After a brief three-week period of predominantly dry and sunny weather, we have entered into another period of sullen, fog-laden, rainy days. For most residents of our area, that weather is the traditional harbinger of the Tri-County Fair in Petersburg. It’s hard to find a person here who doesn’t say, “it always rains during the fair.” That is certainly true during our own experience here. Nevertheless, dull and gloomy weather never dampens the spirit of those who attend and enjoy the fair.
It would be an understatement to say that the annual Tri-County fair is one of the biggest social events of the year in Petersburg. Even so, it amazes us to realize the number of festive events that Petersburg (a city of 2,500 people) manages to conduct each year. The city has three major parades for the Fourth of July, the Tri-County Fair, and Christmas. In addition, Petersburg manages to have two public Christmas lighting displays, a Community Chorus, numerous stage performances at the Landes Theater, a Spring Mountain Festival, the summer-time Grant County Farmers Market, and an impressive July Fourth festival and fireworks display. This list doesn’t include a wide array of church socials and smaller celebrations sprinkled throughout the year. Barb and I have lived in many rural areas throughout our 27 years of marriage, and we can comfortably assert that we have not seen another community its size that can match Petersburg’s ability to celebrate its community spirit. However, its small-town neighbors in Moorefield and Franklin certainly give it a run for the money. I guess you would say it’s just a way of life here in the Potomac Highlands of West Virginia.
Since the Tri-County Fair encompasses all three adjoining counties (Grant, Hardy and Pendleton), it’s only fitting that it would be one of the major events of the year. Counties that jealously divide their high school football loyalties during the fall manage to put those differences aside to celebrate their shared rural heritage at the fair. It is not uncommon to meet many friends and acquaintances from all three counties during a leisurely stroll through the fairgrounds. One of our friends, who was manning the WELD radio booth, even wondered why he didn’t see us at the fair on Tuesday evening. For Barb and I, this year’s fair was an even bigger event. For the first time since we were married, we were active participants in the fair. We entered a total of eleven different exhibits to highlight our Peeper Pond Farm products, including vegetables from our garden, canned goods, baked goods, and Barb’s quilt products. Although Barb was raised in a city and never participated in a fair, it was the first time I entered any exhibits in more than 30 years. Having joined the Petersburg Lion’s Club earlier this year, Barb and I also volunteered to work three shifts at the Lion’s Club food booth on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Finally, I also served as a Pendleton County judge for the fair parade floats and bands. It has been a rewarding and fun experience for both of us.
Our Peeper Pond Farm exhibits were surprisingly well received. Of the eleven exhibits we submitted, six won ribbons. Our Early Brite Tomatoes were awarded a Sweepstakes Ribbon. We felt that the tomatoes we raise in our vegetable garden were of good quality, and they are always our most popular item at the Grant County Farmers Market, but the high praise we received from the judges really took us by surprise. Since we are not native to the area, have no other family who live here, and are not broadly known (which is why we decided to enter so many exhibits—to increase public awareness of our farm and products), we certainly can’t be considered inside favorites.
Other vegetable exhibits we entered that won ribbons include carrots and canned red cabbage (which won first place blue ribbons) and our banana peepers, which received a white ribbon (third place). The other food exhibits we entered, green peppers, green beans, banana bread, sourdough bread, and canned tomato sauce, were not awarded any ribbons.
However, both of Barb’s quilt entries were awarded ribbons. Her Hot Toddy table runner received a first-place blue ribbon and her Carpenter’s Wheel lap quilt received a second-place red ribbon. We have displayed both of these quilt products at our Grant County Farmers Market booth. One of our Farmers Market patrons so appreciated her Carpenter’s Wheel lap quilt, that he ordered from her a personalized variation of it as a Christmas gift.
The fair parade is the biggest civic event of the Tri-County Fair. As a Pendleton County judge for the parade, I had an opportunity to view it from a good vantage point. From our reviewing stand on the portico of the First Baptist Church, we watched the parade pass by for an hour and a half! It would have been even longer, but the drenching storm that spanned the final hour before the parade caused three high school marching bands and several floats to drop out. Only the Petersburg High School Marching Band braved the elements and led the parade, making them the obvious choice for an award, if for no other reason than their conviction and spirit. Although several participants withdrew before the parade began, resulting in numerous unofficial rumors that the parade was being canceled, we enjoyed viewing a number of commercial and civic floats, antique cars and tractors, fire trucks, and walking entourages representing many local groups and fair sponsors. The judge’s award was given to the Sons of Confederate Veterans for their beautifully and meticulously appointed McNeill’s Rangers float, complete with a cannon, period costumes and muskets.
Fortunately, the rain abated just as the fair procession began, allowing the children lining the streets to turn their umbrellas upside down to serve as candy catchers for the parade participants to toss their wrapped treats into. One ecstatic, festively dressed 4-5-year-old girl was so proud of the plastic grocery store bag of candy she collected that she had to plunk it down on our judges table to show us how much candy she got. I smiled and told her that it might just last her until Halloween and, after catching her breath, she replied with a smile, “I sure hope so.” It’s just too bad there wasn’t a judge’s award for the cutest kid. She would have walked away with that, too.
I hope all of us who attend the Tri-County fair can feel as pleased and happy as that young girl did. If so, I’ll simply hope that the good feeling we take away from it will last until next year, when we can all join together and celebrate the proud spirit and heritage of our rural community again. If you should be reading this post today, you still have a chance to be a part of it all. The Tri-County Fair will continue through this Saturday night, August 4.