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When did the New Hanover County fair start and where was it held?

Melisa Riley
Cape Fear Fair & Expo

People walk past the Ferris wheel on the opening night of the Cape Fear Fair & Expo at Wilmington International Airport. STARNEWS FILE PHOTO

Jan Davidson, historian at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington, provided a copy of a hand-written letter by Cape Fear Agricultural Association President S. L . Fremont, dated Sept.  20, 1870, regarding the proposed sale of alcoholic beverages at the second annual fair opening Nov. 15, 1870, in Wilmington. The exact name and location of the fair was not stated, but this letter suggests that the New Hanover County fair began in 1869.

This is confirmed in Bill Reave’s book “Strength Through Struggle,” Diane Smith at the New Hanover County Public Library’s North Carolina Room found, which mentions an ex-slave, Alfred Hargrave, exhibiting horseshoes that can be attached without nails at the first fair of the Cape Fear Agricultural Association in 1869. Hargrave was a blacksmith in town for more than 30 years.

A classified ad in the Raleigh Sentinel gives the official name of the fair as New Hanover County Fair and the opening date as Nov. 16, 1869. The ad was taken out by Alex Oldham, proprietor of Cape Fear Flour Mills in Wilmington, in the Nov.  5, 1869, edition of the paper : “Challenge to Millers, a challenge to any miller in North Carolina for a $20 silver goblet, for the largest yield and finest quality of flour from 10 bushels of wheat, the products of the whole 10 bushels to be exhibited at the New Hanover County Fair commencing on the 16th November.”

In a brief in The Wilmington Daily Herald of March 15, 1860, E.D. Hall, Esq., offered the following resolution, which was adopted: “that a committee of seven be appointed whose duty it shall be to solicit subscriptions and ascertain whether land suitable for Fair grounds be obtained by purchase or otherwise.”  It was also resolved that “we will hold an Agricultural Fair for this county, in the town of Wilmington during the present year and that a Committee of seven appointed at this meeting, be charged with the duty of fixing the time, raising funds, and making all necessary arrangements for that purpose, and that they make a list of the products of Agriculture, Art, Manufacture and Handiwork and also Stock, Animals &c, and fix upon premiums in the various departments. And further, that they advertise the time of holding the fair, the articles to be exhibited and the premiums to be awarded to each.”  So it looks like the planning for the New Hanover County Fair began in March 1860. We do not have a location for the fair at the time.

According to StarNews archives dated Oct. 14, 1990, the New Hanover County Fair took place on Carolina Beach Road, near present day Echo Farms.  The fair had been on Carolina Beach Road (believed to be 4101 Carolina Beach Road) since 1963.

Skip Watkins, current second vice president of the Cape Fear Fair and Expo, says the fair was incorporated in 1971, and that is what he considers the fair’s birthday.  The 2016 fair will be the 45th annual.  The fair was moved from its 4101 Carolina Beach Road location to the Wilmington International Airport in 2001. The fair changed its name to Cape Fear Fair and Expo, formerly the New Hanover County Fair in 2001.

User-contributed question by:
Mary Cain

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