By Bill Jones
If you have every been a resident of Robertson County for a period of time, one thing you will remember is the County Fair. For over 100 years it has remained the representative focal point of our community. Up until a few years ago we have been mainly an agricultural county. Most of our workforce was in agriculture or farm related businesses. Our economy depended heavily on the operations of farms in our county. The tobacco farms were king for so many years. The making of whiskey from farm products was also a large staple in our county. Our churches, schools and civic organizations depended on these two products to make us prosper. So therefore, our County Fair was dominated by these two items for a long time. After whiskey was outlawed after the turn of the century, tobacco became king and the tobacco industry became the money maker for our county.
Our first Robertson County Fair was held in Springfield not long after the end of the Civil War and our area needed a boost of spirits for its population.
Then in 1868 the Robertson County Agricultural & Mechanical Association bought 10 acres of ground in the South area of Springfield on Leota St., which is located between 15th and 19th Ave., West of South Main St. in Springfield (it was called the “Old Nashville Dirt Road then). It was a five day event. Premiums were awarded for the best of show that could be provided by the farmers and merchants of the community. Mr. C.C. Bell was the first president of the Fair Association. Now, you have to realize, that there was no electricity in town then. There were no carnivals, rides or any lights for night operations. What they did have were rings set up so that they could have different activities going on at the same time so people could sit and watch or walk between the rings. They had Burlesque shows which were then dramatic or musical shows to cause laughter among the show watchers. It would be like what we would call today, a variety show. Another ring would show horsemanship skills. Another ring would be showing of prized cattle and horses. Clothing and farm products would be shown for premiums to be given away after judging the quality of the products. Farming equipment was demonstrated. The next year the receipts at the gate was over $5,000. That was a lot of money for 1869. At this time, people came from far and wide to our county Fair because Robertson County was one of the first counties to be able to hold a fair.
There were no hotels to put people up so homes were opened up to house visitors from Nashville and surrounding cities. Our fair was an attraction for many counties in Kentucky as well as in Middle Tennessee and especially the Nashville area. People arrived on the train on Tuesday, the opening day of the Fair, and not go home until the weekend. That brought much activity to our town. People boarded at homes along Main Street and activities were numerous in town at the saloons, drug stores and the many shops that were in town. On the west side of the Square was a three-story building that was called the Masonic Hall Building. One floor was for dancing and another for roller skating. There was plenty to do in Springfield. Trains arrived several times per day with Fair goers and people who just wanted to go on an excursion from Nashville. There were horses and buggies all over Springfield from miles away.
In the years that followed there were more attractions and displays. One was the Woodard & Moore Whiskey display. They were wholesalers and retailers in various kinds of whiskeys and known very well in the whole US as well as in Europe. Next to the whiskey display was set up a balloon demonstration of the type that one could get in a basket and ride up in the air. The man who brought it out on the train from Nashville set it up near the horse riding ring on one side, and the Whiskey display on the other. He tried to get someone to ride in the balloon basket but for a while, no one took him up on his offer. Finally, one man who had been “test tasting” the Woodard Whiskey next to the balloon decided that he thought it would be a good idea if he would ride in the basket. While crowds gathered around the balloon he got into the basket. The balloon was tethered and could only go a little above the tree tops. As the noise from the burner that heated the balloon started, the horses nearby got spooked. A lady on one horse was thrown off and her arm was broken. As everyone gasped at the large balloon rising above the tree tops a sudden gust of wind came along and blew the basket into a tall tree. When the basket got hung up in the branches the man fell out and hit almost every limb all the way down to the ground. He was knocked unconscious by the fall. Several gathered around him to see if he was still alive. He was still breathing but was cut up pretty bad. The first thought was to grab some whiskey off the display and put on the wounds. He didn't regain consciousness. So the shout came from the crowd, “put some of that Woodard whiskey down his throat. ”Well, why not!” They did and the man revived. It was brought back a few years later with a man of Springfield by the name of “Professor Gunkle” to ride in the basket. It went off without a hitch and the balloon ride became popular in other county fairs that began to be held in other towns around Tennessee.
Through many years our Fair was held in September and October. More trainloads of people came out from Nashville and dances were held at Davis Hall in Springfield.
The County Fair was not always held in Springfield. In 1911-1917 it was held in conjunction with Logan County in Adairville, KY. In 1918 the Logan County Fair was not held in Kentucky but in Robertson County. In 1919 it was called the Agricultural and Livestock Fair of Robertson County. In 1922 there were five different communities of Robertson County participating along with the Boys and Girls 4-H Clubs. In 1924 the state gave $350 and Robertson County gave $500 for the support of the Fair and the Kiwanis Club took the responsibility of sponsoring the event. In 1925 the largest crowd on opening day up until that date was when Joseph Byrns, a 14-term Democratic Congressman from Adams and later the Speaker of the House, attended the fair. There were over 6,000 people who attended and was it was held in the Tennessee-Kentucky Warehouse owned by Col. Robert E. Glover and sponsored by the local Kiwanis Club.
In 1928 Al Smith, a man who was running for President of the United States, had a booth at the Fair. In 1934 the Fox Hunters Association met at the old McMurry loose floor where the Fair was held on South Main Street. The warehouse was then called the Moore, Casey and Bernard loose floor. Also in 1934 there was a horse show held at the Shell Park location. This was at the junction of the Adairville Hwy. and Cedar Hill Rd. (Hwy. 41). In 1938 the first Fair Board was elected and a membership fee was set at .50 cents each.1939 John Dunn was elected president of the Fair Board.
In 1940 the Fair was held with the First Annual Tobacco Festival. By then Robertson County was ranked as number two in value of agricultural products in the state and known as the “Capital of the Blackpatch District.” By now the activities included the parade, baby show, motorcade of celebrities, fiddler's contest, cowboy entertainment, horse show, floats, trapeze acts, square dances, beauty pageants and a Coronation Ball at Harris & Jones Loose Floor. Miss Jessie Nell MacDougall was the Fair Queen.
In 1948 the Fair was held at the “new fairgrounds” on Highway 41 in Springfield. The crowning of the Queen of the Fair was still continued at Harris & Jones Loose Floor. In 1958 the American Legion bought “Legion Field” from the Fair Association.
The Robertson County Fair has been at the same location on Highway 41 since 1948 and still includes exhibits, events, displays, and carnival rides just as it did many years ago. It has always been a representation of Robertson County life and its unique community.