1896 Fair admission: 35¢

I’m frantically scurrying around these days trying to finish a project or two to enter into competition at the upcoming 125th Gillespie County Fair.

Over the years, I’ve won a ribbon or two, and even a couple of trophies for different things I’ve taken, but this year would be extra special since it’s a milestone fair. I never set my sights any higher than third place. That way, even if I don’t place, I won’t be too disappointed.

I’ve been studying this year’s fair catalog, trying to decide what to take and have tagged the pages with sticky notes, being careful not to mar them, for one day, the catalog, itself, is sure to be a collector’s item.

Old Gillespie County Fair catalogs have become collector’s items over the years. Here at the newspaper office, we have dozens of them in the archives, with the earliest in our collection going back to some time like 1918.

While researching this week’s “50 Years Ago” column, I ran across an item in the Aug. 21, 1963, issue of the Standard, several days before the Gillespie County Fair celebrated its Diamond Jubilee — the 75th anniversary of the fair.

At that time, someone brought a catalog to the newspaper office from the 1896 exposition when the fair was celebrating its 12th anniversary.

The fair that year was held Oct. 17-20. No indication was given as to why it was so late, but perhaps because 1896 was also the date of the 50th anniversary celebration of the city of Fredericksburg, held in May.

In the foreword of the catalog proclaiming it as the 12th annual fair, mention was made of the fact that the fair had existed those many years, had drawn good exhibits and attendance, and organizers felt quite certain that the fair would remain a reality.

Admission prices in 1896 were 35 cents for adults, 10 cents for children six to 12 years of age, 10 cents for seats in the grandstand, 25 cents for vehicles, 10 cents for saddle or led horses and $1 for carriages carrying passengers. Season tickets could be purchased for $1 each.

Then, as now, horse racing was a big draw.

On the first day there were two races, a quarter mile “dash” with “catch weight” and the second race was confined to two-year-olds, also of a quarter mile distance.

The second day saw horses only in ladies’ riding events with other spectator sports listed as bicycle races and foot races.

Two running races were slated the third day, the first of three-eighths mile, the third for three hundred yards and limited to ponies 14 hands high and under. The second race was one of the pacing and trotting races, with $15 for first place, and $10 for second.

Three running races were on the final day with the first of 300 yards for Gillespie County ponies not over 14½ hands high, while the second was a quarter mile free for all and the third a half-mile “dash” free for all.

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