Tag Archives: North Carolina State Fair

North Carolina State Fair

[This blog post comes from Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Section.]

From the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084: Edith (Mrs. George W.) Vanderbilt, State Fair President of 1921

From the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084: Edith (Mrs. George W.) Vanderbilt, State Fair President of 1921

The North Carolina State Fair, which first opened in late October of 1853, is one of the state’s premier fall attractions. In that spirit, this blog post poses to all State Fair goers: What particular interests and expectations have drawn you to the State Fair, and what special memories have you taken away?  Not surprisingly, a number of the Private Collections offer glimpses of the North Carolina State Fair that add to the breadth of our collective State Fair experience, now spanning one hundred and sixty-three years.  Four such collections are featured here. Their dates range from 1853 to 1921, with three being penned within the first three decades of that auspicious opening event of 1853.


From the Margaret Eliza Cotton Journal, PC.1977, October 3, 1853

From the Margaret Eliza Cotton Journal, PC.1977, October 3, 1853

From the Margaret Eliza Cotten Journal, 1853-1854. PC.1977:  Margaret was a seventeen-year-old St. Mary’s School student living at home on Blount Street, Raleigh. She has left us, through her journal, one of the earliest, and maybe the only surviving privately recorded comment about the State Fair before its formal opening. On the night of October 3, 1853, Margaret opined, “I don’t know when I have been to a party or anything of the kind, [and] wish someone would give a large, nice one. Our city will be quite alive in a few weeks, I hope however, with the ‘Fair.’ I hope it may not be a failure – it is high time for ‘old Rip’ [town of Raleigh] to wake up. I think we are also to have a temperance convention, or something of that kind, on the 17th.”

Margaret’s subsequent comments indicated that the first fair was indeed a success, and quite the place to see and to be seen. Evidenced by her journal and the typical mindset of a teenager, the fair and its social aspects loomed far larger in her mind than the first State Temperance Convention. Not surprisingly, Margaret made no further comments about the latter event, though she had hoped that the Temperance Convention would attract some of her family and friends from Tarboro, Edgecombe County, her place of birth.


Letter of Ida B. A., St. Mary’s School, October 24, 1877, from the Kenelm Harrison Lewis Papers, PC.162

Letter of Ida B. A., St. Mary’s School, October 24, 1877, from the Kenelm Harrison Lewis Papers, PC.162

From the Kenelm Harrison Lewis Papers, 1834-1907. PC.162: These papers include a letter written by another student at St. Mary’s School, Ida B. A. [surname uncertain]. Ida was probably a friend of the daughter of Kenelm Lewis, Annie Harrison Lewis (1861-1943), a student at St. Mary’s School during the same time period. Writing probably to a male friend, on October 23 and 24, 1877, Ida described two visits to the Fair. The second time was especially “splendid,” and involved doing “almost exactly what I did the day before, only [I] did more of it. I was introduced to several very nice gentlemen and enjoyed myself hugely.” Specific events that impressed her included hearing a good band, seeing “elegant [military] drilling” and betting on “elegant [horse] racing,” and consuming delicious candy and cake. Additionally, she was pleased at “seeing so many nice folks from home,” including the New Berne boys, even though they “were not the right set,” but instead “grown young men.” Ida was also pleased that her friend, Lila, looked very stylish “for the first time in her life.” Lila apparently cut quite a figure wearing a dark brown dress and a brown straw hat trimmed with a cardinal scarf, and was “considered by a great many to be the prettiest girl on the grounds.”


From Leonidas Lafayette Polk Papers, PC.849: Letter of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to. L. L. Polk, September 1, 1881.

From Leonidas Lafayette Polk Papers, PC.849: Letter of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston to. L. L. Polk, September 1, 1881.

From the Leonidas Lafayette Polk Papers, 1881. PC.849: The sole item in this collection is a letter dated September 1, 1881, written to L. L. Polk, 1888. It is from Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, former Confederate army commander, declining Polk’s invitation to attend the North Carolina State Fair because of prior business commitments in the Southwest. Johnston’s words express genuine disappointment: “I regret this infinitely. For I could find few gratifications in the world equal to that of meeting again the North Carolinians with whom I served in the most trying times that of their century have . . .  [ever] known.”


From the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084: The papers include one photograph of Mrs. George W. Vanderbilt (Edith), the year she served as president of the North Carolina State Fair.  The image shows Mrs. Edith Vanderbilt, and Mary, Alice, “B,” and Kenlon (staff from the Biltmore estate?), riding in what appears to be an open-air fire engine. A glance at the photograph suggests that the group in the truck, especially Mrs. Vanderbilt, was attracting considerable notice from fair-goers on the ground, and that people-watching has long been one of the enduring attractions of the State Fair.

From the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084: On February 3, 1921, the News and Observer writes of Edith (Mrs. George W.) Vanderbilt’s address to the state legislature and her induction as president of the 1921 State Fair.

