October is here and for many South Carolinians, it’s the best time of year: the air starts to feel just a touch cooler, football season is well underway, and one of the state’s biggest events takes place. That’s right, the South Carolina State Fair. While many are familiar with the fair’s blue ribbon pies, exciting rides, and deep-fried, well, everything, most may not realize the rich history behind the fair, which was organized over 140 years ago.
In 1869, the State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina organized a statewide fair as the City of Columbia began rebuilding the society’s convention buildings. Although the buildings had previously been used for smaller fairs and conventions by the society, the structures took quite a hit during the Civil War when they were occupied by Confederate troops, used to manufacture munitions of war, and finally destroyed during General Sherman’s march through the city. In the late 1860s, in the aftermath of the war, new fair buildings rose from the ground and so did the spirits of the South Carolinians, especially in regards to the state fair. By the fall of 1869, articles appeared in papers across the state urging readers to attend the upcoming fair, which would now represent the entire state of South Carolina and its people.
The excitement of the statewide fair spread quickly, and it eventually outgrew its original home, relocating in 1904 to its current location on Bluff Road. Papers from around the state ran articles highlighting the brand new fairgrounds in the capital city. The Watchman and Southron from Sumter went into great detail about the new location and buildings, claiming there was now “room for everything and everybody.” Another article published in The Watchman and Southron described the modern improvements fair-goers would experience as well as the exciting events that would take place. This same article was later distributed throughout the state and published for readers of The Anderson Intelligencer, the Keowee Courier, and The Laurens Advertiser.
As the fair grew in popularity, more and more people from all corners of the state came to Columbia to take part in the festivities. Papers advertised special travel rates and arrangements in order to accommodate the fair attendees from various South Carolina cities and towns. Railroad lines expanded their run time, added stops, and offered reduced prices for passengers heading to and from the fair. In 1911, the Edgefield Advertiser offered the option of an airplane flight that ran twice a day to the capital city for fair goers.
Much more information about the early years of the famous South Carolina State Fair can be found in the historic newspapers on Chronicling America. Try searching on your own with variations of the terms “South Carolina State Fair” and “State Agricultural and Mechanical Society of South Carolina,” limit your search to South Carolina newspapers and try “state fair,” or try your own search terms. If you locate something interesting about the fair, post us a link to the article and tell us what you found!