The Georgia-Carolina State Fair opened its gates Friday for the 91st time.
It’s never missed a year, not even during World War II, when many other events took a hiatus.
“It’s the longest running, continuous, annual event in the area,” said fair manager Joe Taylor Jr.
It is also a money-maker for area charitable organizations. The Augusta Exchange Club, which operates the fair, donated between $140,000 and $170,000 to 31 organizations last year, all of which serve youth in one way or another.
The Augusta Exchange Club was chartered in 1923. That year, the Savannah Valley Association of Agricultural Clubs decided it could not continue to hold the annual agricultural fair.
The Exchange Club decided to take it over, and since then it has been the club’s biggest annual project.
“Mr. Bill Lester, the founding father, the year they started the fair, said then – and we still say today – it’s all about the kids,” Taylor said.
Children who are members of the 4-H Club raise the livestock that are on exhibit. It gives them a chance to win prize money to use for their education, he said.
The art and photography exhibits have adult divisions, but are mostly youth, and participants in the Miss Fair pageant are 21 and younger.
Taylor said there is a difference between a carnival and a fair, but the Georgia Carolina State Fair is both.
A traditional fair is agricultural, and that is the part that the Augusta Exchange Club operates.
He said many people who live in the city don’t have many opportunities to get close to cows, goats and other livestock that are on display at the fair.
“I think it’s a niche we are preserving,” he said. “We’re preserving an agricultural fair for the public to experience.”
A carnival is made up of the rides, games and concessions, and the Exchange Club contracts that part to James E. Strates Shows.
The Exchange Club makes money from admission prices. Because it owns the fairgrounds, it also makes money by renting the grounds to Strates Shows for the carnival.
The money Strates brings in from concessions and ticket sales are split between Strates and the Exchange Club.
“They make money, and we make money and give it away,” Taylor said.
Ninety percent of the workers that are not employed by Strates are Exchange Club members volunteering their time. They include ticket sellers, parking attendants and those helping with the livestock show.
Members are the only volunteers. The fair also employs more than 100 paid workers, including about 40 sheriff’s deputies and fire marshals. Strates also hires local workers to help with the carnival.
“Not only are we a community event, we are an economic event,” Taylor said. “We’re taking in money and giving it to charities, but we’re also paying a lot of people, which then benefits the economy.”