Only 78 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed that the first recorded fair was held in Greenbrier Valley, VA. It was 1854. Of course, in 1863 it became the Greenbrier Valley, WV Fair and in 1941, the WV State Legislature passed an act officially changing the name of the popular Greenbrier Valley Fair to The State Fair of WV.
The State Fair has been held annually ever since, with the exception of the years 1942 to 1946. With the onset of World War II, such “excesses” were canceled due to rationings, shortages of goods and the huge number of men deployed oversees. Today, the West Virginia State Fair maintains its long-held traditions of agriculture, family entertainment and education
From the sweet smell of fresh hay to the lights of the midway to the sounds of concert goers in the grandstand, the Fair is met with anticipation year-after-year. Throughout the 10-day festivities, visitors can enjoy everything from livestock shows or horse races to exhibits featuring arts and crafts and fresh vegetables to carnival rides and musical acts. And did we mention the food? Come hungry and ready to satisfy your every culinary craving -- from Belt’s Pizza and a Pronto Pup (the best corndog east of the Mississippi) to Ben Ellen Donuts, giant cinnamon rolls and homemade, hand-dipped ice cream. There’s even the State Fair’s version of farm-to-table with a Cattleman Steak Sandwich, a fresh roasted ear of corn and various offerings at the local high school’s FFA (Future Farmers of America) Ham Stand.
The FFA Ham Stand was organized by local agriculture teachers/FFA advisors in the late 1950’s. It was operated by the State FFA Association with different chapters from around the state working the stand for one day each during the fair. Through the years it became difficult to coordinate the many FFA chapters, so in 1969, the Greenbrier East High School chapter took ownership and has been operating it ever since. Originally, all the food was raised and cured by the students, but as popularity grew, the amount of meat needed became more than students were able to produce. The center cut ham now comes from a supplier in North Carolina and the sausage, from the Bob Evans Farms family.
The custom of entering livestock, home arts and agricultural produce for judging is what the State Fair of WV is built on. These are the valued fair traditions and will continue for many years to come. There is an eclectic array of competing exhibits displayed from one end of the grounds to the other. Intricate handmade quilts and afghans, needlepoint, art and photography, garden vegetables and delicious baked goods just to name a few. Why not break out your family’s treasured recipes or hobby crafts and enter them for your chance at winning the coveted WV State Fair blue ribbon?
Another fair favorite is, of course, the midway. Founded in 1896, Reithoffer is a traveling midway show that began with just one wooden, steam-driven merry-go-round. Since then, Reithoffer has been making its way across the country and back bringing the midway carnival rides, lights and games to fairs and festivals. The WV State Fair has used Reithoffer since 1990 with their midway punctuated by the bright lights of the iconic giant “Dutch Wheel” for which they are known. Reithoffer Shows owns a variety of amusement rides from those for the adult thrill-seekers like the “Himalaya” and the “Freak Out” to their playful rides in Kiddie Land where the “Bear Affair” and the “Wild Mouse” are always favorites.
In addition to the many open venues, each night the WV State Fair grandstand hosts an event from big name musical acts to special shows like Motocross racing and Buckin’ Bull Riding. Musicians have included iconic country band “Alabama”, 70’s favorite “The Bee Gees” and rocker Vince Neil of “Motley Crue.” The grandstand seats approximately 6,000 so watch for line-up announcements and ticket sales!
“ From the minute the gates open on the first day until the last visitor leaves on the tenth night, the West Virginia State Fair offers fun, excitement, entertainment, education, exhibits and so much more. ”
After the big grandstand event each Saturday night, you’ll definitely want to catch the Zambelli Fireworks spectacular show. Zambelli Fireworks is based out of New Castle, Pennsylvania and has been lighting up the skies since 1893 with some of the most creative and innovative pyrotechnics in the world. For years, the WV Fair held smaller fireworks displays each night of the 10-day event. In recent decades, they switched to a much bigger, better and brighter show, highlighting popular Saturday nights with a bang!
From the minute the gates open on the first day until the last visitor leaves on the tenth night, the West Virginia State Fair offers fun, excitement, entertainment, education, exhibits and so much more for the thousands that come every year. The State Fair constantly changes, adapts and reflects the community around it, but its foundation -- based on the institution of the rural farming family -- remains the same. It’s an end of the summer celebration that is anticipated year-after-year by families who cherish the tradition of “a trip to the fair.”
Of course, the grounds of the WV State Fair offer much more than the State Fair event that happens in mid-August each year. The Fairgounds also hosts many other special events such as the Giant Spring and Fall Flea Markets, horse shows, dog shows and more.
No matter your age or interests, you can surely find a reason to spend a day, weekend or entire week doing something fun at The State Fair of WV. Keep an eye on the calendar of events at statefairofwv.com, and let us know what we can do to help you plan your visit!