ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — For more than seven decades, the fair has been a mainstay of life in Baldwin County and fair organizers say, while there will be some obvious differences due to health concerns over the Coronavirus, the 70th Annual Baldwin County Fair, slated for Sept. 22-29, will proceed as planned.
Normally, the Baldwin County Cattle and Fair Association, the organizing body of the fair that has run continuously since 1950, publishes a Creative Arts Fair Handbook, which was slated to be included in the May 6 editions of Gulf Coast Media.
In late April, the decision was made to suspend the printing until it was clear that safety guidelines would be in place, said Melinda Hankins, one of the fair’s main organizers.
“Now that we know that there will be guidelines in place, we can proceed with publishing the Handbook and proceed with plans to host the fair,” she said.
Hankins said they have been in communication with Arnold Amusements, who handles the games and rides for the fair’s expansive midway.
“They said they are working to establish the guidelines as far as taking people’s temperatures before they enter, distancing on the rides and making sure all of the rides are cleaned and sanitized properly,” Hankins said. “They are confident that all of those guidelines will be in place this summer, so as far as they are concerned, they are ready to go and so are we.
“The safety and security of those coming to the fair is our No. 1 priority and we feel confident at this point that we will be able to do that.”
After beginning life in Silverhill in the late 1940s, the Baldwin County Cattle and Fair Association took over the fair and built its first coliseum on Palmer Street in Robertsdale, where they hosted their first county fair in 1950.
The Baldwin County Fair now stands as the longest running county fair in the state, now under the management of A.B. “Sonny” and Melinda Hankins.
Sonny Hankins, whose father was a founding member of the Baldwin County Cattle and Fair Association, has served on the board since 1958 and has served as fair manager since 2004.
“We’ve had some near misses before,” Sonny Hankins said.
In 2007, the decision was made to proceed with the fair at its new 50-acre facility while construction was being finished on the 38,000-square-foot Baldwin County Coliseum. Exhibits were moved outside under the 78,000-square-foot, 2,200-seat arena at the fairgrounds. The transition was completed with the opening of the coliseum in 2008.
In 2017, FEMA took over the coliseum facility in early September and used it to house those displaced after Hurricane Irma hit south Florida, moving out just days prior to the beginning of the fair on Sept. 19.
The fair draws thousands of residents from throughout Baldwin County and the surrounding area each year, and this year organizers hope for bigger and better crowds with a wide variety of activities.
Each year, the fair features more than 1,000 competitive exhibits, including antiques, art, crafts and hobbies, environmental art, scrapbooking, sewing, food preparation and preservation, horticulture and agronomy, photography and livestock exhibits, along with environmental exhibits, featuring schools and civic organizations.
The fair has also had a long-standing relationship with Arnold Amusement, featuring games and rides on the fair’s expansive midway.
In addition to numerous exhibits inside the coliseum, other annual exhibits include a Baldwin County museum exhibit, as well as livestock exhibits, a duck pond and baby chick exhibit, petting zoo, a circus and antique tractor shows outside, along with a youth sweet potato contest sponsored annually by the FCCLA.
Another huge draw for the fair is the annual rodeo, hosted by Robertsdale’s own Bo Campbell, founder and president of the Professional Cowboy Association.