Powhatan County Fair marks 100 years of celebrating diversity and agriculture
POWHATAN, Va. — The Powhatan County Fair celebrated its 100th anniversary on May 17.
For the past century, the fair celebrated diversity, charity and the importance of agriculture.
Beginning in 1919, during the Jim Crow segregation era, the fair started as an African-American-only fair. William H. Walton, a landowner and Virginia Cooperative Extension agent had deeded the 13.3 acres site to the use by the county’s African-American citizens in 1917, and two years later, called on the county’s board of supervisors for assistance in organizing the inaugural fair.
“They had a school there, a church, held sports events and entertainment events such as concerts and dances,” said fair Program Coordinator Runda Harris.
Separate fairs continued in Powhatan until the 1960s until the fair held at the Powhatan Volunteer Rescue Squad property dissolved and all citizens were welcomed to the Powhatan County Fair Association’s Fair.
“It was just a natural evolution,” Harris said. “Despite all the negative things you see in the world; there are still people who want to come together and work together for the greater good.”
Coming together for the greater good is the mission of the volunteer-run non-profit Powhatan Fair Association.
Proceeds from all the association’s events go to various charities that benefit the Powhatan community including
The Central Virginia Food Bank, The Powhatan Free Clinic and Habitat for Humanity.
The fair happens early in the growing season, so there are no competitions for the biggest or best fruits and vegetables.
It’s a sacrifice the association had to make to be the first of the Virginia yearly fairs and to secure midway rides from Deggeller Attractions.
“We want the midway out there. To be honest, it makes it easier to advertise because the kids are still in school and they ride past the fairgrounds on their bus,” Harris said.
The midway may be important; but agriculture is still the heart of the fair.
This year, 4–H held several activities including rabbit judging, a livestock learning day, cow-milking demonstrations and a petting zoo.
“The 4–H clubs are important because we need to teach children how to grow food so they can eat,” said Harris. “You need to teach them as they grow up. You need to teach that tradition over and over again. People don’t think about how their food gets to their table.
“ They should because one day they may be living in a way that they need to know how to grow food in order to survive.”
The weather during the fair this year was sunny and hot; a welcomed change from previous years when heavy rains kept attendance low, Harris said.
“We are a tenacious group of people so not even a hurricane could stop us,” she said.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up in hopes of generating funds to help ensure a bright future which includes plans for the addition of solar powered buildings and a botanical garden.
“So many places over develop because they see the potential to make money. We don’t focus on making money. We focus on making the community,” Harris added. “We focus on our guiding principles so that we can teach each generation our history.”
The focus on community extends beyond the fair. In the fall they have a safe Halloween event with trunk or tweeting, hay rides, a bonfire, disc jockey and dance contest.
Harris said the association hopes to have a holiday light show this year.
It isn’t just money that is a threat to the fair’s future.
The PFA members are growing older and Harris worries about what will happen if no one steps up to fill positions made vacant by older members who are no longer capable of their duties.
“Most people are aging out. We have to develop some type of succession plan so we can keep this legacy growing.”