From the Lillian Exum Clement Stafford Papers, PC.2084: On February 3, 1921, the News and Observer writes of Edith (Mrs. George W.) Vanderbilt’s address to the state legislature and her induction as president of the 1921 State Fair.

Significantly, the previous November, Lillian Exum Clement (not yet married), had been elected to the North Carolina General Assembly, becoming the first woman to serve in the state’s legislature.  Her private papers indicate that she had welcomed Mrs. Vanderbilt to Raleigh in early February of 1921, and include a newspaper clipping describing the event (News and Observer, issue of February 3, 1921). The article said that Mrs. Vanderbilt had addressed a joint session of the House and Senate and subsequently attended a meeting of the Executive Committee of the N.C. Agricultural Society, where she was inducted as president of the 1921 State Fair. Mrs. Vanderbilt’s presence and address evoked the observation: “But few times in the history of the State has a woman been asked to address the General Assembly, and none has pleased them more….”

In celebration of the State Fair and its history and impact, please note the online offering through the State Library of North Carolina: http://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/digital/statefair/. There is a section entitled “Blue Ribbon Memories,” that includes comments from various fair-goers. On an added note, Private Collections invites those with extensive and detailed recollections of the State Fair to consider offering those, perhaps coupled with other historically valuable private papers and photographs, as a possible donation. Please contact Fran Tracy-Walls, fran.tracy-walls@ncdcr.gov for more information about donation guidelines and requirements.

State Archives contributes photos to collaborative exhibit at State Fair

[This blog post was written by Kim Andersen, Audio Visual Materials Archivist in the Special Collections Section of the State Archives of North Carolina.]

What is the main question exhibit-goers ask about the Department of Cultural Resources (DCR) World War One exhibit at the State Fair?  “Where is the Christmas tree exhibit that usually sits here?”  The answer to that seems to be that there isn’t a Christmas tree exhibit this year at the State Fair.  DCR’s tribute to the North Carolinians who fought in the Great War is instead being shared in that coveted Dorton Arena location!

local volunteers and re-enactors Si Harrington and Jay Callaham in uniforms representing a WWI Navy Chaplain and a WWI US Army MP

Left to right: local volunteers and re-enactors Si Harrington and Jay Callaham in uniforms representing a WWI Navy Chaplain and a WWI US Army MP. Click on the image to see a larger view.

2014 marks the centennial of the beginning of WWI, and visitors to the North Carolina State Fair this year will find a series of displays featuring many fascinating period artifacts, music, archival footage and photographs, and more highlighting North Carolina’s role in the First World War just inside the North Side of Dorton Arena.  This North Carolina in the Great War exhibit is presented by the NC Department of Cultural Resources and is open to all State Fair goers free of charge.

October 22nd is Military Appreciation Day, and while there are costumed WWI re-enactors on hand at the WWI exhibit every day, today will spotlight all military and will include a parade on the fairgrounds with uniformed soldiers representing 250 years of armed conflict involving North Carolina soldiers.

We encourage everyone to come on out and enjoy this exhibit, talk to the re-enactors, and learn more about the history of the Old North State!  For more details on the exhibit and the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, please see http://www.ncdcr.gov/News/tabid/95/EntryId/647/North-Carolinas-Role-in-the-Great-War-Showcased-at-State-Fair.aspx.

Additional World War I resources are also available through the North Carolina Digital Collections and State Archives of North Carolina website.


Records Move: Administration, State Fair, and Cultural Resources

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we have moved some of our records into a new storage space within the Archives building in order to make more materials available on Saturdays. The complete list of all the materials moved is available as a PDF from our website, but I’m breaking down the list into a series of blog posts so that I can tell you more about the records.

Today, I’m going to focus on records from the Dept. of Administration, Dept. of Agriculture, and Dept. of Cultural Resources. More information about these collections can be found in our online catalog MARS, but as I’ve mentioned previously, it will likely take us a while to change the location codes in MARS and our other finding aids. We ask you to be patient with us.

Dept. of Administration

  • Human Relations Council, 1963-1978 – The first predecessor to the Human Relations Commission was the Good Neighbor Council, established 18 January 1963 by executive order of Governor Terry Sanford. The council consisted of 24 citizens appointed by the governor. Its mission was: to encourage the employment of qualified people without regard to race; and to urge youth to become better trained for employment. Under the Executive Organization Act of 1971, the Good Neighbor Council and all its statutory powers were transferred to the Department of Administration (DOA). The legislature of 1971 changed the name of the council to the Human Relations Commission. The General Assembly of 1989 changed the name of the council to the Human Relations Commission. Records include Director’s correspondence and subject file; meetings files; consultants’ files, education institutions files; projects and programs files; City-County program files; public relations files; policy and procedures files; and other materials.
  • State Construction Office, 1920-1984 – Prior to the creation of the Division of Property Control and Construction in 1957, responsibility for the state’s program of building and property management was distributed among various boards, commissions, and agencies. Any planning for future property needs was generally a function of the individual state agencies, although final approval of the purchase, sale, mortgage, or lease of state property had to be given by the Council of State. In a study authorized by the 1955 General Assembly, the Commission on the Reorganization of State Government reviewed the state’s property management practices and long-range policies. The commission recommended formation of a Department of Administration that would absorb all the functions involving state property and buildings, which were at that time divided among various agencies.  In 1977 the Division of Property and Control was divided into separate units subsequently named the State Property Office and the State Construction Office. Organizationally, these units and the related Capital Planning Commission and the Capital Building Authority came under the Department of Administration’s deputy secretary of governmental operations. Records include: construction contracts; correspondence; architectural and engineering drawings; dredge and fill files; and other materials.

