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Rufus Ward: The Origin of the Columbus Fair


In 1858 Harpers Weekly included an illustration of the amphitheater at the Alabama State Fair at Tuscaloosa. The 1859 amphitheater at the fairgrounds in Columbus looked very similar.

In 1858 Harpers Weekly included an illustration of the amphitheater at the Alabama State Fair at Tuscaloosa. The 1859 amphitheater at the fairgrounds in Columbus looked very similar.
Photo by: Courtesy Photo



Rufus Ward



The Columbus Fair begins this Tuesday and I have been asked when was the first fair in Columbus? Carolyn Burns has researched the origins of the fair in Lowndes County and has found some interesting history. 


On June 12, 1859, T.C. Billups, president of the Lowndes County Agricultural Society, contracted with M.G. Bean for the construction of fair buildings and an amphitheater at Columbus. The fairgrounds were probably located across from Friendship Cemetery. The construction was to be completed by Oct. 1, 1859, at a cost of $17,249.16.  


The amphitheater enclosed a show circle having a diameter of 210 feet with a two-story octagonal building in the center of the circle. The description is almost identical to an illustration in the Nov. 27, 1858, Harper''s Weekly which featured the Alabama State Fair amphitheater in Tuscaloosa. 


No Columbus newspapers from the late 1850s have survived but copies of the West Point Broad Ax have. On Oct. 12, 1859, the Broad Ax reported: "The first annual Fair of the Lowndes County Agricultural and Mechanical Society came off at Columbus during four days of last week. Extensive arrangements had been perfected for conducting it in suitable style, and the grounds had been fitted up with expensive and commodious buildings and other improvements necessary for this and future occasions." 


At that first Columbus fair the main interest seemed to be horses and horse racing as 58 horses were entered in the different events. The Broad Ax reported that Randle Blewett won the Cady''s Cup, and Samuel M. Lowrey won the Orr Cup. The following premiums were also given: for the best 40 acres of Cotton - T.C. Billups, for the best five acres of cotton - J.M. Morgan, for the best 40 acres of corn - W.W. Topp, and for "25 fattening hogs" - J.M. Morgan. 


It was also reported in the Broad Ax that: "There was a tournament on the last evening of the fair. The successful knight [not named in the newspaper article] crowned Miss Patterson of Columbus Queen of Love and Beauty, while Miss Lemons of Columbus and Miss Lou Young of Waverly were selected to wear wreaths of honor." 


The Civil War brought about the end of the fair. After the battle at Shiloh, the fairground was one of the locations where the wounded were cared for. In late spring of 1862, the buildings were torn down, and the lumber sold to the Confederate government. Major W.R. Hunt, the commander of the Confederate Arsenal at Columbus, reported that the lumber was "essential in repairing the church (First Methodist) at Columbus, Miss., for the use of the laboratory." The Confederate government was using the church as a manufacturing facility to make cartridges.  


It is not known when the fair was re-organized. In Pauline Brandon''s book, "I Remember When," Mrs. Walter Swoope recalled the fair being held on Willis Garth''s private race track, located near Friendship Cemetery. She recounted her father''s horse winning the races at the fair in 1908. Later the fairgrounds were located at what is now the west end of Propst Park. That site was sold to the city in 1954 for the park. The fairgrounds were then relocated to the present 42-acre site on Highway 69 South and soon children will once again be running around with sticky hands full of cotton candy. 



Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]


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