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Appalachian Fair HISTORY

Mission:  To provide a top-quality, affordable entertainment and facilities, that promote agriculture and agriculture education through events held during the fair and throughout the year, while always exemplifying quality service to our customers.

Appalachian Fair


The Appalachian Fair Association, Inc. is a non-profit, agricultural, educational organization and sponsors the fair for the sole purpose of creating a greater interest in a better agricultural and richer rural life in the Appalachian Highlands region.

Our area schools and local extension offices contribute much to the success of the fair and all regional schools are urged to support the fair in every way possible.

The premium payout list is very attractive, and it is hoped that full entries will be made in all departments.  All citizens of the entire region are cordially invited to exhibit and attend the fair each year.


The target audience for the Appalachian Fair includes all age groups and demographics that live within a 150-mile radius of upper East Tennessee.  Including, but not limited to:  Upper East Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina.  The Appalachian Fair offers entertainment and competition opportunities for all ages.

In 2023 the Appalachian Fair saw over 200,000 in attendance over the 6-day event.  When combined with other events held throughout the year, the fairgrounds will host over 1,000,000 visitors each year.

Future of the Appalachian Fair

The Appalachian Fair was founded in 1926.  In September of 1937, the Appalachian Fair Association, Incorporated was established as a Tennessee Agricultural Nonprofit Corporation, being recognized as a 501c5.  In 2021, steps were taken to update our status to a 501c3.  The Board of Directors has continued to grow and improve the current and future status and offerings of the Appalachian Fair.  Our continued goal is to support and encourage the people and industry of the Appalachian Highland region.  Agriculture Education remains one of the main goals of our focus, as we continue to support and educate the public on the importance of agriculture to our community and our region.  As well as the impact that agriculture has on every individual.  Agriculture continues to be the number one industry in the state of Tennessee.

Fair History Facts

Fairs have been around for a long time.  The first fair in Washington County was established in 1858 and was called the Washington County Agricultural Society.

In 1926, the "granddaddy" of the present Appalachian Fair, was established in the Gray Community by several families of the area.

Known initially as the Gray Community Fair, the event's first few years were only half-day events.  The premium list for the first fair was $45, compared to the present 6-day Appalachian Fair's $150,000 plus premiums paid out each year.

The fair was moved to Johnson City for two years (1929 & 1930) where it was known as the Appalachian District Fair.  Premium money offered was $6,000 with $5,000 spent on free acts.  The midway consisted of eight rides and ten shows.  Admission was 50 cents for adults and 25 cents for children.  The fair was sponsored by Guy L. Smith, owner of the Johnson City Press Chronicle, who, unfortunately, fell victim to the great depression.

After the fair was discontinued in Johnson City, the Gray fair was re-established with a two-day event in 1931.  The fair continued through the 1930's but was inactive during World War II for two years.  Since that time, it has been in operation at Gray each year with the exception of 2020 when COVID forced closures throughout the country.

In 1936 a third day was added to the fair and it was incorporated as the Washington County Fair.  The first board of directors was elected.  During the 1940's the fair was expanded again to five days.

The former owner of the land where the fair is located, was Jimmy Gray, a civil war veteran.  Prior to the establishment of the fair, he owned 300 acres of land in the heart of what is now the fairgrounds.  Additional land was later purchased by the fair from the estate of the late R.N. Brown.

In the early 1950's, Washington County Court purchased 13 acres of land in Gray community at a price of $450, thus giving the fair its first permanent fairgrounds.  After clearing the land, building began.  The first structures were a dairy barn and a hog barn, followed by a small exhibit building with a stage.  In 1959, the County Court appropriated $1,500 for construction of restrooms.  Since then, the fair has continued to build steadily, adding buildings, and improving present facilities.

In 1960, the State Commissioner of Agriculture declared it to be a district fair, thus the establishment of the name Appalachian District Fair.

In the middle 60's the fair leased 55 acres of land from the City of Johnson City to be used for various purposes.  In 1967, an additional 14 acres were purchased.  In 1968, the fair became a six-day event.  Thus, by purchase or lease, the fair had access to approximately 90 acres for the year 1971.  In 1972, the fair purchased an additional 12 acres, thus giving the fair about 100 acres.

Growth has been spectacular.  In 1958, as a county fair, the event attracted 14,414 attendees.  That figure climbed to 42,000 in 1965 beginning a period of big growth.  The fair passed the 100,000 mark for the first time in 1969 with 101,500 in attendance.

That growth resulted in another step by the fair association.  In the fall of 1975, the board of directors voted to hire a full-time secretary-manager for the first time.  In 1976, the General Assembly elevated the Appalachian Fair to regional status.  The board then turned to Niles Gray, long-time president of the board, to fill the position.  After Gray's retirement, Richard Shadden was hired and held the position until his death in 2011.  Later that year, Phil Booher was hired to become the third secretary-manager in the fair's history.  Phil still holds this position today.

One of the largest factors in the success and development of the fair has been the construction of TN state route 181, later named I-26, between Kingsport and Johnson City.  Construction of this highway opened the Gray community up to easy access from the north, south, east, and west.

Building and expansion has continued down through the year.  The present facilities now boast more than 20 permanent buildings including two of the finest outdoor stages and seating facilities that accommodate more than 6,000 people.  One of our most unique building s is our 8,000 square foot Appalachian Heritage Museum which exhibits hundreds of antique items produced in the Appalachian Highland region. 

In 1988, the fair purchased an additional 30 acres of land from the City of Johnson City and developed six acres into an entertainment arena where various auto thrill shows add to the many facets of entertainment offered to the public.  In 1990, all the buildings were painted using a color scheme developed by the University of Tennessee while a new restroom and first-aid facility was built.

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