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Wednesday, September 23, 2020, 13:51 | No Comments »

Can a county fair be successfully held without a midway operated by an imported carnival?

That is what the front page of the September 2, 1953 issue of the Franklin Press read. No one could have predicted that 67 years later the fair would still be going strong.

In 1953, a group of Macon County residents set out to build a county fair around the county’s rich agriculture and deep farming roots.

Agriculture has been one of the largest industries in North Carolina since before the county was even officially recognized. By the 1820s, about one-third of North Carolina’s population had moved out of state. Many moved west to states like Tennessee or beyond or further south. And by this time farming crops like cotton had depleted soils, making them poor for farming in some areas.

The State Agricultural Society formed in 1818 to help improve farming practices. In 1877 this became the state's Department of Agriculture. The department oversaw farming all over the state to help improve how people farmed. And in 1887 the N.C. College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts began. Today this is N.C. State University in Raleigh. The college used scientific research and education to improve the way people farm. Across the country other state universities did the same thing.

Macon County was just one of many counties across the state to benefit from the state’s Department of Agriculture and their innovative preservation efforts. Today North Carolina is still considered an agricultural state, with Macon County reporting 329,964 acres of Farmland in the county spanning 340 farms.

From small family farms to people who make a living from the land, farming is a big part of the county’s history and economy. Some of Macon County’s most important crops are hay, hemp, and livestock such as cattle.

The February 12, 1953 meeting that first debated starting a county fair included Jaycees and agricultural workers who sought the input of A.Q. Ketner, a field representative of Coble Dairies out of Cherokee County. Mr. Ketner said that with his experience, which included 17 years operating the Cherokee County Fair, it would be impossible for Macon County to have a successful fair without a carnival. “The only way to build a fair is to ignore the criticism of the carnival almost sure to come from preachers and newspapers,” Mr. Ketner was quoted saying in 1953.

 With agriculture being such a large piece of Macon County, J.P. Brady, who served as the Chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Committee ignored Ketner’s advice an presented a plan for the Jaycees to get the ball rolling for the fair and then the local 4-H club would help to build it. He suggested the fair could feature beef and dairy cattle shows, an annual poultry show and an auction. For entertainment, he suggested square dancing and fiddling contests. To help fund the fair, Brady suggested renting booths to Macon County organizations such as PTAs, civic clubs, and church groups.  And that is exactly what happened – and that is exactly what has happened every year since.

Macon County’s first fair was held in September 1953. With the first fair being a success, despite the naysayers, it wasn’t until 1955 that official organization occurred to ensure the fair continue be an annual event. Officers of the early fair association included Robert C. Parker, C.C. Sutton, Mrs. Lawrence Patton, and Edwin T. Williams. Wayne Proffitt served as head of the Agricultural Workers Council, which cooperated with the sponsorship of the fair.

The 1960 Macon County Fair opened at the newly constructed Exhibit Hall and was “crammed to the rafters” with people. The exhibit hall was built through fundraising headed up by the Macon County Fair Association. Businesses and individuals donated and raised the couple of thousand dollars it took to construct.

The exhibit hall, now known as the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center has served as the home to the fair every year since 1960. There are four major buildings, A, B, C, and D, are used for all the displays and related events for the Fair. Buildings A and B were built in 1960 and 1961 followed by buildings C and D in 1980.

For as deep as the roots of agriculture run in Macon County, few would argue against the fact that Wayne Proffitt is responsible for their cultivation. For decades there wasn’t a farmer for 100 miles who didn’t know Wayne Proffitt – and you would be hard pressed to find a Franklin High School student who took an agriculture class in the last 70 years who didn’t know him by name. Mr. Proffitt began teaching agriculture at Franklin High School in 1949 and retired from teaching

Born in a rural section of Yancey County, North Carolina, known as Hardscrabble, Wayne Proffitt was one of the three children to Leslie and Vina Proffitt. He was raised on a farm and attended Bald Creek School for both his primary and high school education. Upon graduation from high school he attended Berea College in Berea, Kentucky and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Agriculture Education. While at Berea, he worked on the school farms to help finance his education.

After leaving Berea College, Mr. Proffitt married his long time sweetheart Kathleen King Proffitt. He taught for the Farmer Veterans Administration in Polk County, North Carolina for six months and then traveled to Macon County, North Carolina to begin his teaching career.

To honor his lifelong commitment to agriculture, Macon County, and raising the next generation of farmers, the exhibit hall was named in his honor in 2007, a little more than a year before his death. Mr. Proffitt, who was a founding member of the 1953 Fair, served on the Board of the Macon County Fair Association up until his death in 2008. Mr. Proffitt spent 55 years as the Fair’s director – always preserving its integrity and authenticity as a solely agricultural fair. Because of Mr. Proffitt’s leadership, the Macon County Fair remains as the last purely agricultural Fair in all of North Carolina.

