It’s fair time! For George County, the big event starts Tues. Oct. 10 and closes Sat., Oct. 14. How about a little county fair history?
For George County, it all began with a Tomato Club. According to notes from the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Lucedale, the fair might have originated around 1914 or at least within a few years of that date. The notes were a historical gift by the late Betty Moseley who served from the late 1950s until the early 1980s as a Home Demonstration Agent, sometimes referred to as a county home economist. Mrs. Mosley wrote these notes in 1964 stating “In 1914, Mrs. John Hanse Parker organized the Tomato Club. The first fair was put on by Mrs. Parker, Mrs. Barr and Mr. Lumpkin and the first exhibits were carried to Mobile by train.” Mrs. Moseley’s notes leave much to the imagination as they did not cite more specification. Mrs. Barr was possibly the wife of Charles Smith Barr (1880-1943), and Mr. Lumpkin was possibly John William Lumpkin (1899-1962), a farmer who moved to George County near the time of its development who served as county agent in the 1930s. Those possible identifications are speculations made through reading biographies and time periods from Rev. Harvell Jackson’s book, By the Rivers of Water, Volume 2.
County Agents and Home Demonstration Agents were vital in those early years of the county’s development. These agencies encouraged community involvement and advocated county fair exhibits. While research is still uncertain of the exact year the first George County Fair took place, a few dates from the last 60 years have been documented. The George County Fair once took place at Multi-Mart in the lot next to what is now the George County Senior Citizens Center. Back then the building was known as the Community House. Year-round it was used for community events; during the fair it served as an exhibit hall.
Decades ago, the Board of Supervisors sponsored the fair. The last one sponsored solely by the county was in 1963. In 1972 the Lucedale/George County Jaycees wanted to bring the fair back to the community. Jaycees is a nickname for the United States Junior Chamber, a service and civic organization that was vibrant across the nation in the 1960s through the 1980s. One member of the Jaycees at that time was Benny Shows. “The county was more than glad for the Jaycees to sponsor it because the supervisors had received flak from citizens for it having stopped,” Shows said.
When the Jaycees took over the fair, the club moved it to its present location on 16th Section School Land on Old Highway 63 South. At that time the county’s 16th section lands were managed by the Board of Supervisors, although the proceeds went to the school system. Years later, the school system was given management authority of 16th section property.
The Jaycees built the building on the George County Fairgrounds that currently serves as the exhibit hall during fair week. The building was the organization’s first project. Louis Valentine, a member of that early group, recalled how the members volunteered their skills as carpenters, electricians, painters, etc. to build the structure as a do-it-yourself project. Shows corroborated Valentine’s recollection. “We paid for the concrete and the steel frames to be placed but we did the rest. If you joined Jaycees you had to work,” Shows said. The building also served as a gathering spot for Jaycees events and throughout the years has been the site of bingo games, square-dances and other happenings.
Nowadays, fair-goers can visit the air-conditioned hall to view hand-made arts, crafts, canned goods and food items as well as home-grown vegetables. Livestock and animals are shown in a building behind the exhibit hall. Carnival rides and games are positioned on the south side of the building and local churches and organizations sell food in front of the building.
When the Jaycees disbanded in about 1990 many of its members joined the Lucedale Rotary Club. The Rotary Club then took sponsorship of the fair and another big Jaycees project – the Christmas parade. The Rotary Club, the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the county officials work together to bring the weeklong fair to the community each year. The county leases the fair property from the school system, maintains all the buildings and keep up the grounds. The extension service manages the livestock and exhibit hall entries. Rotary Club members man the gate sales and pay expenses from those sales. After expenses, any proceeds are funneled back into the community through civic projects.