The sights, sounds and smells of the Jacktown Fair are quite like no other, and I should know because for the last several years I have volunteered to work a shift at the Observer-Reporter trailer where sensory stimulation can sometimes be overwhelming.
Next Tuesday, high atop Wind Ridge in northwestern Greene County, the Jacktown Fair will return for its 149th year and one evening during the week I will be in the trailer looking, listening and smelling all that is going on around me in this little back corner of nowhere.
I am going to take the word of the Richhill Agricultural Society, which sponsors the fair, that Jacktown is the oldest continuously operating country fair in the nation.
Walter “Buck” Burns, who has been the fair’s biggest cheerleader for nearly a quarter of a century, readily admits the Jacktown Fair is definitely unique. “It is a hilltop fair and it is country. We have big trees on the fairgrounds.”
Of course, in addition to being on a hill and having trees, the fair does have livestock judging, rides, a parade, the crowning of a queen, live bands and entertainment, food, and for the last several years, the Jacktown Fair Idol competition.
But perhaps the most amazing aspect of the fair is that it exists at all. A remnant of the old, local agricultural fairs that dotted the country in the late 19th century, Jacktown has been held every year, come drought, war or depression, since 1866. The fair has even outlasted the original name of the village – Jacksonville – where it’s held.
When a post office was established in the town in 1849, the name of the village was changed to Wind Ridge, but its nickname of Jacktown stuck and has continued to be used for the annual fair.
There is no question, the Jacktown Fair, as do most other fairs, brings out an eclectic crowd – people of all ages and sizes. And, it’s been said, although never directly to me, that some folks schedule their vacations around the fair.
A colleague who drew trailer duty one year recalled talking with a woman at the trailer. When she turned to walk away, this colleague noticed the woman’s art work tattooed on her back. “It was very well done, a colorful mural of the land of Oz, complete with main characters.”
This woman was quite friendly as she allowed her artistic back to be photographed. Her good-natured response was more the norm than the exception that defines the individuals we encounter at the fair. On another visit in another year, I walked the grounds examining the food booths in a high-caloric state-of-mind.
I overlooked the beef brisket barbecue sandwich, the black raspberry milkshakes and was pulled inextricably toward a food trailer selling cheese fries – big baskets of cheese fries.
It seemed as if everyone was eating cheese fries that night.
Now I understand the Jacktown Fair’s famous motto: “You can’t die happy until you’ve gone to the Jacktown Fair.”
I wonder if the person who came up with that slogan was the first cheese fries vendor to set up on that big hill in Wind Ridge.
Jon Stevens is the Greene County bureau chief. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.