Brown County Free Fair

by Henry Swain

In 1945, County Extension agent E.K Congram, began talks with local merchants and Lions Club members about having a county fair. He persuaded the local merchants that not only would a county fair be good for business it would also give the 4-H youth in the county a place to exhibit their projects and keep them out of mischief.

In September 1946, the first Brown County Free Fair was set up on the streets of Nashville and would repeat for the next six years. Since it was a street fair, the town residents had to put up with a lot of inconvenience, noise and odor adjacent to their front lawns. It is a testimony to their patience that it lasted that long as a street fair.

Tents were erected in the streets from the stoplight at Miller’s Drug Store west two blocks past the Odd Fellows Lodge building. Tents also extended a block north on Jefferson Street. A modest midway of small rides and a Ferris wheel filled the block south past the Methodist Church.

The first block west on Main Street consisted of commercial exhibits. Bessire Orchard’s fragrant apple display greeted the fair goers with sight and smell of autumn. Craftsman Earl Page exhibited his handcrafted furniture. His wife Alice exhibited her purebred miniature collies in a tiny kennel. Bill McDonald displayed a new Chevy convertible. Not to be outdone, Bloomington Ford and the Kaiser-Frazer exhibited their cars

Bob Gregg appealed to the farmers with his Allis-Chalmers tractor and implement display. Alice Weaver had her talking Myna Bird. Alice would stand outside behind the canvas sides of the tent and squawk, getting the bird to mimic her sounds. It would also announce things on its own, such as stating in a very human voice, I’m a Democrat.”

Past the commercial exhibits and north on Jefferson Street, another tent housed the 4-H displays, which continued to the end of the block. The Girl Scouts had a booth displaying their crafts along with cookies for sale. This was before they sold commercially made cookies.

Continuing west on Main Street into the next block were the livestock pens. Even though the fair only lasted from Thursday through Saturday, you can understand why town residents nearby might not like barnyard odors wafting through their open windows at night The fair closed with the crowning of the fair queen. She was chosen by penny votes, leading some critics of the procedure to claim she was not chosen but purchased.

School ended at noon on Friday so that all students could attend the fair. At 4 o’clock students returned to school to be taken home on the buses, which were seldom full as parents allowed children to stay to be picked up by them in the evening. In the 1950’s parents accepted their children would be safe at the fair. Many parents just turned their children loose after choosing a place and time where they would meet to be taken home.

Barbara Judd recalls watching her two boys walk by her. She called after them to ask where they were headed. They said they were going to the bank, they had run out of money.

Ed Lucas said he was about 13 at the time of the first fair. He recalls that after the last year of the street fair the 4-H exhibits were held at the school. Brown County was without a fair for the next 20 years. In the fall of 1972 the commissioners established a county fair board. A small fair was held at the Fleetwood grounds south of where the Little Nashville Opry is now located. The first Brown County fair at the present fairgrounds was held in the summer of 1973.

My favorite recollection of the old Brown County Free Fair was in 1949. I was on Town Hill shingling the roof on the home I was finishing for architect Ed James. It was a perfect location to observe the late afternoon balloon ascension and parachute jump which was to take off from the field at the south edge of Nashville, about where the traffic light now is at the intersection of state roads 135 and 46.

Balloons make no noise as they rise. I heard the crowd cheer and looked around in time to see the parachutist land. The balloon was designed to deflate and settled to the ground in a field a quarter of a mile away. I will always regret that from my perfect spectator seat, I did not witness the balloon rise or see the parachutist jump. Alas, life is filled with missed opportunities.