The Greenbrier Valley Fair

In September 1938, LIFE Magazine wrote a cover story about the Greenbrier Valley Fair – which later grew to become the State Fair of West Virginia. The following are the pages of that article and select captions that show how different today’s fair (or at least our perception of it) really is!

IMG_0646 Life Goes to a County Fair: With 100,000 West Virginians to Look at the Bodies of Men, Women and Beasts

“The first Greenbrier Valley Fair was held just 80 years ago. The few hundred farmers who attended gaped at the wonderful Howe sewing machine and admired a stalwart yearling who grew up to become Traveller, the big gray horse who carried General Lee through the Civil War. Today, the Greenbrier Valley Fair is one of the best-known in the South. This year, from August 29 to September 3, 100,000 people paid admission to the fair grounds near Lewisburg, West Virginia. They watched the trotters race and went around looking at entries in contests for the best buckwheat, the best bread, the best begonias, the best “article made of sealing wax.”

“But their major preoccupation was bodies – human bodies, animal bodies, bodies that looked half-human, half-animal. The “girlie” shows, which were hot and smutty, drew smaller audiences than the freaks from crowds made up of farmers, breeders and hillbillies. Only a few city people were present although some urban sophisticates have discovered the county fair and are beginning to make rural America’s great harvest-time diversion a city-folk fad.”

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“For the kiddies and for adults who weren’t interested in gypsy dancers, the big attractions were the twin Ferris wheels and the monkey auto race. Those who paid a dime to the races watched for little electric autos on rails run around a track with monkeys at the wheels. The monkeys just sat, however, as a man on the sidelines ran the cars.”

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“The free show open to everyone who paid the 50 cent admission to the grounds, was billed as “an intricate and pleasing dance routine.” It was performed by the Polly Ann dancers who, after the show, were closely chaperoned and protected against the wiles of country slickers.”

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“The daily chores of carnival life were done between performances by the Polly Ann dancing girls. Students of a Reading, Pennsylvania dancing teacher, the Polly Ann girls are all young, get $20 a week, do precision dancing in the best big-movie-palace fashion.”

 

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Item of Week – August 2, 2013

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In 1903, this cornerstone was placed in the new building of the Lewisburg Female Institute by the entire graduating class, whose names appear on the stone. When the building burned in 1921, the stone was saved

A Place to Call Home: A History of GHS (Part 2)

The Greenbrier Historical Society began in 1963 with a group of forty determined people on a mission “to promote interest in history of the Greenbrier area.” This year, its 50th Anniversary, the Greenbrier Historical Society has nearly 700 devoted members. In honor of 50 years, the GHS is reminiscing on their youthful days and the transitional periods that faced this society.

In the 1970’s, as the news of a historical society began to spread throughout the Greenbrier Area, so did its popularity. The Greenbrier communities, having a new found eagerness to preserve history, began flooding to the historical society with stories and historical artifacts. Almost daily, GHS would receive valuable artifacts and precious documents pertaining to the Greenbrier Valley history. Excited as they were about these historical treasures, the society was soon overwhelmed, as space and resources were limited. Lacking a location of their own, GHS became concerned that it would hinder fulfillment of their mission to promote interest in history. Finding a house for the society was the top priority!

GHS Collections Displayed in Cases

      GHS Collections                         Displayed in Cases

GHS searched several buildings over a span of several years within the Greenbrier Area but none seemed to fit just right. The home had to offer an environment that was safe, fireproof, and of decent size. The years continued to stretch on and the movement from a cinder-block building on Austin Street to the former Greenbrier Public Library caused wear on the artifacts and documents.

In 1974, 10 years after the start of the society, a home was finally within reach. Governor Arch Moore of West Virginia expressed his sincerest interest in working with GHS to find a headquarters. The “North House,” located in Lewisburg, had a rich history. For a long time, it was owned by the Greenbrier Women’s College and used as the President’s Home. When the college closed in 1972, the state of West Virginia took ownership. Governor Moore felt strongly that this house must be protected and gave it to the Greenbrier County Commission. With an agreement of one dollar per year, the GHS leased the historic North House from the Greenbrier County Commission in 1975. At last, the Greenbrier Historical Society could settle into a building that answered their every need.

The North House

                      The North House

Excitement for the North House swept throughout the Greenbrier community, but restoration was in need before the museum could ever open its doors to welcome the public. Money was tight and grants to restoration were hard to come by. For a brief time, it seemed as if the dream of having a home for the society might not be realized.

