held in September! Imagine that!
June Kay Kemp’s original 1934 flyer advertising the “Premium List for the Eleventh Annual Palmersville Community Fair” was the tip-off to send me scurrying to the Paul Meek Library microfilm room to check the old 1923 newspaper files. Unfortunately, there are still several puzzles to the dating of the first fair. The November 9, 1923 issue of the Dresden Enterprise and Sharon Tribune says that the November 2, 1923 event was the “second annual fair.” However, I’ve not discovered (so far) a written account of a 1922 fair.
Future flyers and newspaper ads also create questions. By 1944, the fair was the 18th annual (first fair, 1926?), and by 1955, it was the 28th annual (first fair, 1927?). Flyers and ads today also place the first fair at 1927. So, have there been some poor mathematicians over the years? Poor typists? Or, someone with the knowledge that the fair hasn’t always been held every year? Clue me in if you know. Otherwise, I will lose my eyesight in the microfilm room.
Regardless, the fair has brought the community together for approximately seventy-seven years, making it perhaps the longest running fair in the county. The early articles and flyers reveal a Palmersville Who’s Who: Brann’s, McWherters, Pentecosts, Killebrews, Biggs, etc. In addition, the earliest fairs showcased the agricultural accomplishments of the community. For instance, “Poultry” is the first listing in the 1923 flyer. Four hens and a cockerel made up a “pen,” with varieties as varied as Wyandottes and Rhode Island Reds advertised for exhibit. In fact, two classes of Rhode Island Reds could be judged for prizes: those raised from the eggs of Mrs. Herman Biggs’ flock (first place won a one dollar cash prize) and all other Rhode Island Reds (first place won a dollar, with second place winning one peck of chick feed, courtesy of Bud Henderson).
In fact, the premium list is one of the most interesting aspects of the early fairs. The prizes were suitable to the category. You could win a measuring spoon or forty-eight pound sack of flour for the best cake, courtesy of some local citizen or store. L. C. Brann donated a peck of seed corn for the prizewinning “Best ten ears corn.” The best “milch” cow netted its owner a hoop of cheese, courtesy the Palmersville Cheese Factory.
Other popular prizes in 1923 were Turkish towels or a subscription to the Dresden Enterprise. Other categories of entries were school work, athletic contests, sewing, cooking, best milking stool, and Girl’s Club work. In fact, the girl with the best collection of cooking (a half dozen soda biscuits, half dozen graham muffins, half dozen corn meal muffins, and one loaf light bread) would win one dollar of toilet articles, courtesy of Herman Biggs. This prizewinner certainly earned every drop of perfume!
The newspaper article from the following week (November 9) tells just how successful that 1923 fair was. The article reports 1,000 in attendance, not including the 17 cows and six calves. Two hundred farmers attended the 2:00 p.m. cow show to learn the intricacies of animal husbandry. Community members (mostly women) brought in twenty-three pens of poultry, and women—Mrs. Willie Brann, Miss Cayce Pentecost, and Mrs. Edna Biggs—received the bulk of the credit for this initial fair’s success. The article also reports that Palmersville won two of the three games it played on that day on the outdoor court (Sharon, Tennessee and Fairbanks, Kentucky lost). Indeed, the traditional Palmersville-Cottage Grove basketball game was part of the mix. However, Cottage Grove won on this particular day, beginning an age-old rivalry on fair day, which still exists seventy-seven years later.
Next month, more recent perspectives on the fair will be featured, including significant changes, the dilemma of judging the entries, work in the kitchen, and one of last year’s student winners—Tyler Adkins.
This article originally appeared in Hometown, August 2000.
Part II: The Early Years of the Palmersville Fair