Fairs and agricultural exhibits are an old and honored tradition in Montgomery, dating back to at least 1854, 100 years before the present Alabama National Fair was established. The pre-Civil War fair was sponsored annually by the Alabama State Agricultural Society, on grounds “beautifully located upon the banks of the noble Alabama River, occupying a large, level, grassy plain, to the north of the city, ”as described in an 1858 issue of Harper’s Weekly.
That fair and its successors declined during times of war and economic troubles, and by 1930, fairs and agricultural exhibits had disappeared from Central Alabama.
The idea for a new exposition came in 1954, when the brother of a Montgomery Kiwanian looked at the busy construction site of Garrett Coliseum and said, “You know, you really ought to have a fair here.”
Within a few months, Montgomery Kiwanians had traveled to Macon to get a first-hand view of fair operations and had established the South Alabama Fair Association Inc., with a slender budget of $500 borrowed from the Kiwanis Club treasury. Kiwanians were motivated to make their venture a success, many had pledged personal funds to cover any losses from a failed fair venture. Their combined energies and talents resulted in a net profit more than $20,000 that crucial first year, and the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery was well on its way to
becoming synonymous with a festive October celebration that returns year-round benefits to the community.
Some recipients of Kiwanis Club contributions funded by the Fair include: Boys and Girls Clubs, Brantwood Children’s Home, Camp ASCCA, Children’s Harbor, Cleveland Avenue YMCA, Inspector Detector, Landmarks Foundation, Montgomery Area Council on Aging, Montgomery Area Food Bank, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Montgomery Public Schools‘ Reading is Fundamental, Girl Scouts, Group Homes for Children, and Father Walter’s Resurrection Catholic Mission.
As the Fair has grown, its name has changed to reflect its increased size. In 1969, the South Alabama Fair became the South Alabama State Fair. In 1997, in recognition of the fact that many fair participants visit from out-of-state, the name became the Alabama National Fair.
The Fair remains an independent, self-sustaining, non-profit corporation, and is not an agency of the State of Alabama. While the Fair Association receives some support in the payment of prize money from state and county participation, the Fair Association provides most of the money that is paid out in prizes, and operates independently of the State and any other fair.
Virtually all members of the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery utilize their abilities and time in support of Fair activities. Business people serve on committees; lawyers, architects, and engineers lend their professional skills, and most Kiwanians come to the fairgrounds and actively work as admission ticket takers on the gates and on a myriad of other essential committees. The spouses of Kiwanians also donate hundreds of volunteer hours each year.
The purposes of the Fair have not changed since its operation began: namely, to put on an educational fair directed to the uplifting and building of youth; to promote Alabama industry, agriculture, and livestock; to encourage artistic and cultural pursuits among citizens of all ages, and to give everyone, at least once a year, an opportunity to have a great time at the Fair.
Through the 63 years of the Fair the General Managers have been Mr. Bill Lynn (deceased), 1954 – 1982; Ms. Hazel Ashmore, 1983 – 2003; Mr. Russell Melton, 2004 – 2006; and since 2007, Mr. Randy Stephenson who is still the current GM.
Past presidents of the Fair, in addition to Mr. Jimmie Pruett, Sr., are: Mr. Graves, 1955; George Preiss, (deceased), 1956; A. B. Covey, 1957; George E. von Gal, Jr., (deceased), 1958; W. Lyle Hinds, (deceased), 1959; Ben R. Heninger, (deceased), 1960; William F. Thetford, (deceased), 1961; J. T. Nolen, Jr., (deceased), 1962; Karl E. Albrecht, (deceased), 1963; Charles W. Summerour, (deceased), 1964; L. C. Henley, (deceased), 1965; William A. Kent, 1966; N. J. Bell, III, 1967; W. B. Patterson, III, (deceased), 1968; John M. Ashley, Jr., (deceased), 1969; Charles M. Thompson, 1970; Robert W. Grant, 1971; Robert W. Miller, (deceased), 1972; John Walter Stowers, 1973; James G. Pruett, Jr., 1974; Truxton Northcutt, (deceased), 1975; Earl E. Jackson, Jr., (deceased), 1976; James W. Bailey, 1977; Thomas P. McCabe, (deceased), 1978; Jack Rainer, Sr., 1979; Thomas C. Nolan, (deceased), 1980; William L. Noll, Jr., (deceased), 1981; David H. Smith, (deceased), 1982; Jack D. Jackson, Jr., (deceased), 1983; Thomas K. Albrecht, 1984; Charles C. Hubbard, 1985; Drayton N. Hamilton, (deceased), 1986; Jack Rainer, Jr., 1987; Wayland Nobles, 1988; James A. Andrews, 1989; Charles R. McDevitt, 1990; George A. Garzon, 1991; Todd Strange, 1992; John W. Davis, 1993; Lynn A. Gowan, 1994; John W. Evans, Jr., 1995; James H. Farrior, Jr., 1996; H. E. Cauthen, Jr., 1997; Charles A. Harris, III, 1998; Richard H. Dorrough, 1999; John H. Wilkerson, Jr., 2000; Shapard D. Ashley, 2001; Paul E. Flagg, 2002; Russell S. Dunman, 2003; John P. Galassini, Jr., 2004; W. Ronald Drinkard, 2005; Timothy N. McInnis, 2006; Reese McKinney, 2007; Eugene C. Crane, 2008; Arthur D. Baylor, 2009; Ann Collister, 2010; E. Fred Woolard, 2011; Edward G. Reifenberg, 2012; Robert H. McGaughey, 2013; John L. Baker, 2014; Les Massey, 2015; Daniel Stallings, III, 2016; Keith Norman, 2017; Shawn Cole, 2018.