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What is a “Fair”?

A fair (archaic: fayre) is a gathering of people to display or trade produce or other goods, to parade or display animals and often to enjoy associated carnival or funfair entertainment. It is normally of the essence of a fair that it is temporary; some last only an afternoon.  Activities at fairs vary widely.  Fairs are also known by many different names around the world, such as agricultural show, fête, county fair, exhibition or state fair, festival, market and show.  Children's competitions at an American fair range from breeding small animals to robotics, whilst the organization 4-H has become a traditional association


Fairgrounds- The fair is an ancient tradition and many communities have long had dedicated fairgrounds; others hold them in a variety of public places, including streets and town squares, or even in large private gardens.


American County Fair History

The American County Fair developed in the early nineteenth century when agricultural reformers in the northeastern United States organized local exhibitions to promote modern farming. Typical events included livestock judging, exhibits of new agricultural implements and techniques, and plowing contests.


The Union Agricultural Society (1839), which published the Prairie Farmer from Chicago, drew members from counties throughout Northeastern Illinois and held its first annual fair in Naperville in 1841. Numerous county agricultural societies were organized a decade later and they began holding annual fairs and acquiring land for permanent fairgrounds.


Entertainment became important as fairs competed with national expositions during what is considered the golden age of agricultural fairs between 1870 and 1910. Bicycle races, balloon ascensions, and eventually automobile races and airplane demonstrations were common features, while plowing matches and evening lectures were replaced with pyrotechnic displays.


Early in the decade of the 1900s, the Illinois Farmers' began sponsoring regional and county chapters of a new national youth movement called 4-H, whose 4-leaf clover insignia with embossed H's signified the emphasis on Head, Heart, Hands, and Health.  4-H chapters encouraged teenagers in local, county, state, and national competitions.   County fairs have survived over the years despite the diminishing presence of agricultural exhibits.


Alabama Fairs History

In 1855, the Alabama State Agricultural Society was organized in Montgomery.  One of the objectives was to hold a state wide fair.   The first state wide fair was held in Montgomery on November 20-24, 1855 and was called Agricultural Fair and Cattle Show. A fairgrounds was chosen just north of the city on the bank of the Alabama River.  The fair was held every year for 5 years, but in 1861, the Civil War began and the fair was no longer held.


The Dallas County Agricultural Society was organized in 1857 in Selma, however, due to the ongoing Civil War, the Society was unable to continue holding a fair.  Peace was realized in 1865 and the people had to rally back from the effects felt during the war.  The date of the first general State fair in Alabama after the War is not known but was probably in the late 1860’s and at Montgomery.  During the years after the war, various organizations promoted and encouraged fairs throughout the state. One organization, The Alabama State Grange, was organized on November 27, 1873. 


Selma, Alabama Fair History

In 1875, the Alabama State Grange conducted a State Fair on October 26-31 at Selma.  County fairs were numerously held in the 1870’s but during the 1880’s and 1890’s, county fairs began to decline.  The Central Agricultural and Mechanical Association at Selma, which was organized in 1870 was one of those that disbanded.  The West Dallas Agricultural and Mechanical Association at Orrville also disbanded.


The work of the Federal and State governments in their campaigns for diversification in soil surveys and in promoting the livestock industry, have served to bring about a revival of interest in local fairs.  The Central Alabama Fair Association in Selma was organized as a result.


The Central Alabama Fair 

The Selma Lions Club was organized in 1947 and hosted the first Dallas County Industrial Show on September 13, 1951 at Memorial Stadium.  For many years the Premium Book for Agricultural Exhibits bore this statement: “Thru an enabling act passed by the 1969 legislature, the Alabama Department of Agriculture Center Board are co-sponsors of the fairs of Alabama and pay a portion of the premiums, prizes and awards given by Alabama fairs.”


The 1st Central Alabama Fair was held in 1956 in a tent at Bloch Park.  After a couple of rainy seasons, in 1958, the Lions were able to hold the Central Alabama Fair at the National Guard Armory where it is still held.  In 1968, the Lions Club purchased land adjacent to the National Guard Armory.  About 1993, the National Guard moved to a new Armory on Highway 80W in Selma.  The old Armory property reverted to joint ownership by the city and county.  To avoid the upkeep expense and cost of liability insurance, it was put up for bids to be purchased.  In August of 1995, the Lions Club was successful in obtaining the old Armory Building.  The entire property is currently known as the Lions Fair Park.


The Central Alabama Fair has partnered with Archway Amusements since 1967 to provide the carnival rides at the fair each year.  Archway Amusements is a family-owned business and have become like family to the Selma Lions Club members. 


The proceeds the Selma Lions Club derive from the Fair are returned to the community in the form of prizes awarded at the Fair, eye examinations and glasses purchased for indigent people of Selma and Dallas County, donations to the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, Boys and Girls Ranches, United Methodist Children's Home, Dallas County Rescue Squad, eye related operations for indigent people of Selma and Dallas County, and donations to other charitable organizations of Selma and Dallas County.


Your support of the Central Alabama Fair every year contributes to the ability of the Selma Lions Club to continue to hold the fair and to continue to serve the community.

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