We are blessed in Lawrence County with the tradition of the Middle Tennessee District Fair, celebrating its 104th year September 28 through October 4, 2015.
Early Fairs were simple events where farmers and homemakers displayed their best produce and homemade products. The first Fair was held in the community of Leoma; other locations included Lawrenceburg’s public square and space across Lafayette Street from Lawrence County High School, now E.O. Coffman Middle School.
The event was moved to “Fairview Park” in the 1930s, and under the direction of E.R. Braly offered more carnival attractions and “free acts,” circus-style presentations by trapeze artists, animal trainers, and the like. Advertisements through the decades promised a “bigger and better” Fair every year.
Fairview Park is now Rotary Park, and the county fair is now the Middle Tennessee District Fair, drawing visitors from all surrounding counties. The Lawrenceburg Rotary Club has sponsored, organized, and directed the Fair since 1950, and they combine the best of the old and new for an event that does get bigger and better every year.
Rotarians and the City of Lawrenceburg were partners in the construction of a 4,600-seat arena that opened in 2014. Nightly arena events include a demolition derby, truck and tractor pulls, motorcycle and ATV racing and an annual concert that this year features country star Trace Adkins. Other performers through the years have included Dolly Parton, Ronnie McDowell, Reba McEntire, Lee Greenwood, the Beach Boys, George Jones, and Garth Brooks.
“Miss Fairest” beauty pageants in five age categories precede the week at the historic Crockett Theatre. Thursday is always “Senior Day,” when admission is reduced for senior citizens and they enjoy a free lunch and entertainment. Friday’s “School Day” is another tradition, when Lawrence County schools are closed and students and teachers are admitted free of charge. A highly-anticipated drawing on the final Sunday afternoon of the Fair gives the winner his or her choice of vehicles. A new MTDF concert series offers a range of entertainment every night on the midway.
Lining that midway are carnival rides and games by W.G. Wade Shows, a longtime partner of the Middle Tennessee District Fair. Vendors offer goodies that are an attraction unto themselves: fairgoers can enjoy classic carnival treats like cotton candy, funnel cakes and candied apples, or a meal of beans & cornbread, chili, burgers, sausages, catfish, barbecue, ribs, or even shrimp etouffee.
The Middle Tennessee District Fair serves as the major annual fundraiser for many local organizations. Lawrenceburg and Loretto Lions Club members man a food booth, for example, and Kiwanis Club members handle and earn proceeds from public parking.
The Fair also supports the work of the Lawrenceburg Rotary Club, including the year-long upkeep of Rotary Park. The club has its own scholarship program and sponsors the Lawrence County school system’s Heroes Banquet that recognizes top students and educators. It supports the work of Rotary International and its Polio Plus program, which has virtually eradicated that crippling disease in the world. Lawrenceburg Rotarians have given financial and hands-on support to life-changing projects in Honduras for the past decade.
No matter the changes over the years, the Fair has stayed true to its agricultural roots. Homemakers and farmers still vie for blue ribbons, along with fine artists, winemakers and photographers. Cattle, goat, sheep, rabbit and poultry shows are scheduled through the week.
With the Fair, Lawrence Countians enjoy traditional fun and support good work that goes on year-round. The Fair is as basic to the local calendar as Thanksgiving or Halloween, and has become synonymous with autumn and cooler weather.
To learn more about schedules and admission prices, visit MTDFair.org.
Historic photos courtesy Lawrence County Archives, others from MTDFair.org