Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Pocahontas County Fair

Pocahontas County Fairground, 1924

Mountain Times, a monthly advertising section produced by the Pocahontas Times for Snowshoe and its visitors, printed a feature on the Pocahontas County Fair last week. It's been 50 years since the last Pocahontas County Fair. West Virginia has never been big on agricultural fairs. I was terribly disappointed by the West Virginia State Fair the one time I went: It took less than an hour to see all the agricultural exhibits. Iowa's Union County Fair was bigger than that when I was in 4-H, and it is still going strong. Union County, Iowa is by no means a big or populous county, but the agricultural way of life has not yet dropped off there the way it has in West Virginia.

County fairs are a big deal to me. I named my blog after the ambiguous lines in the folksong "Starving To Death On a Government Claim:"

My clothes they are ragged, my language is rough.
My bread is corn dodger, my goodness how tough!
Nothing to eat, and nothing to wear:
Nothing from nothing's the Greer County fare.

Jaynell Graham-Awad's historical article has some interesting nuggets of information, although some of it is so confusing I don't know what she means to say. I've excerpted some paragraphs I think I understand. The photograph I've reproduced above is captioned Pocahontas County Fairgrounds, 1924. The Greenbrier River runs beyond the far side of the track, and the road on the near side of the track leads out to present-day Rt. 219, near Rite Aid.

Begun entirely by public spirit and the financial support of businessmen in the county, the Pocahontas County Fair was held on Lower Camden, now Second Avenue, from 1919 until 1922 when it moved to its permanent home on the property surrounding todays Pocahontas Producers stockyards, on Old Fairgrounds Road....

George Pritt...was...part of the construction crew that...[built] a fairground that boasted a grandstand that seated 2,000, an agricultural building, a barn for pigs and sheep, a cattle pavilion, buildings for poultry and show horses and one-half mile of board-fenced track. And sadly, it was Pritt who had to dismantle the buildings when the Pocahontas County Fair came to an end in 1957 after 39 years of competitions, exhibits, festivities and fun....

Pocahontas Countians, with familiar names in the sheep world, such as Barlow and Williams, showed purebreds, as Pocahontas County was known as the premier sheep producing county in the state. Winners at the County Fair would move on to Jacksons Mill for more competition....

Just as the County Fair has faded into memory, so too have most of those superior sheep herds that grazed the pastures and hillsides of this county. The common thought is that the introduction of western sheep into this area brought with it a bane to farmers in the way of foot rot, the development of bordering farmland into residential areas allowed untrained family dogs easy access to sheep and lambs, bears were always an enemy and the migration of coyotes into the county sealed the fate of many good sheep farmers.

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