2017 marked the 150th annual North Carolina State Fair. But aside from its location at the NC State Fairgrounds, there isn’t much from the original fair in 1853 that fair-goers would recognize today.
Originally held to celebrate our state’s achievements in farming and to display the latest in agricultural equipment, the state fair has evolved significantly over the years (though antique farm equipment and traditional handmade crafts are still on display at the Antique Farm Machinery and Village of Yesteryear buildings, respectively).
Surprisingly, the first fair did not serve food. Today, food is central to any conversation about the fair, from deep-fried meats, cheeses and desserts on sticks, to more traditional items like roasted corn on the cob and funnel cakes. Be sure to stop by the Howling Cow stand to sample some of NC State University‘s ice cream, made from milk produced by the veterinary school’s own cows, and to get some North Carolina barbecue from one of the local vendors.
North Carolina products, livestock and crafts still remain a focal point of the fair. The Got to Be NC tent features samples and information about foods grown and made here, and several arts and crafts contests are held each year so that modern crocheters, jewelry makers, carvers and more can showcase their talents in hopes of recognition and a cash prize.
Stop by the Flower & Garden Show in the evening to view the prize winning roses, landscaping displays, and bonsai trees under twinkle lights. When you’re not sampling food or taking in the sights and sounds, hop on one of several Ferris wheels or swing rides to view the fair from a new angle.
Agricultural contests are held as well–the largest pumpkin in 2016 weighed over 1400 pounds! 2016 also marked the opening of The State Fair Flyer, a chair lift that conveys riders through the sky from one end of the fair to the other.
Alcohol sales began in 2017. The Our State Public House featured more than 40 breweries and 40 wineries, and featured exhibits on how these products are made.
Daily concerts at Dorton Arena routinely draw large audiences. Performances vary nightly over the 11-day fair, and often include country, rock and jazz music groups. Completed in 1952, Dorton Arena can accommodate about 5,000 people, and throughout the year is host to rodeos, trade shows, sports competitions, musical performances, horse shows and concerts.
The NC State Fair draws more than one million visitors per year. With the promise of new exhibits, food and rides, we’ll be visiting at least once!
The Fair Grounds are located on Hillsborough Street, in Raleigh.