Memories remain strong

Published 7:42 pm Sunday, November 2, 2014

AHOSKIE – There will be no Atlantic District Fair in 2014, marking the second time in three years that the fairgrounds on Holloman Avenue in Ahoskie’s Historic District East End next to the old R.L. Vann School will sit in silence.

The event, which would have celebrated its 94th year, is traditionally held in late September or early October.

Instead, one of the Roanoke-Chowan’s heralds of the fall harvest season came, but no fair.

“The scope of the agricultural scene in the region has changed from what it was when the idea of an Atlantic District Fair was first conceived,” said Fair Association President James Peele, who over the years has served the Fair in many capacities before ascending to the presidency.”But we always keep in mind that our area and our economy are still agriculture-dependent.”

The 2013 Atlantic District Fair returned after renovations were made at the Fairgrounds, forcing its first closure in 2012.

As in the many years of its existence, Fair Association partnered with Hertford County Cooperative Extension staff to provide logistical assistance as well as judging expertise.

Over the years the Atlantic District Fair has been approved by the North Carolina State Department of Agriculture; it is a member of the NC Association of Agricultural Fairs; and is a member of the United States Trotting Association.

The Atlantic District Fair Association was originally organized in 1919 and incorporated in 1920.  The by-laws stipulated, “The object of the association shall be to promote the Agricultural, Industrial, Educational, and Moral development of the people.”

In 1947, a 500-seat brick and masonry Grandstand and two-story Exhibit Building were built to replace the earlier, older wooden structure that was destroyed by fire.

1993 saw 8,000 people attend the Fair (paid gate attendance) at various times during Fair Week; its largest turnout in nearly three decades.  That year also featured 740 exhibits and 131 exhibitors.

The Carnival-Midway usually set up the Friday-through-Monday prior to the grand opening ceremonies that took place the following Tuesday.  The pre-opening weekend was also used for receiving and processing exhibits.

Each day of Atlantic District Fair was marked with a theme and that sometimes provided discounts for admission.

Tuesday was when exhibits were judged in the ExhibitBuilding in the morning and afternoon with the first carnival rides and sideshows available at dusk, around 6 p.m.  In past years there’s been a military exhibit complete with donated uniforms, hats, helmets, and photographs of men and women that have served this nation in all of its wars. The black history exhibit shows the history of minorities in the Roanoke-Chowan area through photographs, artifacts and video

For years in the Exhibit Building, individuals and youth entered  household items and home furnishings along with culinary products such as home canned goods, homemade cakes, candies, breads, pies, dried foods, cured meats, along with decorative plants and flowers, artwork, photographs, needlework, hand knitting, crocheting, quilting and other sewing just to name a few.

And exhibits were not just limited to household items.  There was also judging for livestock and poultry, field crops, and horticulture. All entries were made during the respective calendar year and had to have been home grown, homemade and/or handmade.  Winners received blue, red, and yellow ribbons, and in some cases small cash prizes were awarded to best in show.

Grand Opening came on Wednesday of Fair Week, starting with Educational Day.  Students from Hertford County Schools gained free admission until evening. The school students showed off their exhibits and there were demonstrations and competitions at the staging area in front of the Grandstand.

Mid-week of the Fair featured harness racing of standard bred pacers and trotters at the historic Fairgrounds track.  For years it was the only sanctioned harness racing taking place east of Raleigh.  Not only were races held in October during Fair Week, but there were also races held in May during Mother’s Day weekend.

The harness racing was the highlight of the Thursday theme which was Senior Citizens Day.  Area seniors were admitted free for this occasion, and people came from as far away as the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. The seniors were treated to a luncheon in their honor, and while they didn’t partake of many of the activities on the midway, they always left satisfied following a full and active day.

Friday’s featured Agencies and Organizations Day when members of the area business community were discounted and showed their support for what the Fair brought to the local economy.

Family Day on Saturday featured general admission and since it was not a school or general work day that was usually when the Fair attracted its largest crowds.  As the lights of the midway dimmed, marking the end of Fair Week, there had often been a Fireworks display with its illumination replacing the neon of the midway.

In later years, Fair activities ended following the closing on Saturday nights, but in earlier times the Fair would close with Gospelfest Day on Sunday’s featuring participation from the area faith-based community.

Atlantic District Fair organizers regret not celebrating the Fair’s 94th year in 2014, but vow to return stronger and better in 2015.

“We plan to come out and do some things,” Peele said. “They may be a bit unconventional to the Fair’s usual traditions, but they will be done in keeping with respect to the Fair’s heritage. We have our committees in place and this winter we will begin to develop proposals for next year’s theme and for future editions.”