It is truly all in the family for the Hunters of West Alexander as the West Alexander Fair opens for the 107th time at the fairgrounds off Route 40.
John Hunter is following in the footsteps of his late father, J. Garrett Hunter, who served as president for 43 years. His brother, Dwight Hunter, and Dwight’s son, Richard Hunter, are fair board directors. Richard Hunter even enlisted his children, 16-year-old Ali and 12-year-old Brin, to help out this year. John Hunter’s daughter, Kathy Morgan, is also on the fair board, as is her husband, Robert Morgan.
After a fair that had been held across the state line in West Virginia ceased operations in 1905, a group of men from the West Alexander area started talking about starting an annual agricultural fair in the community.
West Alexander Agricultural Association was chartered in April 1906 with the first fair held that September on a 57-acre farm purchased just north of West Alexander. The fair board also purchased some of the buildings from the former West Virginia fair and moved those to the West Alexander fairgrounds.
As a youngster, J. Garrett Hunter was one of the early competitors at the fair.
“My dad told a story of how 20 heifers were brought in from Ohio County, W.Va., for 4-H competitors to show at the fair,” said Dwight Hunter. “The heifer my dad got won first place and $100.”
“That was like winning a million dollars back then,” his brother laughed. “That was a lot of money.”
The two brothers also recalled their father telling of “driving” his cows from his former farm near Dallas, W.Va., to the fairgrounds. And, it was not putting the cattle into a trailer attached to the back of a pickup truck, but rather the patriarch of the family walking behind the cows as he directed them along Old Brick Road to the fairgrounds.
J. Garrett Hunter moved in 1938 to Donegal Township and established Toll Gate Ayr Farms, where he raised Ayshires and Holsteins for 57 years before selling off the herd in 1997.
The Hunters said it is important not only to maintain the traditions of the fair, but also to make improvements.
“I think that visitors like coming here because it is so relaxed,” John Hunter said. “Kids grew up coming here and now they are coming back with their families.”
Dwight Hunter said a grant from Washington County Tourist Promotion Agency was used to advertise the fair in other areas in an effort to attract new customers. An exit poll done last year at the fair indicated 60 percent of fairgoers come from West Virginia and Ohio.
“There is not a fair in West Virginia so a lot of people refer to this as their fair,” John Hunter said.
With more aid being available from the state, the fair was able to construct a show tent for entertainment acts.
“Before we built this building this year, we’d rent tents for the entertainment,” John Hunter said. “The tents would cost us $2,000 to $3,000, and then they’d leak. Now, the entertainment acts have a nicer place to perform.”
Being on the fair board is almost a lifelong position, joke the two brothers along with Nelson Ealy, fair board president. One member recently retired at the age of 90 and another who recently died left the board at the age of 88.
“We are like a big family,” Ealy quipped.
The fair continues today with judging of goats and market lambs as well as the 4-H and FFA showmanship and fitting contest. The demolition derby is set for 7 p.m. tonight and Wednesday.
And, when the fair closes the 2013 edition Saturday after the market livestock sale at 11 a.m. through the Farmer’s Olympics at 8 p.m., the facility will not stay idle for long. The first West Alexander Scare at the Fair, including a haunted house, will be held Friday and Saturday nights in October as well as Halloween night.
For a complete fair schedule and more on the Scare at the Fair, go to www.westalexfair.com.