It’s Fair to Say:

by Joanne Nesbit

It’s that time of year again, when the sun rises high over the Hoosier landscape and the long hours of daylight and summer heat add to the growing season of beans, corn, cucumbers, and Indiana tomatoes.

It’s the time, too, when youngsters and the not-so-young pick and polish their best produce and groom their finest livestock in preparation for the county fair.

Either the growing season wasn’t as long 50 years ago, or the Brown County Free Fair organizers simply decided that September was a better time to celebrate the bounty of local farms and garden plots. The 1954 fair, sponsored by the Nashville Lions Club, was held September 23–25. The Lions had sponsored the fair since 1946 and claimed it to be “the only County Fair in the State which does not receive support from a tax levy.” The fair was begun with the Lions Club’s “desire to stimulate 4-H work among our boys and girls of Brown County, that they may enjoy a better living.”

Entries in the fair ran from hogs, sheep, dairy, and beef cattle to poultry and rabbits to what was termed the Home Economics Department featuring baked and preserved goods of all manner. Needlework and handicraft items were also entered in categories that included aprons, doilies, dresser or vanity sets, infant’s sets, and luncheon cloths. Quilts were displayed in competitions as were knitted goods, sewed garments, afghans, antiques of many kinds, and homemade toys, purses, lamps, and aluminum trays.

And, of course, there were flowers. From A–Z the categories for potted plants and specimen blooms ranged from African Violets and asters, to snapdragons and zinnias.

From the opening ceremonies on a Thursday afternoon until the closing on a Saturday evening, Nashville artist C. Carey Cloud served as Master of Ceremonies welcoming such entertainment as an acrobatic dancer, a slack wire act, jugglers, a chimpanzee, unicyclists, a horse pulling contest, magicians, the Brown County High School Band, and the finale when the Queen of the Brown County Free Fair was crowned.

Not only were blue, red, or white ribbons awarded to the winners, cash prizes were also awarded. The blue-ribbon winner of three jars of canned vegetables (three varieties) could win 35 cents. The second place winner got 25 cents and the entry winning third place 15 cents. These same amounts were awarded in 4-H Club and open entry baking, food preservation of all kinds, and food preparation that included a picnic dish, and a school lunch properly packed. These amounts were also carried over into fresh garden entries such as a plate of five potatoes, a cluster of brussel sprouts or one watermelon.

However, champion field crops such as corn, popcorn, oats, rye, clover, soybeans, and tobacco brought a little more cash with 75 cents paid for first place and 50 cents and 25 cents paid for second and third place finishes respectively. More value was placed on apples and other fruits with first place earning $2, second $1, and third 50 cents.

But if you really wanted to reel in the cash, then raising a beef animal was the way to do it. A champion in any section from a senior bull to a pair of calves could win $10, with $5 going to second place, and $3 to third.

The entire county supported the fair, with local merchants and services purchasing ads in the fair’s program. Rex Thompson’s ad promoted the Ratheon Challenger, said to be the biggest news in television at the time. One could purchase same for $139.95 and up in one of eight “beautiful décor colors.” The Pine Bluff View Farm in Trevlac had an ad that spoke highly of its frying chickens and turkeys that could be delivered fresh, and wrapped for freezing.

The Old Hickory Inn in Nashville bought an ad that promised folks “good food served 5–12 p.m.” Sort of makes one wonder if they served “bad” food at other times. And the phone number in case you wanted to make reservations at the Old Hickory: 30. If you needed medications of some kind you could call Gladys and Floyd Cox at their Rexall store in Nashville at 158.

Not to be outdone by the more mundane services and goods for sale in Brown County, artist Al LaToor promoted his works in watercolor and sideline of leather goods and antiques. The Brown County Art Gallery Association wasn’t to be upstaged by anyone and purchased an ad encouraging folks to watch for the announcement of the opening date of its new gallery then under construction.

This year’s Brown County 4-H Fair will be July 28–August 3 at the Brown County 4-H Fairgrounds located on Memorial Drive off Old State Road 46 east of Nashville.

There will be carnival rides, food booths, and commercial exhibitors along with livestock shows, a baby crawling contest and the obligatory Queen contest. One can also attend a demolition derby, ATV and 4-wheeler races, a truck and tractor pull. If racing engines and the smell of gasoline engine exhaust just don’t fit your qualifications, try the pedal tractor pull. Judo demonstrations, square dancing, and an award-winning cheerleader team will also perform. For information, call (812) 988-5495.