When the Concord Fair was THE fair in Knox County

Mona B. SmithFarragut, Our Town Stories

As is generally the custom, the Tennessee Valley Fair is held early in the month of September. With the exception of the war years (1942-1945) and 2020 (Covid-19), the fair has been held every year since 1919.

Prior to that time, however, the Concord Community was known as the “fair capital” of Knox County, and the Concord fairgrounds hosted as many as 500 people a day. As early as 1893, newspaper accounts held daily advertisements of the fair and it was noted that in 1895, the fair would become a part of the circuit of county fairs.

Hot Air Balloon at Concord Fairground, 1915. Photo courtesy of C.M. McClung Historical , Knox County Two Centuries Photograph Project.

The fairgrounds were located on what is now known as Concord Farms subdivision, previously known to early residents as the Elmer Henry farm. Historically, the entry road to the subdivision is named Fairground Drive.

Activities the fair was best known for were hot air balloons and the finest display of horses ever seen in Knox County, which included prizes for best stallion, broodmare, gelding, trotters and even mules. The highlight of the day was horse racing itself and harness racing.

A few surnames of families still in the area are listed as prize winners: Halbert McKamey, best stallion; H.F. Smith, standard trotter, first premium; and Filimore Dalton, best pair of mules. In the best overall category, awards went to G.W. Prater of Concord for best stallion, any breed or age and Sam Mitchell of Concord, best mule of any age.

The best all-around rider was awarded to Henry Boyd and best lady rider to Miss Nannie Griffith who won $10. Miss Griffith made a good day of it as she was also awarded the “prettiest girl under twenty” which could be considered the forerunner to the “Fairest of the Fair” award.

Epicurean prizes were not to be overlooked. Mamie Walker was awarded the best cakes and biscuits, Lizzie Smith best peach butter, and Concord Creamery took the prize for best butter.

Concord Fairgrounds – photographer H.F. Smith, September 10, 1915, C.M. McClung Historical Collection, Knox county Two Centuries Photograph Project

Other exciting events should not be overlooked when recording the news of the day. One near fight was averted by the fair marshal over a controversy about a horse race by two persons of “no prominence” which ended in a good deal of “rag chewing” and slander on both sides.

In another account, a pistol shot did not signal the beginning of a horse race. It was, however, directed towards a person who tried to pass the gate without showing his ticket. Gate keeper Charles Galbraith fired and the bullet went “through his pants above the knee.”

And it appears that libations were to be had if one knew the code of the day. An account on August 3, 1895, in the Knoxville Tribune read “If you wanted it and knew the ‘ropes’ you could get a refreshing drink of beer. A man named Johnson had secreted in an old innocent looking store building formerly used as a lemonade stand a quantity of the much sought for fluid and was dispensing it to his friends and those who could stand the required examination at the door. In order to be a lucky participant in the social cup, one was asked in tones hardly audible ‘Who are you?’ ‘Are you connected with the revenue office or in the US Service?’ If you passed the examination you were admitted into the portals where the pop of the cork told what the signal would be.”

Henry R. Gibson

The Concord Fair was not without the presence of politicians and important dignitaries. An interesting historical note mentioned “Henry R. Gibson was a conspicuous figure on the grand stand as he twirled his great and flowing mustache.”  Henry Richard Gibson (1837 – 1938) was an attorney and Tennessee’s Second District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1895-1905, a delegate to the Tennessee’s constitutional convention in 1870, founder of the Knoxville Republican, and also worked as a professor of medical jurisprudence at the Tennessee Medical College from 1889 to 1906.

Attendance at the Concord Fair began to decline by 1918, and in 1920 the fairgrounds closed, giving way to the emergence of the TVA&I Fair.

Mona Isbell Smith is a retired computer systems analyst who enjoys freelancing.

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