Published September 1981 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd West Virginia on Display West Virginia's rich heritage is displayed almost daily through fairs and festivals that abound throughout the Mountain State during these warm months, where West Virginians have the opportunity to exhibit their wares and their talents. About 450 fairs and festivals are held every year in West Virginia, each with its own character and identity. Many of these festivities honor our mountain heritage or pay tribute to our natural resources, such as coal, pumpkins, strawberries, and molasses. They are all a delight to attend. The flavor of such Mountain State gatherings cannot be excelled elsewhere- from the mountain music to the tempting home cooking, including one of my favorites, home-made ice cream. American county fairs, which are such an integral part of our national heritage, can be traced back to 1807 when Elkanah Watson, a gentleman farmer, exhibited his Merino sheep in the village square in Pittsfield, Mass. The attention attracted by this exhibit persuaded Watson to organize annual exhibits of livestock and farm produce so that farmers could exchange experiences and products. By 1820, almost every county in New England had organized annual fairs for agricultural displays, including prizes for the best exhibits. Fairs and festivals today serve a multitude of purposes. They serve as convenient places for trade because of the large congregation of buyers and sellers. They also provide competitive exhibitions, and give manufacturers the opportunity to introduce new products to the general public. And with the variety of amusements and entertainment offered, they are just plain fun. Although West Virginia has its share of shopping malls to carry on large-scale trade, our fairs and festivals continue to flourish in these modern times of the 1980's. Perhaps it is because these gatherings emphasize the traditional and rewarding values of individual expertise and craftsmanship. Rare creative skills can be seen in the pottery, quilts, woodwork, metalwork, macramé, and a host of other arts and crafts on display. At these festivities, one often can enjoy and purchase goods found nowhere else in the world, products made by enterprising men and women working with their hands, with keen imaginations and great discipline. West Virginia's fairs and festivals are wholesome, entertaining, and educational, part of a flavorful tradition that gives the Mountain State its unique character and identity.