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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Cameron Lutz with Senior and Grand Champion Jersey Female, October 1999
Cameron Lutz with the Senior and Grand Champion Jersey Female, October 1999. Photo courtesy Cleveland County Fair

Cleveland County Fair

The Cleveland County Fair, held in Shelby, North Carolina, will celebrate its 76th year in 2000. The brainchild of the Shelby Kiwanis Club in 1923, the fair has grown every year since then in size, number of activities, and attendance.

Dr. J.S. Dorton managed the fair through its 38th year until his death in 1961. Through the Fair, "Doc" encouraged the breeding of purebred cattle and swine. He felt the need for improving seed crops as well, and saw a future in raising a better staple cotton and more cotton per acre. When the WPA-constructed two-story rock exhibit building and grandstand burned on Christmas Eve 1951, Doc immediately planned a new grandstand.

Earliest fairs brought the Rockettes straight from New York City to the county fairgrounds. The beauties stayed in local homes. Girlie shows "for adults only" have faded from the scene. But during the early years, everybody went to the fair early and stayed 'til closing time which was signaled at 10 p.m. by dazzling fireworks. As the age of television, it became more difficult to please fairgoers. Diversity in entertainment was the answer. During the 50s, grandstand shows featured demolition derbys, stock car races, Indianapolis speedway racing, harness racing, rodeos and variety shows to appeal to the popular taste.

The Cleveland County Fair is a showcase of Americana. True to its roots, it sports carnival rides, a grandstand, a livestock barn and exhibits in agriculture, education, industry, art, and history. Having grown from a five-day event in 1924 to a ten-day show today, the 1990s saw a record-breaking attendance of almost 185,000.

Documentation includes a video of the 1998 Cleveland County Fair, color snapshots, two 8 x 10 photographs, a two-page history of the fair, and a souvenir program from the 1999 event.

Originally submitted by: Sue Myrick, Representative (9th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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