At the first N.C. State Fair in 1853, there were exhibits on farm implements and manure, machinery demonstrations, a hall featuring women’s handiwork and, the big draw, a 1/2-mile racetrack for horses.
Something they did not have was food.
It wasn’t until the fair’s organizers with the N.C. State Agricultural Society noticed Raleigh residents selling sandwiches and other fare to people on their way to the fairgrounds that they decided to begin selling food at the fair the next year, says Paul Blankinship, who organizes the fair’s history exhibit every year and has co-authored a book on the subject.
Food has gone from an afterthought to arguably the main attraction at the State Fair, which will open for the 150th time on Thursday. If you’re doing the math, yes, there were several years without a fair; the Civil War, two world wars and the insolvency of the agricultural society in the 1920s forced several cancellations.
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Instead of a gathering for farmers, the fair has become a celebration of North Carolina agriculture. And this year, for the first time, that will include North Carolina beer and wine on the fairgrounds, in a new log building called the Our State Public House. It is in the Heritage Circle area.
A $10 ticket will entitle you to four 1½-ounce pours of wine or four-ounce samples of beer from among 80 of the state’s wineries and breweries. Tickets will be sold from noon to 8:30 p.m., and there is a limit of one per person. IDs will be checked at the door, and no one under 21 will be admitted.
Here’s what else you can expect at this year’s fair:
Park and ride: There’s a new park-and-ride lot for fairgoers, built in a former cow pasture at the corner of Edwards Mill and Reedy Creek roads, north of Wade Avenue. Free shuttle buses will carry people between the lot and Gate 8 of the fairgrounds every 10 minutes from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m. Thursday and from 8 a.m. until one hour after the gates close every other day.
Busy night: There’s also lots of free parking around Carter-Finley Stadium and the PNC Arena. But on Thursday, arena parking will be used by people coming to see the Bruno Mars concert at 8 p.m. Combine the concert and the fair with the usual rush-hour traffic, and Wade Avenue might be a place to avoid if you can that evening. The Carolina Hurricanes and N.C. State Wolfpack have no home games during the fair.
Or leave the car at home: GoRaleigh, GoDurham and GoTriangle offer bus service, and Amtrak makes a special stop during the fair. For schedules and stop locations, go to www.ncstatefair.org/2017/Visitor/GetToFair.htm.
Opening day specials: To celebrate the opening of the 150th fair, admission tickets on Thursday will be only $1.50, and several food vendors will have $1.50 specials as well. The first 15,000 people through the gates will receive a commemorative button, and 150 ride passes and other prizes will be given out each hour to people wearing the buttons.
Rides: Among the 100 rides on the midway are five new ones, including a tea cup ride and Air Raid, a 118-foot tower ride that spins and tips its seats simultaneously.
Ride safety: New this year are X-ray examinations of the sealed tubular-steel components of each ride on the midway, in response to an accident at the Ohio State Fair this summer that killed a rider after the failure of a support beam that had corroded on the inside. The ride, The Fire Ball, will not appear at any fair in North Carolina “for the foreseeable future,” according to the state Labor Department, which inspects all the rides before the fair opens.
See something, say something: There will be 225 to 250 uniformed law enforcement officers on and around the fairgrounds on weekdays, more on the weekends, says Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison. There will also be metal detectors at the gates and cameras around the fairgrounds to help spot trouble, Harrison said, though he urges anyone who sees something that doesn’t look right to go the closest officer or dial 911. Oh, and leave your drone at home. Drones are not allowed to fly over the fairgrounds.
Hunger relief: Saturdays draw the biggest crowds at the fair, but the next busiest day is the second Thursday, which is Food Lion Hunger Relief Day. Admission is free with five cans of Food Lion brand food, and all donations go to the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina. Since 1993, the fair’s food drive has yielded more than 4.4 million pounds of food.
Tickets: Tickets at the gate are $10 for adults, $6 for military with ID and $5 for children 6-12. Children under 6 and adults 65 and older are free. On Friday, Oct. 13, students with school ID card or report card can get in for $5. Ride tickets are $1 each, or a $35 wristband gives you unlimited rides all day. There are discounts for fair tickets and wristbands purchased online before 11:59 p.m. Oct. 12 at www.ncstatefair.org/2017/Visitor/Tickets.htm.
Hours: The fair opens at 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 12, and remains open until midnight. From Oct. 13 through Oct. 22, gates are open 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., except Fridays and Saturdays when the fair closes at midnight. Exhibit halls open at 9 a.m. and close at 9:45 p.m. when the fireworks begin. The midway is open 10 a.m. to when the fair closes.