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The South Florida Fair through the years

By Michelle Quigley

The South Florida Fair has been at its present location since 1958, but did you know that the first Palm Beach County Fair was under a tent on the grounds of the courthouse in 1912?

We took a look back at the history of the South Florida Fair in a 2002 Post Time column:

The “Palm Beach County Fair” started in March 1912, a four-day event under a single tent on the grounds of the Palm Beach County Courthouse. The county, split from Dade only three years earlier, wanted a forum to show off its winter crops, livestock and booming real estate.

The town’s godfather, Henry Flagler, sweetened the pot by offering cash prizes for farmers and others who displayed their wares. The fair moved the following year to a site just to the north, near the railroad depot.

The Depression hit hard and the fair was reduced to a carnival midway from 1930 until 1937, then is believed to have shut down all together.

A plan to revive it for early 1942 was quashed by the Pearl Harbor attack.

It finally reopened in 1946 at the National Guard Armory, then moved in early 1948 to Morrison Field, later Palm Beach International Airport, but was evicted again when the airport reactivated for the Korean conflict.

The fair incorporated in 1953, and from then to 1955, it set up in the parking lot of the Palm Beach Speedway, a 5,000-seat facility with a half-mile, high-banked track, near the site of the fair’s present location along Southern Boulevard and west of Florida’s Turnpike.

In 1956, the county deeded 18 acres at the present site of Palm Beach Community College’s main campus in Lake Worth, and after the fair was held there that year, the county took it back for the school and instead deeded 100 acres next to the speedway.

The 1957 fair was at John Prince Park. Later that year, the fair’s corporation bought the speedway property, about 35 acres. The fair opened on its new grounds Jan. 27, 1958, and was promptly attacked by a small tornado that blew down six tents but hurt no one. For its January 1960 event, it was renamed the South Florida Fair.

It later added 10 exhibit halls, the 40,000 square-foot Expo Hall, an adjacent 70,000 square-foot hall, Yesteryear Village, a paved midway and concourse areas. The Coral Sky – later Mars – Amphitheatre, capacity 20,000, opened in 1995. The fair’s budget has gone from about $50,000 in 1957 to about
$8 million now.

Take a stroll down memory lane with these Palm Beach Post file photos of the fair through the years, and click here for a slide show of more fair scenes from the past few decades.

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County Agent Marvin U. Mounts at the fair. Mounts was the agricultural agent for Palm Beach County from 1929 until the 1960s and Mounts Botanical Garden is named for him. He died in 1969.
miss-south-florida-fair-1974
Miss South Florida Fair Joanna Aiken (right) competed in the state Strawberry Festival with pageant winners from other counties in 1974.

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A youngster and his brahma in the livestock contest

1976-dungeon
The Dungeon of Horror in 1976

We invite you to share your memories of the fair in the comments below, and upload your pictures to our photo gallery. (See photos that other readers have shared here.)

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Posted in Flashback blog January 14, 2010 at 12:52 pm.

4 comments

4 Replies

  1. FLAMINGO PARK QUEEN Jan 17th 2010

    I have wonderful memories of the Fair as a child. My Grandmother took me every year and, I can remember the traffic would back up on little two laned Southern Blvd. The wait added to the anticipation.
    I loved the rides but, I also remember the agricultural and animal exhibits. No matter what Yankees may have thought of West Palm at the time, we did not have cows in Flamingo Park. I am glad the fair is still popular and available for the “child” in people of all ages…

  2. Richard Jan 17th 2010

    When I was attending PBJC, west of LW, in 1962 and 1963 there was a Fair to the south of the Campus off Congress Ave. I`m sure in 1963 that was the South Floida Fair for some reason it was moved there for one year.

  3. Myria (granddaughter) Nov 13th 2011

    Can anyone give me information on my grandfather? His name is Jim Norwood, He was racing the night of his death on January 27, 1963 at the South Florida Fairgrounds Speedway in West Palm Beach, FL. Thank you!

  4. Palm Beach Post Staff Researchers Nov 14th 2011

    Myria,

    There was a story about your grandfather’s death on the front page of The Palm Beach Post on Jan. 28, 1963. You can see it in the Google News Archive at this link:
    http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=OPUiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=P80FAAAAIBAJ&pg=1756%2C5119974

    Michelle Quigley
    News Researcher
    The Palm Beach Post | HistoricPalmBeach.com


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