Trousdale County has several state records: in total land area it is the smallest county in Tennessee, the world record walleye was caught within its boundaries in the Cumberland River, and it is the home to the longest running Youth Fair in the State. Not bad for a small rural county with a population of less than ten thousand.
That this small county has a Youth Fair that celebrated 50 years in 2004 and is still going would come as no surprise if you were to visit. Though it has only one town and two stop lights, it is blessed with small town charm, a farming heritage, lush green hills, natural springs, and (best of all) devoted, hard-working friendly and caring people.
It is the people of Trousdale County that have made its 4-H program one to be studied and copied by others throughout the state. In 1954, new county Agricultural Agent, Clyde Webster, was one of those people. He saw a town that had all but abandoned its annual county fair. So with local 4-H clubs stall a relatively new idea, he proposed a Youth Fair that would give the children of the county a chance to show off their farming and home-making skills.
He got more of those people we alluded to, to join in. The members of the County Court, the county Board of Education, and teachers combined with parents and volunteers from the community who all joined together with Webster to put on a great fair.
How great? Well, it is still going strong today. In fact the format of the fair has been copied by other counties with similar success. Locally it is an annual event that people look forward to. One local resident, Billy Rhea Robertson, attended the first fair and has not missed a single fair since. Billy Rhea not only enjoys the fair, he regularly helps judge.
Trousdale County is a rural county with little industry, and a largely agricultural economy. In particular, it has always had a strong tobacco presence. So, that first fair had exhibits in Burley tobacco, field crops, poultry, swine, beef cattle, dairy cattle, baking, canning, sewing, arts and crafts, and educational exhibits.
Throughout the years, the competition has changed to reflect the ways our nation has changed. With fewer people raising livestock, some animals were dropped from the line-up and other interests added. Entomology, photography, wildlife exhibits, and floral displays have proven popular. Table settings, scrap-booking, and gift baskets are some contemporary exhibits.
“Everything old is new again” might apply to this fair now, as livestock exhibits have made a come-back. Sheep, poultry, and beef cattle are on display after several years’ absence. There is even a poultry auction now. An adult division has allowed some of the parents to compete against each other. Some other new events have recently been added such as a “Fairest of the Fair” contest, texting contest, cake decorating, “Corn Hole” tournaments, and concert events, to name a few, which make it fun for every member of the family.
The fair is no less popular today than it has been for the last half century. It has been expanded from one day to three. Every year young and old come out and enjoy the fair, and you can be sure that a lot of the county’s population will take part one way of the other. A proud parent or a child beaming with excitement at their first blue ribbon is a sight that has not lost its place in our heritage since that small fair over fifty years ago.
As we said, this is pretty impressive for a small county-small in size but not in the heart of its people.