Neshoba County Fairgrounds – It`s a non-denominational camp meeting. It`s a modern Chautauqua. It`s the largest continuous family reunion in existence. It`s as country as field peas. Not only can the annual Neshoba County Fair be characterized by all of the above, it is also an economic shot-in-the-arm to Philadelphia, Neshoba County and east central Mississippi. The 111th edition of the Fair opens July 31.
Throughout its long history, the Fair has been a place where people in the area engaged in any aspect of agriculture could showcase what they produced. One purpose of the Fair has always been to provide a place for the exhibition of prize-winning farm animals and produce. Even in this age of mechanization and dwindling family farms, the Fair continues to encourage production of marketable farm products ranging from cattle to cucumbers.
Although the growing town of Philadelphia almost totally moves to the fairgrounds about eight miles to the southwest during Fair Week, a flurry of activity precedes opening day. Area building supply stores do a brisk business because the more than 600 cabins which dot the fairgrounds require constant repair. Each year, several cabins are torn down and rebuilt or undergo major renovation.
And how did all of this get started?
According to the earliest records, in 1888 a group of citizens from the Coldwater community in Neshoba County visited a fair at the Patrons Union Campground near the village of Lake in Newton County. The visitors returned home determined to stage a similar event. The late summer of 1889 found the people of Coldwater attending a fair and farm produce exhibition in their own community. The event was successful, and three years later on Aug. 28, 1891, the Neshoba County Fair was officially organized.
Today, a visitor to the Fair would find it difficult to believe that the area where that small group of people met in 1888 for a fair and picnic now encompasses over 150 acres of land, a multitude of cabins, an exhibit hall, race track, pavilion, livestock show barns, grandstand, and then during Fair Week, a carnival midway, plus approximately 55,000 residents and Fair-goers.
The first cabins were built in 1891 when the length of the Fair was extended from one to three days. In the days when cabins were few, visitors came in covered wagons filled with bedding, cooking utensils and food. They camped and cooked in tents around what is now called “Founders Square.” At one time, the Fair boasted two hotels, one remaining in operation until 1941.
For many people, the Fair has and continues to represent a time warp. In other words, these eight days each summer represent a period when time stands still. To use an old clich