Gillespie County Fair & Festivals Association History

In 1881, the first Gillespie County Fair was held east of Fredericksburg on what had once been Fort Martin Scott. The site had been purchased by John W. Braeutigam, in 1870 after the Civil War, and became “Braeutigam’s Garten,” a dance hall. The abandoned fort parade grounds were dragged by logs for use as the first racetrack. Turner Hall, in the 100 block of West Adams between Schubert and Travis Streets, was the second location called Central Park. The race track was two blocks long on East Travis Street.

In 1892, the 400 block between South Adams and South Lincoln became the third site of the Gillespie County fair. The area is still referred to as “the old fairgrounds” and is the home of HEB Grocery store and the City’s Fair Park. In 1976, the Fairgrounds moved to its current location adjacent to the county airport on Highway 16 South.

Racing has always been a large part of the Fairgrounds’ entertainment. Horse races, especially, are a big attraction. Sulky, or trotting races, also have been held, as well as bicycle races. One year three elephants raced.

 

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Baseball games were held on the track in front of the grandstands and suspended during a race. The players would line the fences and watch. During the early years, Fredericksburg and Stonewall had polo teams.

The Golden Jubilee Fair was celebrated in 1935. The catalog produced for the occasion explained how the “Great Depression” had seriously affected the area, but the Fair had continued under some trying conditions. Two banks closed in 1932, but the economy was picking up by the 50th Anniversary Fair and several of the merchants advertised on red and blue sheets inserted in the center of the catalog.

Annual Fairs have been held since the founding of the Gillespie County Fair, with the exception of five years during World War I and World War II.

The 100th Anniversary was a spectacular centennial celebration. A parade that included all past Fair Queens and Duchesses began the festivities in the traditional manner

Today the Gillespie County Fair & Festivals Association (GCFFA) is a non-profit organization run by a 47 member volunteer board. The purpose of the Fair Association is to develop programs that encourage, instruct and promote the education of the youth of Gillespie County – with emphasis on the agricultural industry. In keeping with that purpose, the Fair Association has created one of the most dynamic scholarship programs in the area, granting scholarships to graduating county seniors on an annual basis. By 2014, over 577 students have received scholarships totaling approximately $313,000.

GCFFA is made up of 518 shareholders who own from one to seventy-five shares each. Thirty-eight voting directors and ten honorary directors govern the organization. The by-laws of the organization state that a shareholder may not receive payment for the services rendered as a Director. Each year, in addition to the shareholders and directors, over 300 individuals volunteer their time at the annual events and projects. The Directors and volunteers annually donate in excess of 30,000 volunteer hours to Fairground programs and projects.

Each year the Gillespie County Fairgrounds is the site for major tourist-attracting events. Additionally, there are numerous other events held at the Fairgrounds, which regularly attract thousands of visitors to our community. Fairgrounds facilities include: the indoor, 15,000 square foot Exhibition Hall, Livestock Barn, and the covered Peddler Pavilion as well as the Bier Garten, race track, grandstands and 200 horse stalls. The Race Barn opened in April 2003 and provides simulcast pari-mutuel horse and dog races with a restaurant and bar.

Not only is the Gillespie County Fairgrounds the host site for events that have become major tourist attractions such as the Peddler Show, Texas Presentations Antique Show, Gun & Knife Shows and the Antique Tractor Show, but the GCFFA also sponsors several events. Among these events are live Pari-mutuel Horse Races, the Gillespie County Fair, the Texas Hill Country’s largest parade, and the Fredericksburg PBR.  The Hill Country Antique Tractor and Engine Club counts the Gillespie County Fairgrounds as their home. The HCAT&EC constructs antique machinery displays and holds their annual event at the Fairgrounds.