Sunday, 16 September 2007

The 119th Annual Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair

This weekend (well, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday actually) was the 119th Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair. It is a time honoured tradition that has taken place the second week of September for decades, come rain or shine. It has also changed a good deal over the years.

Fairs date back centuries ago, so long ago that I doubt anyone can say precisely when they began. Rome had its holidays when all labour ceased. In the Middle Ages at various religious festivals tradesmen would bring their wares out for sale. Naturally, when the British, French, and Spanish settled the Americas, they brought their own fairs with them. And, eventually, as in the case of the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair, we created a few of our own.

The Old Settlers Reunion was created to honour the earliest settlers of Randolph and Macon Counties, even though it is now an event peculiar to Randolph County alone. In fact, the first reunion was held in Macon itself. In those the days the fair was rotated from town to town. Several of the early reunions were held in Jacksonville (in Randolph County), I suppose because it is the town in Randolph closest to Macon County. It was first held in its current home, the Randolph County Seat of Huntsville, in 1896. It remained in Huntsville until 1901 (I think it was held in Moberly that year, although I am not absolutely certain of that). In 1902 the reunion returned to Huntsville, where it has remained all these years.

I have no idea when Macon County dropped out of the reunion, although I assume it was fairly early. I believe it was in the Thirties that Randolph County held its first fair in the summer. After only a few years, that fair would merge with the Old Settlers Reunion, so that it would become "the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair," as it is known today.

One thing I do know is that it is not nearly as big an event as it once was. Quite simply, it was the social event of Randolph County of the year. I remember when I was a child, there would be many booths with games (generally operated by the various local organisations, such as the Boy Scouts and so on), vendors' booths, and usually a carnival would come to town as well. We have not had a carnival at Old Settlers in years and there are hardly any more booths with games any longer. Only the vendors' booths remain, and it seems to me they are far fewer than they once were. It also seems to me that the events are fewer in number as well, although I cannot be certain of that. Maybe it seems that way to me now because I miss so much of the fair because of work. I do know that my parents told me and people their age still tell me that the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair was even bigger when they were young than when I was a child!

It is hard to say why the Randolph County Reunion and Fall Fair is smaller now. I think much of it has to do with the school schedule. Until I was in about fifth grade, they would let school at 1:00 PM on the Thursday and Friday of Old Settlers. This gave children a chance to participate in the various events at the fair. I suspect that they stopped letting school out early because of Missouri laws regarding how long schools should be open. Personally, I think that instead they should have simply given up Columbus Day or Labour Day or some other national holiday, one that is ultimately less important to Randolph County than Old Settlers.

Of course, I think something else that may have made Old Settlers smaller is the possibility that many Randolph Countians may be convinced that it is primarily a Huntsville event. For that reason many people from the various towns in Randolph County, beyond Huntsville, don't even bother to attend Old Settlers. Indeed, the past few years Cairo has been holding their Pioneer Days the same weekend! The fact is that the Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair is a county wide event for everyone living here. It is open to all Randolph County residents. I am a bit puzzled, then, why Cairo is now scheduling Pioneer Days during the second weekend of September, in direct competition with Old Settlers. Old Settlers has always been the second week of September, with but a few exceptions. And I believe that originally Pioneer Days was held the third week of September. Since the second weekend of September is the traditional date of the Randolph, since Pioneer Days was originally held the third week of September, and since many Huntsvillians would like to attend Pioneer Days (I know I would) and many Cairo people would probably like to attend Old Settlers, I think Cairo should move Pioneers Days back to the third week of September.

At any rate, I would like to see the Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair returned to its former glory. Every single school in Randolph County should let out early during the fair. Every single town in the county should take part. We should have more booths and more events. And we should try to make sure there is a carnival every single year. The Randolph County Old Settlers Reunion and Fall Fair is a very old tradition in this county and a very important one. It is certainly much too important to let it die on the vine.

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