The White County Fair will open for the 78th consecutive year on Saturday, Sept. 6, and run through Saturday, Sept. 13. The fair features over 20 rides and a certified rodeo and has been a tremendous success over the last century, according to former Arkansas Fair Managers Association president Buddy Phillips.
Fair admision is $8 and the fair begins Saturday, Sept. 6. Sunday, Sept. 7, admission and parking are free, and tickets for rides will cost $1 each. A full schedule of events and hours of operation can be found at www.whitecountyfairgrounds.org.
Phillips said the fair is recognized as the largest county fair in the state and one of the top-10 county fairs in the nation. It has also become special to Harding students.
“It’s just a lot of fun to walk around, to see all the rides,” said senior Jay Gentry, who has gone to the fair the past two years. “It’s a good weekend activity.”
Phillips has been compiling a history of the White County Fair that dates back to its first event in 1883.
In 1887, the fair moved to Spring Street in Searcy and was held in tents and an old stave mill.
Phillips said the first White County Fair of Searcy featured livestock exhibits, displays from organizations such as 4-H and the garden club and merchant stands for hardware and farm equipment stores.
The White County Fair was held sporadically over the next 48 years, in part because of World War I and the Great Depression.
In the early 1940s, the fair moved to a building on Moore Street that was built by the National Youth Administration, a government agency that was a part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal program. The building was on Searcy High School’s property and across from the McRae Football Field. The field hosted the fair’s horse races.
According to Phillips, the fair has been held at the White County Fair Grounds every year since 1954. This location on Davis Drive was originally outside of the city limits, where it had been a county farm that offered work and aid to the poor until the late 1940s.
Going into its 60th year at the White County Fair Grounds, the fair offers many attractions in addition to the traditional agriculture exhibits and carnival rides. In addition to the customary 4-H exhibits and quilt-making displays, this year’s White County Fair will feature a variety of events, from lawn mower races to an Elvis impersonator. According to board member Kim Harrison, this variety is what secured a turnout of over 70,000 visitors last year.
“We have such a draw from surrounding areas and counties,” Harrison said. “That’s just come over time, finding what the people want and presenting different things. A lot of counties don’t have a fair this size, so they’ll come to the White County fair and see something different.”
Phillips, who has been to each of the 75 fairs held within the state of Arkansas, believes that the fair’s rodeo and derby events are a big reason that the White County Fair draws the diverse audience that separates it from the state’s other county fairs.
“There’s not anything that draws a crowd as much as the demolition derby,” Phillips said. “That crowd’s not really a fair crowd . . . I guess the only time we’ve ever had a fight was at the derby pit, and it was two grandmothers.”
This representation of White County has made the fair a unique event for Harding students to attend.
“You get to see an entire culture that you don’t see that often,” Gentry said. “It’s something that’s so close but has nothing to do with Harding.”
Phillips and Harrison agree that it is the diversity of the fair’s attractions and visitors that have allowed the fair to serve as a feature of White County.
“I think it’s a celebration of the prosperity we have had here,” Phillips said. “White County is a very diversified county.”
To Harrison, the audience reflects the county’s community.
“It’s a gathering place,” Harrison said. “You see people you don’t see but one or two times a year. A lot of communities will have their own little festivals. Ours is the fair.”