Retro Charlotte

Flashback: The Metrolina Fair

The Metrolina Fair midway in 1975.
The Metrolina Fair midway in 1975. The Charlotte Observer

Do you remember it as the Mecklenburg Fair or the Metrolina Fair? In its old location on Highway 29 North or later at the Metrolina Fairgrounds? For over 100 years Mecklenburg County had a fair ... until 1987.

Here’s an Observer history of Charlotte fairs, going way back. And be sure to click through the slideshow when you’re finished reading!

Mecklenburg’s Loss of Fair is Mourned

October 1, 1988

For 130 years, it was a fall ritual: a big, old-time county fair in Mecklenburg County. As Mecklenburg became more urban, the tradition's days were clearly numbered. And now, at last, the end has come. This October, for the first time since at least the mid-19th century, Mecklenburg County will have no county fair.

No midway bright with neon. No barkers touting eerie creatures in formaldehyde, bearded ladies and three-legged cows. No 4-H competitions. No canning and quilting exhibits. No pigs, no mules, no prize calves. "I don't know if it's the time or out of date, " Metrolina Fair President Linda Hackney said in May, when she announced the fair's demise. "But we just couldn't get the interest up." That's a shame. There's nothing as magical as a county fair: its promise of spine-chilling rides and sticky cotton candy, its aromas of barnyard animals and popcorn, its celebration of traditional American farm life. The good news is that you can still find several fairs within easy driving distance of Charlotte. But we'll get to that shortly. First, let's take a minute to mourn Mecklenburg's loss.

One hundred years ago, when this was still a rural county, fall fairs flourished. There was the Fair of the Carolinas in the 1870s, offering five days of fun and $10,000 in prizes. At the turn of the century, another fair started near Latta Park in Dilworth, complete with a main hall, grandstands, parade grounds. A blue ribbon for the family's prize hog, or mama's peach preserves, was coveted indeed. The fair itself - in a community where not much was happening - was anticipated for months.

From 1939 to 1959, the Southern States Fair was at North Tryon Street and Sugar Creek Road. The year it closed, Horace Wells began Mecklenburg Fair Ltd., the forerunner of the Metrolina Fair. The Metrolina Fairgrounds is still there, along U.S. 21, north of Charlotte. It's best known, perhaps, for its periodic flea markets. Two years ago, Linda Hackney succeeded Wells - her father - as fair president. Though she struggled to keep the event alive, she finally had to give up. That's happened in other counties around the Piedmont, some far more rural than Mecklenburg. Gaston County has no county fair, for example. Neither do Union nor Lincoln County, N.C., nor Chester County, S.C. Several other counties have already held their fairs this fall. Among them: Stanly, Iredell, Cabarrus, Catawba and Rowan. But some fine fairs do survive. If you yearn for the fairs of your childhood - for midways and barkers, for canning and quilting, pigs and mules - you shouldn't have any trouble finding one.