A History of the Great Pocomoke Fair

Copy of Ticket donated by ET & Jan Trader, Withams, VA
Agricultural fairs, exhibits and shows have been part of farm life since Biblical times. The book of Ezekiel, written around 500 B.C. has several references to fairs. During the early centuries of Christianity, the Church took an active part in sponsoring fairs as part of the observance of religious holidays and seasons. Everyone knows who Simple Simon met--the pie man going to the fair.....

A fair is quite simply, an event held for presenting or viewing of exhibits. Some fairs last just a few days and are local in scope and some run for months, like the world's Fair, and attract people from many countries. Fairs are a major industry in the United States and Canada. More than 3,200 fairs are held annually in the two countries and they earn more than $1.7 billion for the areas in which they are held.

In 1641, the government of New Netherlands authorized the first annual fair in the American colonies, to be held in New Amsterdam (now New York City). By the mid-1700s, fairs had become common throughout the colonies. They were primarily agricultural and served as an important showcase for the farm products of the local area. The first state fairs were held in New Jersey and New York about 1840.

It is reasonable to assume that fairs were held in Worcester County during the colonial era, just as they were elsewhere and they no doubt were agriculturally oriented as well.

In rural communities, fairs are true community events, celebrating the fruits of harvest, handiwork of farm wives and of course, the prowess of farmers in raising cattle, swing and poultry of blue-ribbon quality.

The Great Pocomoke Fair, which began in 1901 and was called "Great" at least up through 1909, had all of these ingredients plus the added feature of horse racing. Located at the corner of Second and Broad Street in Pocomoke City, the Fair was organized officially on June 24, 1901, by Samuel J. Twilley, William S. Schoolfield, James S. Clogg, James T. Young, Henry N. Willis, Clarence F. Barnes, Francis H. Dryden and Charles O. Melvin, all of Worcester County, and George W. Riddle and Francis E. Matthews of Somerset County, John W. Carroll of Cape Charles and Nathaniel S. Smith of Chincoteague who incorporated as the Pocomoke Fair and Agricultural Association of Pocomoke City, Worcester County, Maryland. They laid the ground work for an event that existed for more than a quarter of a century and did a great job in securing support from the local community, including Pocomoke's banks, who often gave the money for the premiums at the Fair and supported it financially.

In 1918, a supporting organization was incorporated by Daniel C. Armstrong, Robert I. Lednum, Ray V. Gladding, Calving E. Townsend and Charles L. Balance, all of Pocomoke City.

The Fair catalogs provide quite a lot of information in themselves. One thing is eminently clear: Pocomoke folk were very proud of their Fair.

The railroad ran special excursions to Pocomoke from surrounding towns, and all modern conveniences, including telegraph and telephone services, were available on the fairgrounds. The town encouraged visitors to walk ten minutes to town to "take advantage of our large emporiums" to shop before and after the "Great Fair."

Photographer, W. Frank Jones, 1878-1945 - Collection by Robert F. Jones

Six hotels awaited visitors: the Ford House, Parker House, Hotel Pocomoke, Worcester House, Riverside and Landing House. And--the Fair grounds were only a two minute walk from the N.Y.P. & N.R.R. train depot and a quarter of a mile from the wharf of the B.C. & A. Railway Company, where four boats a week from Baltimore docked.

How much did it cost to get into the Fair? In 1907, a single admission was 25 cents; children under 12 were 15 cents; a carriage and horse was a quarter to park; Grand Stand and Quarter Stretch tickets were also a quarter. A season ticket, called a Membership Ticket, good to pass in and out everywhere during the Fair was $2.50 for men and $1.50 for ladies.

By 1930, day admission had risen to 50 cents for adults, a quarter for children under 12 and vehicles still could be parked for a quarter.

Entertainment was always a large part of the Fair: Outside the exposition hall the scene was a panorama, running along a wide lawn a quarter of a mile in length, upon which were grouped in close proximity all kinds of sideshows, merry-go-rounds and museums. Fortune tellers and vendors of novelties line the wide avenue on one side, while on the opposite side were boarding houses, restaurants, watermelon, lemonade and ice cream saloons, all of which seemed to the thronged with buyers with ready money to spend.

There were games of chance, boxing and wrestling matches, and the sideshows had fat women, snakes, and fortune tellers charged ten or fifteen cents. Something called "Hokey Pokey" ice cream was sold at three cents a cake, two for a nickel.

As time passed, modern technology brought new and exciting entertainment: in addition to auto exhibits, men parachuted from balloons and airplanes. By 1930, the last year of the Fair, there were auto races in addition to the horse races, and, for the first time, a Western Electric Public Address System, with a "complete set of amplifiers for the broadcasting of announcements and music."

Horse racing was, however, for many folks the highlight of the Fair. Trotters owner by folks from Washington, D.C. to Melfa, VA. Races were run four days in a row, with as many as a dozen horses in a race. Names of some of the horses who ran in the last Fair race are Peter Worthy, Sea Worthy, My Man, Wah Hoo Wah, Worthy Hall, Double Cross, High Tide, Donzo, Carrie Lee, Kid Buddie, Doctor H, Julia B, Direct and DeWolf.

Sadly, the Fair met it demise-a victim of the Great Depression. The last Fair was held in 1930 and it officers presiding over the last event were Ray V. Gladding, President; Maurice W. Costen, Vice-President; Harry C. Mears, Secretary; J. M. Crockett, Treasurer and Board of Directors members were J. Harry Young, W.E. Johnson, E.H. Taylor, A.B. Melson, C.E. Townsend, V.S. Burton, R.V. Gladding, J.H.Ashby, J.C.Outten, J.E.Nottingham, J. Brooks Mapp and M.W. Coston.

The last Fair included nine harness races, auto races, vaudeville programs each afternoon and evening, fireworks and a carnival by The Great American Shows.

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