craggy face was still grim but more relaxed than it used to be when
its owner hung his Stetson on a peg at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Hoping
to mingle discreetly with the crowd at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds,
Lyndon Johnson might have pulled it off except for all those guys
in dark suits and sunglasses keeping ordinary folk at a respectable
Over the last 140 years the Gillespie County Fair has had more than
its share of exciting moments - none bigger that a visit from the
36th President of the United States, strolling through the midway
with his grandkids and secret service detail.
The Gillespie County Fair dates to 1881. John Braeutigam hosted the
first fairs at the site of old Fort
Martin Scott. Braeutigam bought the property after the army moved
out in 1866.
The Breautigam family lived in one of the buildings and converted
the officers' quarters into a dancehall called Braeutigam's Garten.
It was the first dancehall in Gillespie
Fort Martin Scott
was a natural place to hold a county fair. The old barracks became
the exhibit hall. The parade ground across the creek was the racetrack.
There were dances at Braeutigam's Garten.
Then in 1889 the Gillespie County Fair moved uptown to an area known
as Central Park. The park occupied the area between Travis and Schubert
Streets, in front of the Public School, where Turner Hall and the
Coach Tony Knopp Swimming Pool are today.
The county held two fairs at Central Park. Attractions included athletic
events, exhibits, a horse-powered merry go round and horse races on
a track several blocks away. Each day, just for fun, the ice factory
froze a large bouquet of flowers in an ice block.
In 1892 a group of citizens formed the Gillespie County Fair Association.
Later that year the Association bought 40 acres of land across the
creek (where HEB is today) from Peter Bonn. The asking price was $2,500.
The Fair Association constructed buildings to house exhibits and laid
out a 1 mile racetrack. Morris
Ranch built the stables and tack rooms. Gillespie
County held the first county fair at the new site in September
| The baseball
team waiting at the backstop to watch the horse races at the Gillespie
Clck on image to enlarge
Courtesy Gillespie County Historical Society
| The Fredericksburg
Giants often played baseball on fair weekend. The diamond was on the
infield of the racetrack. When a horse race started, the baseball
game would pause, and the players would gather at the backstop to
watch the finish. Once the race was over, play resumed.
While most fairs ran according to schedule, occasionally things went
off script. On September 13, 1916 the Fair Association arranged for
an airplane to fly in on fair day, but the plane crashed.
Another year so much rain fell on fair weekend, the cooks buried the
BBQ meat in the pits over which the meat was supposed to be roasted.
In the early 20th century Hermann
Lehmann, an Indian captive for 9 years, was a star attraction
at the Gillespie County Fair. He dressed in Indian clothing, danced
and told stories about his time in captivity.
In 1926 the Fair Association built a 2,000 seat grandstand overlooking
the racetrack. That same year two teams first played polo on the infield.
Over time the fair hosted elephant races and offered hot air balloon
rides. The Fair Association crowned the first fair queen in 1949.
When the railroad came to Fredericksburg
in 1913, the Fair Association sold a 200 ft. strip of land at the
back of the fairgrounds (along what is today Park Street) to the railroad
for tracks and a depot. Then in 1975, after building the new fairgrounds
on a 90 acre site along the Kerrville Highway, the Fair Association
sold off the remaining 21.79 acres of the old Bonn Property for $263,000.
Throughout its long history the Gillespie County Fair has been a destination
for race fans and a getaway for families. Even President Johnson couldn't
resist the fast horses, the Ferris wheel and the cotton candy.
Then again he always preferred the Hill
Country to Camp David.
"Gillespie County Fair Began Here In 1881," Fredericksburg Standard,
June 30, 1976.
"87th Gillespie County Fair Marks End Of Era," Fredericksburg Standard,
August 20, 1975.
"Capsule Account Of Long - Colorful History of Fair," Fredericksburg
Standard, August 25, 1976.