In 1976, with the support of the Greenbrier Valley communities, the North House was able to be restored. The City of Lewisburg took the restoration on as its Bicentennial Project, and additional money came from other supporters throughout the region. On July 4, 1976, GHS opened the doors to the long awaited museum, inviting the Greenbrier Valley community in to see the new exhibits and displays. The GHS archives found a new home on the second floor of the house, and people traveled from all across the county to see and learn of the histories that lay in these hills. The North House remained opened, greeting patrons every day, until the 1990s, when the growing organization, need for additional space, and the acquisition of the property brought changes to the North House.

The North House Dining Room after Restoration

         The North House Dining Room                                            After Restoration

 

Greenbrier Artist Show – “Images of the North House”

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The Greenbrier Historical Society & North House Museum is pleased to host local artwork painted by the very talented Greenbrier Artists. The show, titled “Images of the North House,” is a collection of 28 paintings and sketches completed during their Plein Air Weekend, and will run from Friday June 22 to Monday July 8, 2013.

The Greenbrier Artists are a group of working artists who have been painting in Greenbrier County since 1974. With approximately 90 members, the Greenbrier Artists paint regularly at Carnegie Hall. Anyone is welcome to join.

Don’t forget to stop by the North House Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm to see this great show before it ends on July 8th!

GHS Hosts Trivia Night at the Irish Pub

Join the Greenbrier Historical Society on Tuesday April 23rd at 8:00pm for a fun night of trivia at the Irish Pub on Washington Street, located at 109 East Washington Street in Lewisburg. Whether you are a history buff or you think you know facts about West Virginia, come test your skills and enjoy an evening at the Irish Pub. Categories will include: the Greenbrier Valley, US Presidents, West Virginia facts, Famous West Virginians, and Random History trivia. Pub Quiz is held every Tuesday at the Irish Pub on Washington Street and hosted by various individuals and organizations.

For more information contact the Greenbrier Historical Society at 301.645.3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org. GHS is located at 301 W. Washington Street in Lewisburg and is open Monday-Saturday from 10am to 4pm or by appointment.

History of Chocolate Exhibit at the North House

Ever wondered who the first people to eat chocolate were or where the idea for the first chocolate Easter bunny came from? Do you know how many Hershey’s kisses are produced each day or how much chocolate the average American eats per year? Well you are in luck! The Greenbrier Historical Society will host its “History of Chocolate” exhibit on Saturday April 13th from 10am to 4pm as part of the 7th Annual Chocolate Festival in Lewisburg, West Virginia.  Stop by the North House throughout the day to learn a little about the history of chocolate and how it is made from Cacao trees. The North House is also an official tasting location with Chocolate-Chocolate Chip Banana Bread by the West Virginia Department of Agriculture and Hidden Springs Farm.

The earliest known consumers of chocolate were the ancient Maya of Central America who drank chocolate as a spicy beverage rather than eating it as a sweet candy. By 1200AD, the ancient Aztecs were also consuming chocolate, as well as using it for trade and as tributes to their gods. In 1521, Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes conquered the ancient Aztecs and brought chocolate back to Europe.

Aztec sculpture holding a Cacao Pod circa 1200-1500AD

Aztec sculpture holding a Cacao Pod circa 1200-1500AD

By the 17th century, chocolate was a popular drink throughout Europe with Chocolate Houses (similar to the coffee shops of today) becoming fashionable places to socialize. Innovations in technology soon allowed for chocolate to be more efficiently produced, and by the early 19th century chocolate could be found solid as well as liquid form. In 1847, the Fry Chocolate company in Bristol, England took credit for the first chocolate bar created for widespread consumption. In 1867, Henry Nestle, a maker of condensed milk, and his friend Daniel Peter created the first Milk Chocolate while experimenting with ways to make chocolate less bitter.

Although popular in Europe, chocolate did not come to the United States until 1765, when Irish chocolate-maker John Hanan imported Cacao beans from the West Indies. With the help of Dr. James Baker, he set up the first chocolate mill in Dorchester, Massachusetts and produced the famous Baker’s Chocolate.

Advertisement for Baker's Chocolate

Advertisement for Baker’s Chocolate

Visit the Greenbrier Historical Society’s display on Saturday April 13th from 10am to 4pm for more fun facts about the history of chocolate!

The Greenbrier Historical Society, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, West Virginia, is open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 4pm or by appointment. For more information, contact 304-645-3398 or info@greenbrierhistorical.org. Or like us on Facebook.