– Article Contributor Lori Donathan
The Powhatan County Fair recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. The fair has withstood 2 world wars, segregation, the depression, the KKK, and the dropping of the atomic bomb. Throughout it all the Powhatan County Fair celebrated the good; the coming together of diverse individuals, charity and the importance of community.
Powhatan County sits in the middle of the Virginia heartland and is two hours east of the Atlantic Ocean and two hours west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is steeped in history. Powhatan is named after the chief of the Tsenacommach tribe and the father of Pocahontas.
Situated just 20 miles from Richmond, Powhatan was immersed in the Civil War. Although the south was heavy with reconstruction after the war, people still found time for family fun. Fairs were being held in counties and states all over the country, all be it separate from each other, citizens still enjoyed the break from the trials of everyday life.
Fifty-two years after the war, in 1919, a man by the name of William Walton deeded 13.3 acres of land to local African Americans for their fair and other community gatherings. It is said to be the only land in the state of Virginia to be deeded in such a way. Runda Harris, a Member of the Powhatan Fair Association, explains, “They had a school there, a church, held sports events and entertainment events such as concerts and dances.”
Under Jim Crow Law, Powhatan, and its fair were segregated until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was at this time that the once segregated farming community came together, at the Powhatan County Fair.
“When Jim Crowe ended it became illegal to have segregated events. So, the white only fair ended and was integrated into the African American one. It was just a natural evolution,” states Harris.
A Board of Trustees, known as the Powhatan County Fair Association (CPFA) governs the fairgrounds. The PCFA is a 501 (c) non-profit organizations, which gives back to the community. After their basic expenses, the money raised is given to programs such as the Central Virginia Food Bank, Powhatan Free Clinic and Habitat for Humanity, just to name a few.
In its 100 years, the Powhatan County Fairgrounds has seen many changes, such as a suspicious fire back in the 1960’s that destroyed a three-story building. (A prefabricated aluminum building now sits in its’ place.) The Association is excited about the centennial celebration. “Despite all the negative things you see in the world there are still people who want to come together and work together,” says Harris.” So many developers come and they see the potential to make money, we focus on the community. Even though it started separate, we are all working together.”