Withstanding the test of time
The Tangipahoa Parish Free Fair has proven, over time, to be an evolving force within the parish. Created in 1888, the Tangipahoa Parish Fair was held in Amite, Louisiana. Amite is considered the seat of Tangipahoa Parish, with the town being created in 1849 and the parish created in 1869. Most of the information contained within this report is due to the efforts of E.E Puls and the unknown author of “Looking Back 110 Years”.
The Tangipahoa Parish Fair, at the time (1888), consisted of 75 acres of land that featured a grandstand, racetrack, and exhibit rooms. While detailed written information on the first fairs is hard to obtain, personal interviews and stories handed down through local families give us details that would otherwise be lost.
One such story recalls the late Harry D. Wilson, Commissioner of Agriculture, speaking about harness racing at the fair; while, another story tells of an Amite resident that took part in saddle races during the fair.
In 1908 a tornado swept through the town of Amite and destroyed the fair grounds. By 1910, the fair had relocated to Hammond. Local citizens and business owners worked together with the Hammond Chamber of Commerce to secure land located on the western edge of town as the new home of the Tangipahoa Parish Free Fair. With the move came a name change; however, there is a dispute over the new name: either it was the Florida Parish Fair Association or the Hammond Fair Association. Much of the effort was due to the contribution of the Houlton brothers, two Minnesota timber men that moved to the area and took an active interest in the parish.
Funds were collected for the construction of several wooden buildings that would serve as the fair grounds. Seated on a 60 acre tract of land, the fairgrounds housed an impressive entrance gate with ticket booths on each side, a large entertainment pavilion with a dance floor, a half mile race track and a large raised grandstand for air shows.
In an effort to grow and promote the fair, a manager was hired, Mr. Ormbsy. His job was to work with the Extension personnel within the parish. Small community fairs were held and winning exhibits were displayed at the Florida Parishes Fair. From 1916 (or there about) to the middle 1920’s all participating communities had their winning exhibits displayed under the grandstand. Over the years, the fair added school exhibits that were placed on display around the dance floor. Schools participated from St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Livingston, and St. Helena parishes.
During the time that the fair was held in Hammond, it took on a larger educational role within the community. The Friday of the fair was considered School Day and children from all the surrounding areas traveled to the fair. Those that were not able to travel by bus or car made their way by rail. With the cooperation of the railroad, special trains ran from Mc Comb, Mississippi; Loranger, St. Tammany Parish, Livingston Parish, and St. Helena Parish. These trains would make special stops to pick up school children all along their route and deliver them to Hammond. From there the children and passengers would make their way on foot to Eastside School where they would be organized into a parade formation with each school forming its own unit and carrying its own banner. As they marched, each school was judged on its performance and appearance.
During this time, the fair was not considered a free fair. On School Day, children and school employees were admitted free and would spend the day wondering the fair grounds. Among the exhibits at the time that captured fairgoers attention was auto racing and an airplane. At this time, very few people had seen an airplane. In addition, there were “side shows” that featured new, strange, or abnormal exhibits. These exhibits included such things as: armadillos, a seven legged cow, and half man-half woman individual. After a day of adventure, the children and other passengers would return to the depot and board the special train for the journey home. As with the morning route, the evening train would stop at the various stations along the way.
In addition to bringing new or rare items to the area, the fair is credited with promoting the improvement of vegetation and livestock. The competition to lay claims on “Best in Show” pushed farmers and ranchers to grow and raise a better quality of stock.
By 1930, the fair would once again see more changes. A combination of economic stress caused by the Great Depression and failed strawberry crops, caused a decline in interest and once again halted the fair. Individuals dedicated to preserving the parish fair, attempted to continue holding an annual fair in Loranger with support from businesses and private citizens. Fair supporters organized money making events and operated special food booths during the fair in an effort to fund the fair. These efforts would only last a few years due to lack of funding and exhaustion on the part of the organizers.
By the late 1930’s the fair once again relocated. This time, Independence would try its hand at preserving the Tangipahoa Paris Fair. For several years, Independence had held a successful spring fair and the parish fair would become an outgrowth of that fair. The local high school and athletic field were used as makeshift fair grounds. Although it was to be a parish fair, interest was mainly local and once again the fair would only last a few years. This time credit could be given to the war efforts taking center stage.
Like a Phoenix, the Tangipahoa Parish Fair would once again rise as the parish recovered from the war. Returning to its place of origin, Amite would once again become the home of the Tangipahoa Parish Fair. Starting from scratch, fair organizers would first need to secure a location. A local resident, Joe Binder, stepped up and donated fifteen acres to be used for the purpose of housing the Tangipahoa Parish Fair. Buildings were erected under the supervision of the Veterans Administration. These buildings served the fair for many years.
In the 1950’s further developments were made through the allocations of funds by the state legislature for the encouragement of fairs. The allocated funds were used for the construction of a grandstand and a pavilion. Since the reorganization of the Tangipahoa Parish Fair, a livestock arena and a baseball diamond and grandstand were erected on the fair grounds. In 1987, a new metal building was erected that now houses all school exhibits during the week of the fair. More recently, modifications and restoration of the original buildings have begun. These renovations will be a long process but it is one that the current board holds close to its heart.
In keeping with the original spirit of the fair; education, history, and the promotion of livestock and agriculture are the main focuses of the Tangipahoa Parish Fair. The Tangipahoa Parish Fair Board would like to thank those, past and present, that have dedicated their time and efforts to the success of the fair.