Georgia Mountain Fair
The Georgia Mountain Fair is held every summer in Hiawassee, the seat of Towns County. Attendance has grown from 2,000 in its 1950 inaugural event to 100,000 in recent years.
The fair features craft booths, food stands, daily music concerts, demonstrations of mountain life, and various midway rides and attractions. Besides the usual fare, visitors can buy fried apple pies, fresh-squeezed cider, smoked trout, beef jerky, and home-cooked vegetable plates. Cloggers, Nashville musicians, and string bands perform in the music hall, named for Robert Anderson, former president of the fair. A Pioneer Village features a one-room schoolhouse, moved to the grounds, a smokehouse, a gristmill that grinds out fresh cornmeal daily, a working blacksmith shop, and a country store with button shoes and a cracker barrel. Local folks show how to split rails, how to make oak shingles and baskets, and how to cook up a cauldron of hominy or a batch of lye soap. For a number of years the fair also featured a working moonshine still. Displays of canned goods, handmade quilts, and needlecraft, as well as a large exhibition of farm and logging implements and tools, are featured in the fair museum.
The fair was founded as a joint project of the local Lions Club and Towns County officials. Herbert "Tall" Tabor, president of the civic group, and E. N. Nicholson, county extension agent, established the first fair as a weekend event attended by local residents. By the mid-1950s the fair became a weeklong celebration with an opening parade, beauty queen contest, and plenty of country, bluegrass, and gospel music. For the first twenty-seven years the fair took place at the Towns County High School, both inside the building and on the nearby grounds. While classrooms became display areas for crafts and exhibitions, the grounds featured livestock and mountain-life events. Two crowd-pleasers in the early days were an indoor trout stream and a hog-shooting contest. Towns County homemakers took over the cafeteria to prepare meals for hungry fairgoers. A big tent sheltered the pickers with their banjos, fiddles, guitars, and mandolins.
As the number of attendees increased each year, so did the fair's impact on the north Georgia mountains. By 1956 there were 40,000 visitors; by 1965, more than 60,000. In 1969 Conway Twitty performed in the first professional music show at the fair, and the Oak Ridge Boys joined other groups in a gospel sing. Although some permanent exhibitions were already built on the fairgrounds near the high school, in the 1970s officials negotiated with the Tennessee Valley Authority to purchase a larger site on the shores of nearby Lake Chatuge. The fair was first held at its new, permanent location in 1978.
In recent years two other events have taken place at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds: a Rhododendron Festival in May and a Fall Festival in October. The Anderson Music Hall also offers weekend concerts in late spring, summer, and early fall. The summer fair draws the biggest crowds, yet it retains much of its original character.