The Cooke County Fair — which has not been organized for about three decades, now — started as a way to pay homage to the agricultural roots of Gainesville.

It was a place to show off one’s livestock, baked and canned goods, sewing expertise, home grown produce and other farming and homemaking skills.

Residents of the city and the county looked forward to the annual county fairs. The events lasted several days and brought people together for a number of unusual events and activities such as horse races and later car races, carnivals. etc.

The first Cooke County Fair was held in 1871 and the fair has been held at several locations in the city.

The last fair took place in 1978. After the 1978 fair closed, a portion of what had been known as Fair Park was sold to developers who later built the Holiday Inn. The structures that had been associated with the fair were also dismantled about this time.

According to a history of Cooke County, the fair midway began “when a young man from Pilot Point named Bill Hames came to Gainesville with a merry-go-round and a Ferris wheel.”

Hames apparently went on to become the owner of one of the largest carnival companies in the southwest.

The Cooke County Fair was apparently discontinued between 1916 and 1926.

A program from a 1917 Cooke County Fair was printed, but according to a local resident who has done extensive research on the fair, there is no record of a 1917 fair.

Some surmise that a fair was planned for that year, but was not held because the United States had entered World War I.

However, the 1917 program is indicative of previous fairs. It shows that the event began on a Wednesday and continued through Saturday.

Each morning, the fair would open with a band concert followed by an opening address.

A merchant’s style show was held in the early evening in the Gainesville Opera House. The Opera House was, according to historian Shonna Powell, in the area that is now the GNB parking lot across from Parker Electric.

A big part of the annual county fair was the women’s exhibits.

Women would enter their best work in categories such as “Embroideries and Fancy Needlework.”

All articles of clothing and other handmade fabric projects had to meet certain standards for example, according to the 1917 catalogue projects were to be perfectly clean, new, not worn and not previously exhibited at any fair.

The maker of the article had to stand with her project, but could not interfere with the judging in any way.

The items had to be exhibited so that “nothing could be handled.”

Women outside the county could also enter their projects in the competitions.

A member of one of the more than 40 home demonstration clubs in the county would serve as chairman in charge of each category.

There were ten sub-categories under the heading of “Embroideries and Fancy Needlework.” These included fancy aprons, infant’s embroidered caps, sofa pillows, embroidered nightgowns, negligees, pillow cases, nightgowns and cross-stitch specimens.

Another category was “Insects, Curios and Relics.” These included best collection of Indian relics, best collection of war relics, best collection of butterflies and best collection of hand-tinted postcards.

Former Cooke County Extension Agent Evelyn Yeatts said in later years, the Cooke County Fair board would give prizes to the winners based on a point system. The award money was modest, but the prizes along with the blue, red and white ribbons awarded gave the winners a little incentive, she said. Many entrants, she explained, took great pride in their work and entered projects in multiple categories.

In the early years of the Twentieth Century, winning entrants were awarded prizes such as one dozen pint Ball Bros. Perfect Mason Jars, complete with caps for winning exhibits of fruit packed in Mason-brand jars.

The best exhibitor who packed her vegetables into Mason-brand jars would receive a dozen quart Perfect Mason Jars.

Winning entrants who used Mason IDEAL jars would receive a dozen pint or quart Mason IDEAL jars for fruit or vegetables packed in these containers.

Each category had a “not mentioned and worthy” award for items such as a flower, curio, type of preserve or jelly. Any winners in these categories would get fifty cents.

Another exhibit, conducted by the Red Cross Department consisted of a display or bandages, hospital supplies and hospital garments.

A category which we might find unsettling today was the “Department of Race Betterment’s Most Fit Baby contest.”

This interesting, if not slightly disturbing competition, featured categories for children between the ages of six months and 3 1/2 years.

Children judged “best developed” in each of three age categories were awarded $3 each.

The fair catalogue stipulates that the children chosen as winners were not to be the “prettiest” babies, but the babies most “physically fit” as judged by physicians who tested the children’s weight, and height as well as their “strength.”

“Class A” competition was for boy babies. Baby girls were in a “Class B” category.

Two sweepstakes prizes were to be awarded to the “Best boy baby” and the “Best girl baby.” Each winner took home a bronze medal furnished by Woman’s Home Companion, a popular ladies magazine of the time.

Another contest featured “Old Ladies’ Work.” Projects in this category included the best knit spread, best silk quilt, best calico quilt, best handmade rug and best kitchen apron.

Children also entered their projects in categories similar to 4-H club entries years later.

Children could enter their best machine-made dresses, fancy aprons, embroidered centerpieces, rugs, biscuits, candy, knife-carved items made by boys or fancy boxes or baskets.

The fair also included livestock competitions.

In later years, the fair would change. A Cooke County Fair catalogue from 1959 lists the officers of the Cooke County Fair Association. W. T.. Bonner was Fair president. Bernice Thurman was home agent and Neil Tibbets was the county agent.

Categories at this time included horses, beef cattle, dairy cattle, swine, sheep and agriculture entries.

Each department had a superintendent. For example, Mrs. George Berry was in charge of the Community Exhibits and Dr. G. S. Yeargan, Jr. supervised the horse categories.


Fair catalogues contained some pretty unusual advertisements. For example, an ad promoting the Denton County Fair advises citizens of Gainesville to visit the fair. “The Opening Day is Gainesville Day,” the ad reads “and if you do not come at that time you are a slacker.”

Fairs were, apparently, a common occurence in small Cooke County towns.

The Valley View Fair is touted as “An annual occasion where the citizens of the county come together and compete for premiums liberally given for the best displays of cattle, sheep, hogs, agriculture and horticultural products.”

A full page ad in the 1917 Cooke County Fair catalogue promoted a store called “Kennerly’s” where people could “buy all kinds of merchandise.” The ad shows a factory worker who says, “Everybody will attend the Free Street Fair, and will buy all kinds of merchandise. I will go to Kennerly’s, of course, for stoves of all kinds, automobile trailers, auto casings and accessories, bicycles, tricycles, buggies, wagons, plows, wind mills, cane mills, hardware, gas fixtures, etc.” The ad goes on the say, “this is the store where you get the glad handshake, and prices that produce a smile that won’t wash off. Don’t forget the place.” S. J. Kennerly’s had apparently been in business in Gainesville for 35 years.

Ads for restaurants included a 1959 Fair program ad for the Curtwood Cafe and the Colonial Cafe where patrons could eat in “air conditioned dining rooms.”

Most of the companies, stores and restaurants who bought space in fair programs are no longer in business. But a few are. The Gainesville Daily Register billed itself as “part of MY town.” Gainesville Auto Parts had an ad in the 1959 catalogue as did Chapman’s Shoes, a store that is now simply called “Chapman’s.” Shoe fanatics were tempted by brands such as Connie, Jacqueline, Natural Poise and Paris Fashion.

Other companies who advertised in the 1959 fair book were Helpy Selfy Stores, owned by Price Penton and J. F. Latham, Woodruff Pharmacy (next door to the post office) offering cosmetics, stationery, gifts, greeting cards, photographic supplies and fountain service, and Enderby’s Butane Gas at 114 W. Main.

By the 1970s fair book advertising had become more sophisicated. One of Gaineville’s most popular eating places was still the air conditioned Curtwood Cafe. But phone numbers listed in the ads no longer began with letters. For example, in 1959, the number for Swindle Pharmacy featured on the back cover of the program is listed as HO-5-5521.

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