States that have strong agricultural economies are losing their state fairs with the latest example being the Virginia State Fair. The fair grounds is being auctioned off this month because the nonprofit that ran the fair went bankrupt, and creditors rejected a reorganization plan.

Virginia has had a state fair for 157 years. It was moved from Richmond, Va., a few years ago when the Richmond Raceway, NASCAR track, was able to move the fair off the grounds in order to have all the acreage it wanted for fans on national race days. The fair was then moved to the rural farm south of Fredricksburg.

As a six-year resident of Richmond and an Iowa farm boy by birth, seeing the agricultural exhibits at the Virginia State Fair was highly enjoyable. I attended the Virginia fair each of those six years when it was next to the raceway. I remember it being the first time that I saw a huge number of mules competing in equestrian competition with many of them being ridden by competitors in full English riding garb. As an avid state fair fan, especially of all the agricultural exhibits, it is sad news that states are going without state fairs because there supposedly aren’t enough people interested in agriculture.  

What is making as much news as the fair grounds being sold is that the 331-acre grounds are part of the birthplace of the horse Secretariat. The auction company has provided this history to interested buyers. “The 1973 Triple Crown winner that won the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths was born and trained at Meadow Farms in Virginia. This is the place where Penny Chenery took over management of her ill father's failing horse empire and engineered the Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler mating to produce the most famous horse of the 20th Century. The same farm that Disney brought to the movie screen in 2010.”

The company further notes that it was 2003 when the farm was purchased by the Virginia State Fair. “However, the economics never worked out and the property has foreclosed.  Meadow Farm and the Virginia State Fair are going to auction.” Two closing dates for bids have been publicized—May 22 or May 24.

The Washington Post in a recent article mentioned that Virginia is not the only state to recently be left without a state fair. State fairs in Nevada and Michigan also closed within the past two years.

“State fairs have an important role beyond their cultural impact, said Jim Tucker, head of the International Association of Fairs and Expositions; over the past 200 years or so they have steadily improved agriculture in the United States by promoting developments and superior genes,” the Post article added.

There is some hope that the buyer of the Meadow Farms will work out a deal with someone or some organization to continue holding the state fair at the site, although the odds seem against it. For the state fair to be held on the farm site, additional structures and improvements were added to the property. The auction company explains, “Included in the auction are four residences including the restored 12,850 square-foot manor house. In addition there is a 76,130 square-foot exhibition hall, a campground with RV hookups and the Meadow Pavilion at 9,735 square feet. The equestrian facility is comprised of a large new stable, arena and four riding rings. The original stables and training barn belonging to the manor house are where Secretariat was born and trained.”

Additional history as provided by records pertaining to Secretariat are as follows. “Christopher Chenery, an engineer and business owner, bought the 2,798-acre Meadow Farm in 1932, 25 miles north of his birthplace in Richmond, Va., for the purpose of breeding thoroughbreds. In 1968, he became ill and was admitted to a New York hospital, where he stayed until his death in 1973. At the time of his hospital admission his daughter, Penny Chenery, took over management of the farm, resulting in her decision to breed Meadow Farm’s mare Somethingroyal to Bold Ruler for two breedings. The second foal was Secretariat. Secretariat was trained on the farm and became the Triple Crown winner in 1973 after the death of Christopher Chenery the same year. Although Penny registered her breedings under the name of her father, it was her knowledge of genetics that brought her to the decision for the historic pairing.”