When you think of fall, you think of cool nights, turning leaves and fairs. Our first fair in the fall (I still can't believe our English teachers taught us not to capitalize the seasons) came in the last week of October 1911. That first fair was a prelude to the 12th Congressional District Fair which came a year later. But for a premier autumn event, the fair was a tremendous success, much of which was due to its sponsor, Daniel W. Gilbert.
Technically it wasn't the first fair held in Dublin, but it was the first county wide fair. The first known fair was staged in early October 1905 when the Colored Agricultural Fair was held at the City Pavilion on lower East Madison Street. There were prizes for agricultural products with ball playing and riding every day. The Acme State Brass Band of Macon provided the musicial entertainment.
The people of Laurens County had good reason to take a few days after the end of the harvest to celebrate in 1911. In the early years of county fairs, agriculture and home economics dominated the exhibition halls. The cotton farmers of the county had produced more than thirty million pounds of cotton, more than any other county in the history of the State of Georgia. And, the local cotton crop that year, not counting farmers who took their cotton to gins in other counties, was larger than that of the entire state of Missouri.
Daniel W. Gilbert, proprietor of Gilbert Hardware Company, wanted to promote agriculture in the county through a fair, even if he had to do it all by himself or with a lot of help from the youngsters of the Boys' and Girls' Farm Life Club. With no large lot to stage his fair on, Gilbert cleared out his massive hardware store at 123 W. Jackson Street, a building which would become the center of Farmers and Merchants Bank.
Gilbert invited every farmer in the county to bring an exhibit to show his best crops and livestock. To ensure the crowds would be big, Gilbert enlisted the aid of the young ladies of the Poplar Springs Industrial School and Bethsaida Baptist Church to serve free lunches every day during the six-day fair, which began on Monday, October 23 and ended on Saturday, October 28.
Free food wasn't good enough, the people of that day were addicted to speeches. Any time there was someone who would stand up and speak about politics, better agricultural methods and good roads, a crowd would gather.
Food and speeches still weren't what fair exhibitors were after. They wanted prizes. So Gilbert picked out some of the better items from his store and put them up for prizes. Top prize categories ranged from plows to a cotton stalk with the most open bolls to a corn stalk with the most ears of corn. Swiss razors went to those bringing in the best pecks of wheat or oats. The largest pumpkin or the best half peck of peanuts would bring the winner a choice of any one-dollar item in the store. If you made the best jar of preserved peaches, pears or watermelon rinds, you walked off with a set of teaspoons to eat your prize winning entry.
Animals were on the prize list as well. The best of everything from chickens, to cows, horses, turkeys, ducks and geese all won an award. These prizes were given by the boys and girls themselves.
Wednesday was "Ladies Day." All women were invited to come and see the domestic exhibits. The day turned out to be a far better day than Gilbert had ever hoped for. The Dublin Courier-Dispatch reported, "The exhibits in the main building comprise almost everything ever shown at a county fair. The agricultural exhibit is especially fine and deserves recognition." The reporter especially cited the fine display of canned fruits, vegetables, preserves, and pickles as well as a splendid display of needlework, handmade especially for the fair.
Friday, the next to the last day of the fair, was billed as Education Day. Just as promised by Gilbert, there were speeches. County School Superintendent Zollicoffer Whitehurst, known to those who couldn't spell his first name as "Z. Whitehurst," joined Robert E. Martin, the manager of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce, City School Superintendent R.E. Brooks, and Congressman Dudley M. Hughes of Danville on the dias.
Hughes, more than any other local congressman, was the best expert on agricultural and agri-business issues. Dr. Flanders of the Georgia Prison Commission addressed the crowds on the issue of good roads, a hot topic of the day.
Wanting to get in on the action, other businesses offered their facilities to fair goers.
The Dublin Buggy Company on the courthouse square and Ogburn Buggy Company on South Lawrence Street displayed several of their finest buggies on the sidewalks of their stores as well as pens of prime hogs in pens near the rear of their warehouses.
Although Daniel Gilbert received quite a bit of recognition for conducting the fair, the real success of the fair came because of the efforts of his young assistant and secretary, Peter S. Twitty, Jr. Twitty, with the help of an efficient staff, made a name for himself that week. Within six years, the young merchant would be elected Mayor of Dublin. He later became the head of the Georgia Department of Game and Fish.
Sadly, few written accounts of that first fair have survived. Coverage by the Macon Telegraph was nonexistent. Its editors opted instead to cover the more widely popular Georgia State Fair in Macon.
Even more sad is the fact that the days of county fairs disappeared way too long ago. Gone are those good old days when thousands of people left the farms and the homes of the county and gathered in town for a day of fun, food and prizes.
The success of that first fair wasn't at all lost on the movers and shakers of Laurens County and the Emerald City of Dublin. Almost immediately, plans for a fair the next year were being set. Every businessman around the town tried to get in on the planning. The 12th District Fairs in 1912 and 1913 were two of the biggest and most successful fairs ever held in this area of the state. But, it was a century ago when we had our first fair and the days of autumn were all clear, cool and fun.