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All Roads Lead to Rome

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Mike Ragland -Cotton in my Blood

Mike Ragland, Guest Columnist

Read the headline of the Rome News-Tribune on Sunday, Oct. 16, 1949. The Fair was coming back, after over a decade of nonexistence.

It was a brave bunch who voted at a meeting of the Rome Exchange Club to revive the community fair, a once-popular event.

In the early part of the century it was known as the North Georgia Fair and was located in the fields across from Mobley Park, known as the driving range, now Darlington School. They featured many different community events. The first airplane in Rome landed and took off from that location. Baseball games were popular, but horseracing was the main attraction. It had died out during the Depression and World War II. There had been financial losses from bad weather, unreliable exhibitors and public apathy.

So now, “the Exchange Club under the Fair Association President Marshall Jackson and his staff, dedicated to the progress and prosperity of Floyd, Chattooga, Gordon, Bartow and Polk counties in Georgia, and of Cherokee County, Alabama,” decided to bring it back.

This new fair would be located at the state farmers market on the old Furnace Road, just across the tracks from the old North Georgia Fairgrounds.

Rome News-Tribune continued in their headline, “Fair opens tomorrow, and under pressure of immediate deadlines, mammoth tents are going up to house livestock shows and commercial exhibits competing for hundreds of dollars in premiums. Other buildings will house contests devoted to the homemaking arts.”

Midway attractions were provided by the Shan Brothers Carnival Company. The big farmers market building was readied for occupancy and each participating county got a day to show their wares.

It rained on Sunday and Monday, but was clear for “school-kids’” half-day out of school. Rome News-Tribune again reported that, “spectators were amazed to see men like Superior Court Judge H.E. Nichols shoveling sawdust, insurance executive ‘Shack’ Wimbish and Police Chief Smith Horton handling picks and shovels. There were bankers, doctors and lawyers nailing up decorations, building booths and working various exhibits.”

At the end of the first fair, attendance neared 46,000 with the Georgia School for the Deaf, Open Door Home and children from orphanages getting in free.

State Agriculture Commissioner Tom Linder attended and praised the fair as one of the best in the state.

Over $3,000 was awarded, with an equal amount in household appliances given away in ticket drawings.

Marshall Jackson retained the presidency and headed up the second year, which featured a “Freedom Shrine” that displayed copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Monroe Doctrine along with other documents. Awards during this second fair exceeded $6,000, doubling the first year’s.

The Shan Brothers Carnival returned with their featured entertainer, Bruno Zacchini, “The Human Cannonball.” The exhibit space was enlarged and Rome’s Federated Garden Club opened the first flower show.

Euharlee won the community award and the Rome Red Cross Chapter opened a booth displaying a $25,000 iron lung. Attendance exceeded 50,000.

In 1951, the fair moved to “new and permanent” quarters at the old Rome Airport in West Rome. Association President Graham Thomas and staff organized a parade, demonstrating the attractions of the midway to be operated that year by Royal Crown Shows. Gov. Herman Talmadge spoke at the fair on Wednesday morning, naming the Coosa Valley “the state’s livestock empire.”

Attendance came to 55,000 and there was over $9,000 in awards handed out. The “new and permanent” grounds were sold to make room for a General Electric plant. The Exchange Club bought 40 acres at its present location and, with Penn Henson as president, the fair expanded again.

Cavalcade of Amusement Shows provided midway entertainment in 1952, and the first Miss Coosa Valley Fair Queen, Anne Roberson of Lindale, was presented a $100 prize and a three-day trip to Savannah.

In 1953, Shandra Farms in Shannon cleaned up in the cattle competition, winning four blue ribbons. Now under the sponsorship of the Rome Business and Professional Women’s Club, the second Coosa Valley Queen, Rose Cantrell, was crowned by Miss America of 1953 before a crowd of 9,000 spectators.

In 1954, under the leadership of WRGA radio pioneer Mather Payne, the fair brought in a record 65,000 people.

In 1955 Cobb County joined the Fair Association, bringing the number of participating counties to 17. Under President W.M. Huffman, a steel building for commercial and industrial exhibits was built. There were daily performances by the Albani Aerialists, musical shows by Wally Fowler and a mock battle staged by Rome’s Marine Corps Reserve Unit.

In 1956, a National Guard tank parade led crowds to a greatly enlarged grandstand. The Sky King Aerialist performed on sway poles, and “Tarzan White” wrestled “Ike Elkins” before a cheering crowd.

In 1957, Sen. Herman Talmadge and Congressman Henderson Lanham attended and the Philip Morris Singers performed. Over 70,000 attended according to President Arthur Ragsdale.

In 1958, Johnny Mack Brown led six high school bands down Broad Street, Robert Redden and Bill Amos took first place in traditional and modern artwork and the fair president was Frank Near.

In 1959, the junior king and queen was begun. Three-year-old Thomas J. Amos and five-year-old Jan Stephens won the awards for juniors. The attendance reached 105,000.

In 1960, “Fall’s Finest Festival” first appeared in the Rome News-Tribune and bad weather dogged the fair all week, but attendance still reached over 100,000.

Bad weather once again reared its ugly head in 1961 under President Glenn Chafin. “World’s Strongest Man” Paul Anderson performed to raise funds for his disabled children’s foundation.

As Hurricane Esther pounded the area there were still over 100,000 that came to the fair, and Charlene Tarpley was crowned Miss Coosa Valley Fair by three state queens, Miss Georgia, Miss Alabama and Miss Tennessee.

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Charlene Tarpley

Charlene Tarpley crowned Miss Coosa Valley Fair in 1961 by Miss Georgia, Miss Alabama and Miss Tennessee. / Contributed

We’ll continue next week and see where the fair goes from here.

Mike Ragland is a former Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag@bellsouth.net or mikeragland.com