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West Virginia Fairs and Festivals

Each year, more and more folks are seeing West Virginia’s New River Gorge National River Park as a vacation destination. It’s close…within a day’s drive of two-thirds of the U.S. population. It’s easy to get to, now that US 19 is a 4-lane divided highway along virtually its entire length. Best of all, though, there’s so much to do here that it’s easy to fill an entire vacation with quality entertainment at a very low price.
If you’re planning to visit southern West Virginia for its famous whitewater rafting or rock climbing, plan to stay a while…there’s a lot more to see and do. If you’re going to extend your visit, you might want to plan to attend one of the many fairs and festivals that go on during the Spring, Summer and Fall. Here are just a few:


West Virginia State Fair
This 9-day event is held each year in the middle of August…and it’s one of the biggest and best state fairs in the country. The State Fair’s routes go all the way back to 1854, when West Virginia was still part of Virginia. The Greenbrier County Agricultural Society began putting on an annual agricultural and livestock exposition in the town of Lewisburg. Farms throughout what was then Western Virginia displayed their best livestock, produce, crafts and household items and the event soon became big enough to be called "a fair of proportions."


Robert E.Lee and Traveller

In 1858, a spirited iron-gray gelding colt won the fair’s blue ribbon. Three years later, the horse was purchased by a then relatively unknown Confederate officer, who named the horse "Traveller." The horse served his master, Gen. Robert E. Lee, throughout the Civil War and actually outlived the general. Both general and horse are buried on the grounds of Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia.
After a hiatus caused by the war, the State Fair of the newly created state of West Virginia resumed, in its original location of Lewisburg, in 1869. That was the year that the famous Ludington steer was entered and took first prize. This was the larges steer that ever lived, weighing 4,450 pounds! In the quaint country language of the times, it was said that "a half-bushel of corn could be poured on its back and not a grain would roll off."

From 1883 to 1889, exposition moved to nearby Alderson, WV and was called the Greenbrier Valley Industrial Exposition. Displays and demonstrations of new farming technology was added to the traditional agricultural exhibits. People began coming from far and wide to see the latest in farming equipment and housewares.
The fair came home to Lewisburg in 1891 and, today, occupies a 175-acre site on US 219 between Lewisburg and Ronceverte.



In addition to the traditional agricultural displays, the fair now features food booths, horse races and carnival rides. Some 100 acres of parking are needed to handle the crowds…estimated to exceed a quarter-million people each year. The Washington Post gave the WV State Fair a 5-star rating for being one of the best agricultural exhibits east of the Mississippi.



Bridge Day
On the third Saturday of every October, they shut down the northbound lanes of the New River Gorge Bridge and celebrate the bridge’s opening in 1978. The highpoint of the event is the parachute jumping. Daring sky divers leap from the middle of the span and fall 876 feet to land at the Fayette Station river take-out below.

Several hundred jumpers attend each year and literally thousands of visitors stroll the bridge and watch them. Local businesses set up booths all along the bridge and there’s lots to see and do once you’re there.
If you’d like to see the festivities from a unique perspective, AAA Adventure Outdoors offers Bridge Day raft trips that end right under the bridge…and the jumpers.


The Vandalia Gathering
This is a three-day event held each May on the grounds of the Cultural Center and the State Capitol in Charleston. The Vandalia Gathering keeps alive traditional forms of entertainment that are in danger of dying out. Not that long ago, there was no TV, radio, movies and (unbelievably) no internet! Hard working country folk traditionally gathered at their local churches for the small amount of recreation that the tough mountaineers could manage. In many small mountain towns, the church was the only place where folks could gather and socialize on a regular basis. The Vandalia Gathering attempts to replicate these great old traditions.

Two forms of traditional entertainment are staples of the Gathering…as they were staples of community life years ago: storytelling and dancing. On Sunday, it’s the Liars Contest where the tallest tales are told and, occasionally, believed. There are nightly concerts featuring local masters of traditional mountain music…fiddle, banjo, guitar and dulcimer. Two bands take turns making music on the Open Dance Stage and everyone is welcome to join in.
The Gathering also features traditional mountain crafts, especially quilt-making. The best of the handmade quilts are then displayed all summer long on the polished marble walls of the Cultural Center’s Great Hall. While you’re there, stop by and visit the West Virginia State Museum on the Capitol grounds.
The Vandalia Gathering is held in late May at the State Capitol in Charleston. It’s easy to get to, just take Exit 99 (Greenbrier St.) of I-64/77 in downtown Charleston. For more info, check out their website, www.wvculture.com, or call 304-558-0220.




West Virginia Water Festival
The picturesque and historic town of Hinton, in Summers County, WV, hosts the annual Water Festival, a 9-day event beginning in the first week of August. The festival celebrates the opening of nearby Bluestone Dam and the dam’s impact on flood control and recreation.




Although originally conceived as a New Deal hydroelectric project in 1935, Bluestone Dam was not completed until 1949. A million cubic yards of concrete built a dam 165 feet high and 2,048 feet long across a gap in the 2,000-foot high New River Gorge. The dam created a long, narrow lake (Bluestone Lake) along the New River at the confluence of the Bluestone River. The lake extends just over 10 miles up from the dam and covers 2,040 acres at its summertime level.
Since its opening in 1949, the dam has saved an estimated $1.6 billion in flood damage. Construction is now underway to add hydroelectric power production. Guided tours for visitors can be arranged.
The dam has made possible camping, boating, fishing, swimming and biking in the Bluestone State Park and the Bluestone Wildlife Management Area and Marina.




Taste of Our Town
On the second Saturday of every October, the town of Lewisburg hosts a 1-day event that they call TOOT…Taste of Our Town. It’s a food fair and it benefits the town’s Carnegie Hall (the other one). Lewisburg’s main street (Washington St.) is blocked off and local vendors line the entire street with food booths…usually numbering about 70 booths in all. No crafts, no souvenirs…just food. In between tastings, you can wander up the side streets and check out the musical groups and other entertainers.


Lewisburg is a neat little "artsy-crafty" kind of town, noted for its many antique shops…and its unique restaurants. They’re all represented in the TOOT festival and the food is out of this world.