What memories do you have of the North Central Louisiana District Fair? When I was a small child, I loved to dress up in my cowboy outfit and ride the horses on the merry-goround. I also remember going into the stock barn to see the animals, especially the enormous hogs. Later, I was always proud to see some of my school work on display, along with that of my schoolmates, in Tullos Elementary School’s exhibit.
To many people today, the carnival is the main attraction. But in past days, the fair wasn’t just for fun. This statement from a 1941 newspaper shows that the fair had a mission to educate and inspire.
“This annual check-up on the progress of farm and home living from year to year is vital to the continued growth and prosperity of our nation, for on the progress made by our farmers in increasing production depends the continuation of the American way of life.”
Originally, the fair was a place for farm families to show off their finest accomplishments in the way of crops, food, livestock, and handcrafts, and other categories. It played a big part in building community. In the 1938 The Jena Times, it was reported: “The fair is one place for every citizen to congregate, meet old friends and make new ones. In the meantime, you can see what your neighbor farmer or farm-wife is doing on their farm. Forget your home ties for one day at least and arrange to attend the fair.” The Central Louisiana Fair was founded in 1906, according to some, while others say 1908. It is one of the oldest fairs in the state. Original officers of the Fair were H.P. Minard, President; C.C. Maxwell, Vice President; L.C. Nunn, Treasurer; and E. M. Sledge, Secretary. It operated under the name Central Louisiana Free Fair until 1923, when Alexandria took over that name. The Olla fair had never been incorporated, and was unable to hold on to the name, so the name North Central Louisiana District Fair was chosen. The District covers LaSalle, Winn, Caldwell, and Catahoula parishes.
In the old days, there was also a rodeo and horse and mule races. One year it was reported that one of the mules ran the wrong way, but everyone had fun, anyway. In 1939, the North Central Louisiana Fair Rodeo featured wild horse riding and roping of steers. “Old Baldy,” the fiercest bull ever exhibited in this section of the state, was on hand and willing to do his bucking stunts. The fair management offered a cash prize of $15 to anyone who could ride Old Baldy for ten seconds.
In 1928, the prize for the best display of farm products went to A. P. Willis of Jena. W.D. Blake of Olla won the horse race. At the fair rodeo, Ed Allbritton won the roping contest and Floyd Allbritton won the wild cow milking contest.
In 1934, a large pumpkin weighing 45 lbs. won the first prize out of about 20 pumpkins entered. The prize was won by Wilford Turner, whose pumpkin was 47 inches around and 53 inches long. Other exhibits included school and home demonstration exhibits, a baby show, 4-H exhibits, livestock, poultry, canning and sewing. The competition for Blue ribbons was keen. Fifty contestants were not unusual for a single cooking item. Entries on all contests were in the thousands.
The fair was held in 1941, but then there were no others for the duration World War II. The fairs resumed in 1946. In 1955, the Louisiana Legislature passed an appropriations bill granting $5000 to help the fair with expenses. In 1956 and 1957, the grant was $7500. In 1956, a new building of 1600 square feet was completed, reserved for the exhibits for the 4-H girls and boys.
In 1958, the president of the North Central Louisiana District Fair Association was J.E. Harris, Jr. Other officers were M.F. Tannehill, Vice President; H. Vinyard, Secretary; and members J.E. Harris, Sr.; T.E. Gardner, H.R. Reitzell, A. R. Crick and Charles Gaines. In 1963, B.M. Zeagler and J.H. Brooks were also members of the association.
The year 1959 was the first peace-time year that the fair was not held. Appropriations for that purpose that had been passed by the state legislature. But Governor Earl K. Long vetoed the bill, so there were no funds. In 1960, local businessmen donated money to revive it, and it has continued every year since.
The fair will be held in Olla this year on November 8-11. The exhibit barns will be open, and all are encouraged to bring plants, crafts, produce, canned goods, and other items for a chance to win a ribbon.
“It’s Your Fair – Be There!”