I don’t remember how old I was the first time I went to the N.C. State Fair. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been going to the Fair my entire life, only missing it during the years that I lived too far away to make the trip home to Raleigh for my yearly fix of rides, sights, and over-indulgence in fried foods.
When I moved back to Raleigh two years ago, I introduced this yearly tradition to my son, who then at the age of three, got his first taste of this fundamental part of southern culture…and funnel cake. Now that my visits to the State Fair are shared with a small child, the experience is different from the ones I had in the past—no screaming rides on the “Himalaya” or the “Enterprise” (two favorites from my teenage years)—but exciting in a new way, because I get to see the State Fair’s magic through the eyes of a child once again. A loud motorcycle ride that pops wheelies, riding a real pony and feeling it’s bristly mane, the smell of farm animals, the thrill of a first roller coaster ride, watching a dramatic pirate battle fought on a tightrope—these are some of the vivid memories that have been created for my son at the Fair…and for me.
The N.C. State Fair has been creating special memories for generations of fair-goers since it was first held in Raleigh in 1853.
As you get ready to take the kids to the State Fair this month and create memories of your own, here’s a look back at some of the highlights that have made the Fair what it is today…
- The first N.C. State Fair, created by the State Agricultural Society, lasted only four days and welcomed 4,000 visitors on its largest attendance day. Today the fair runs for eleven days and saw 148,424 people on its busiest day last year.
- The Fair has been held annually in Raleigh since it began 165 years ago, with the exception of 1854-1869 due to the Civil War and Reconstruction period, 1942-1945 during WWII, and 1926-1927 when the State Agricultural Society broke apart.
- Originally held near downtown, the Fair moved in 1873 to a spot close to N.C. State University. In 1928, it moved again to its present location at the N.C. State Fairgrounds Complex on Blue Ridge Road.
- Can you imagine the Fair without all the lights and sounds? Before 1884, the fairgrounds had no electricity, so the scene would have been far calmer than today.
- The first Midway ride, an early roller coaster called the Switchback Railway, opened in 1891. It was very popular until an accident on the ride caused serious injuries and led to it being permanently closed in 1893.
- One of the best parts of the Fair is the food! The first food stands opened in 1900 and were run by churches and civic groups as a way to raise money.
- A waterfall wall has been a landmark at the Fair since 1940 when the first one was built. In 1999, a new waterfall was constructed near Dorton Arena and continues to flow today.
- The Fair’s purpose has always been to promote North Carolina’s agriculture, culture, technology, and the arts. Exhibits and attractions showcasing these have changed with the times and interests of fair-goers. Some of the highlights include: Photography (1894), Chicken incubators (1895), Airplanes (1910), Folk Festival of traditional music and dance (1948), World’s Championship Rodeo (1955), “Know the Meats You Buy”, displaying various cuts of meat (1957), Space and the Apollo 12 command module (1972), CyberSpace, focusing on information technology (1995), and the N.C. Brewer’s Cup Beer Competition (2012).
- Even U.S. presidents have enjoyed our Fair!: Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, Gerald Ford in 1976, and George H.W. Bush in 1992.
The N.C. State Fair takes place on October 17th – 27th, 2019. Visit HERE to learn more.
What are your favorite memories during N.C. State Fair season?
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