Dept. of Agriculture

  • State Fair Division, 1948-1959 – The first North Carolina State Fair was held in 1853 under the auspices of the North Carolina State Agricultural Society, which had been incorporated a year earlier by the General Assembly. The fair was envisaged as a means of promoting interest in advances both in agriculture and in industry. With the exception of the war periods, 1860-1866 and 1918, the State Fair was conducted by the State Agricultural Society continuously from 1853 through 1925. In 1924 the Agricultural Society requested the assistance of state government and the city of Raleigh in managing the fair. After assurances that the fair would be continued under state auspices, the State Agricultural Society disbanded. During the years 1926 and 1927 the fair was not held. The 1927 legislature assumed responsibility for the State Fair, declaring that it “shall be managed, operated and conducted by a board of directors,” representing each congressional district, with three additional at-large directors. In 1937 Dr. J. S. Dorton of Shelby was appointed manager of the new State Fair Division of the Department of Agriculture. Records include: subject files; correspondence; contracts; and publicity files.

Dept. of Cultural Resources

  • N.C. Symphony, 1932-1973 – The North Carolina Symphony Society was incorporated as a non-profit, non-stock corporation on 31 December 1932. Among its purposes were “to promote and foster musical culture and education, and in the furtherance of said objects the Society may organize the North Carolina Symphony and other orchestras and supervise and provide for the training of musicians, and may arrange and conduct concerts and all forms of musical entertainment.” As a private organization the symphony survived for ten years through private and individual support. In 1943, acknowledging the important educational and cultural objectives of the North Carolina Symphony Society, the General Assembly placed it under “the patronage and control of the State, to the end that its permanency may be assured and that the State may to some extent lend financial aid necessary to the support thereof.” Under the Executive Organization Act of 1971, the North Carolina Symphony Society was transferred to the management of the newly created Department of Art, Culture, and History. In 1973 the department was renamed the Department of Cultural Resources, and the North Carolina Symphony Society continued as an agency of the new department. Records include: symphony ball file; public information office files; photographs; publicity files; grant files; subject files; contracts; financial records; minutes; and “Historical File — General, Financial, Programs, and Soloists.”
  • N.C. State Library, 1877-1962 – The origins of the State Library date from 1812 when the General Assembly required the secretary of state to collect, catalog, and safeguard books and documents for use by the state legislature and government officials. In 1819 the General Assembly designated funds for the “Public Library,” although subsequent legislation in 1822 referred to the “State Library.” A legislative act of 1858-59 provided that the state librarian would serve as the librarian of the state Senate and House of Representatives. Although the State Library was patronized primarily by state officials, the public was allowed to use the reference collection on library premises, and open circulation was permitted for a period during the 1870s and the early 1880s. Until the last decade of the century, the State Library served as the state’s only tax-supported library. In response to a growing demand for more systematic support of the public library movement, the General Assembly of 1909 established the North Carolina Library Commission. Formed for the primary purpose of promoting the development of free public libraries on the local level, the commission’s responsibilities included the following: assisting in the establishment of new libraries, including public school libraries; supplementing local collections; distributing library literature; and providing advice to trustees and libraries on library services. In 1955 the legislature combined the State Library and the North Carolina Library Commission into one agency called the State Library. Records include: departmental files; associations and organizations files; budget records; legislative files; correspondence; audit reports; state and federal agencies files; subject files; statistical reports; minutes; general history files; and other materials.
  • America’s 400th Anniversary Commission, 1967-1987, n.d. – Between 1984 and 1987 North Carolina commemorated the four hundredth anniversary of the Roanoke Voyages. Through a joint resolution, the General Assembly of 1955 laid the foundation for a three-year celebration of the historical events. A body known as America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Commission was established to initiate plans toward a commemoration on the scale of a national or world’s fair exposition, or as deemed appropriate. In 1973 the legislature repealed the resolution creating the anniversary commission and established America’s Four Hundredth Anniversary Committee in its place. Charged with advising the secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources in planning and implementing the commemorations, the anniversary committee consisted of four ex officio members and ten gubernatorial appointees who served staggered terms. Records include: exhibit/festival correspondence; celebrations file; archeological files; newspaper clippings; events files; general correspondence; minutes; and other materials.