State fair’s demise leaves Virginia in rare company

“I remember one particular time, I’m standing there with my calf, waiting to go in the ring, and this older gentleman came up to me and said, ‘I have never seen a cow before, can I please touch your cow?’ I said, ‘Sure, go for it.’” Morgan Slaven, a Virginia Tech sophomore in agricultural sciences

It was always agriculture and education, sweetened with a little good-spirited competition, that drove the State Fair of Virginia, until its demise last week, when recession and bankruptcy drove it down.

It wasn’t the first time, and maybe it won’t be the last. The state fair, under many different names, has been hammered by war, weather and debt, yet recovered several times in its 158-year history.

Along the way there were spectators who had never before seen a real, live cow, thousands and thousands of blue ribbons and grand-champion rosettes, scholarship money, prize-winning vegetables, cotton candy, racing pigs and, one year, an escaped alligator – all part of a fair once described as “a combination of Saturday night at the bandstand, a visit to Grandma’s farm and a stroll down Main Street – a look into the past and a peek into the future.”

For now at least, that future is one without a state fair.

The bankruptcy leaves Virginia in rare company.

“Almost every state in the union has some state fair,” said Marla Calico, education director for the International Association of Fairs and Expositions. “This is sad news for all of us.”

She said agriculture is the backbone of every state fair, and Virginia’s traces its roots as far back as 1665, according to the book “State Fair of Virginia: More Than a Midway.”


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