Clear skies and mild temperatures brought crowds to the Georgia-Carolina State Fair Saturday.
By nightfall, a long line had formed at the Hale Street gate as people waited to buy their admission tickets.
Inside the gates, the lights of the Ferris Wheel, Zero Gravity and the Zipper beckoned to fairgoers to use their tickets there.
Wrestlers tag-teamed in a match inside the community buildings, while 4H’ers sold jewelry next to the model showroom featuring winning displays. Outside, a circus performer rode a motorcycle inside the Globe of Death.
Carnival workers called out to passersby to win a teddy bear or other stuffed animal by trying their skill. One demonstrated the ease of looping a disc hung from a fishing pole around a bottle and standing it upright.
Elsewhere, patrons could pick a rubber duck and win a prize or throw darts at balloons. More intrepid carnival goers could try to climb the crazy ladder.
And there was no need to go hungry. If a massive turkey leg didn’t satisfy, then there were gyros, Chinese and Mexican dishes, doughnut burgers, corn dogs and hot dogs. For the sweet tooth, fried Twinkies, fried Oreos, funnel cakes and ice cream were on the menu. And of course, the standard cotton candy, candy apples and popcorn were abundant.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the fair.
Started as a way to provide fun for a post-World War I generation, the fair opened in November 1923.
William Lester, a young Augusta attorney, joined an organization called the National Exchange Club and chartered an Augusta chapter in August 1923, according to the Georgia-Carolina State Fair’s website. The group announced the fair in October 1923 and put it together quickly.
“The Fair was to open with a parade with four bands, 25 business floats, 20 fraternal order floats, and numerous military organizations. A crowd of over 25,000 persons lined Broad Street to see this grand parade which ended at a newly chosen site for the Fair at the lower end of Greene Street. Each day of the fair was dedicated to a different theme, such as merchants, farmers, children, Augusta and everyone. The entire production was a smashing success, especially considering it was taken from being merely an idea to becoming a huge production, all within the span of six weeks,” the website said.
In 1937, the club purchased the current fairgrounds on Hale and Fourth Streets. It was the old baseball field where Ty Cobb played his first professional baseball game and hit his first homerun.
In 2001, the fair’s name was changed from the Augusta Exchange Club Fair to the Georgia-Carolina State Fair.
Anne Sims has fond memories of the fair.
“I remember that, when I was in elementary school, the Exchange Club used to distribute tickets to all the students. This was years before Six Flags and Disney World, so the fall fair was a very big thrill for us. I remember riding the Ferris wheel, The Himalaya, The Roundup and The Wild Mouse and eating cotton candy and caramel apples,” she said.
Those free coupons for admission to the fair meant the world to Angelina Scott, who grew up “poor as heck” one street over from the fairgrounds. Scott has many wonderful childhood memories related to the fair.
“The fair was an escape for me as a kid,” said Scott, who as the oldest child had to take her younger sister everywhere she went.
The fair was the one time of the year, though, that she didn’t matter having a tagalong.
“We would go there even if we couldn’t even ride one ride,” she said. Often they didn’t have money to pay for the rides.
She and her sister could only walk around the fair, but it was enough just to be able to walk inside those gates to a magical place with sights and smells that only came once a year.
“It was the one time of year, we felt like everbody else,” she said.
Augustan Kevin de l’Aigle recalls the art contests at the fair.
“I was in the art contests at the Exchange Club Fair when I was 11. I won second place with a drawing of Sacred Heart,” he said.
It was the food that stood out most to him though.
“I can’t get the memory of the amazing French fries with salt and vinegar they used to sell. I can still taste them,” he said.
Those vinegary fries still appeal to Sims who goes to the fair with several of her high school friends from Richmond Academy – a group they call the “Richmond Rowdies.”
“Since we’ve reached the age where we can hurt our backs with a sneeze, now we just go eat Culler’s vinegar fries and people watch,” said Sims.
Not only was the fair designed to give Augustans something to do, it raises money for area charities. The fair website said that in 2020, $130,000 went to local groups that help those in need.
The fair will run through Oct. 22. For a list of times and ticket promotions, visit the fair website here.
Mike Adams has won numerous Georgia Press Association awards for photography. Subscribe to the Augusta Good News newsletter here.
Charmain Z. Brackett, the publisher of Augusta Good News, has covered Augusta’s news for 35 years. Reach her at email@example.com. Sign up for the newsletter here.
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