Can a county fair be successfully held without a midway operated by an imported carnival?


That is what the front page of the September 2, 1953 issue of the Franklin Press read. No one could have predicted that 67 years later the fair would still be going strong.


In 1953, a group of Macon County residents set out to build a county fair around the county’s rich agriculture and deep farming roots.


Agriculture has been one of the largest industries in North Carolina since before the county was even officially recognized. By the 1820s, about one-third of North Carolina’s population had moved out of state. Many moved west to states like Tennessee or beyond or further south. And by this time farming crops like cotton had depleted soils, making them poor for farming in some areas.
The State Agricultural Society formed in 1818 to help improve farming practices. In 1877 this became the state's Department of Agriculture. The department oversaw farming all over the state to help improve how people farmed. And in 1887 the N.C. College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts began. Today this is N.C. State University in Raleigh. The college used scientific research and education to improve the way people farm. Across the country other state universities did the same thing.


Macon County was just one of many counties across the state to benefit from the state’s Department of Agriculture and their innovative preservation efforts. Today North Carolina is still considered an agricultural state, with Macon County reporting 329,964 acres of Farmland in the county spanning 340 farms.
From small family farms to people who make a living from the land, farming is a big part of the county’s history and economy. Some of Macon County’s most important crops are hay, hemp, and livestock such as cattle.


The February 12, 1953 meeting that first debated starting a county fair included Jaycees and agricultural workers who sought the input of A.Q. Ketner, a field representative of Coble Dairies out of Cherokee County. Mr. Ketner said that with his experience, which included 17 years operating the Cherokee County Fair, it would be impossible for Macon County to have a successful fair without a carnival. “The only way to build a fair is to ignore the criticism of the carnival almost sure to come from preachers and newspapers,” Mr. Ketner was quoted saying in 1953.


With agriculture being such a large piece of Macon County, J.P. Brady, who served as the Chairman of the Junior Chamber of Commerce Committee ignored Ketner’s advice an presented a plan for the Jaycees to get the ball rolling for the fair and then the local 4-H club would help to build it. He suggested the fair could feature beef and dairy cattle shows, an annual poultry show, and an auction. For entertainment, he suggested square dancing and fiddling contests. To help fund the fair, Brady suggested renting booths to Macon County organizations such as PTAs, civic clubs, and church groups. And that is exactly what happened – and that is exactly what has happened every year since.


Macon County’s first fair was held in September 1953. With the first fair being a success, despite the naysayers, it wasn’t until 1955 that official organization occurred to ensure the fair continues be an annual event. Officers of the early fair association included Robert C. Parker, C.C. Sutton, Mrs. Lawrence Patton, and Edwin T. Williams. Wayne Proffitt served as head of the Agricultural Workers Council, which cooperated with the sponsorship of the fair.


The 1960 Macon County Fair opened at the newly constructed Exhibit Hall and was “crammed to the rafters” with people. The exhibit hall was built through fundraising headed up by the Macon County Fair Association. Businesses and individuals donated and raised the couple of thousand dollars it took to construct.


The exhibit hall, now known as the Wayne Proffitt Agricultural Center has served as the home to the fair every year since 1960. There are four major buildings, A, B, C, and D, which are used for all the displays and related events for the Fair. Buildings A and B were built in 1960 and 1961 followed by buildings C and D in 1980.


For as deep as the roots of agriculture run in Macon County, few would argue against the fact that Wayne Proffitt is responsible for their cultivation. For decades there wasn’t a farmer for 100 miles who didn’t know Wayne Proffitt – and you would be hard-pressed to find a Franklin High School student who took an agriculture class in the last 70 years who didn’t know him by name. Mr. Proffitt began teaching agriculture at Franklin High School in 1949 and retired from teaching


Born in a rural section of Yancey County, North Carolina, known as Hardscrabble, Wayne Proffitt was one of the three children to Leslie and Vina Proffitt. He was raised on a farm and attended Bald Creek School for both his primary and high school education. Upon graduation from high school, he attended Berea College in Berea, Kentucky, and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science degree in Agriculture Education. While at Berea, he worked on the school farms to help finance his education.
After leaving Berea College, Mr. Proffitt married his long time sweetheart Kathleen King Proffitt. He taught for the Farmer Veterans Administration in Polk County, North Carolina for six months and then traveled to Macon County, North Carolina to begin his teaching career.


To honor his lifelong commitment to agriculture, Macon County, and raising the next generation of farmers, the exhibit hall was named in his honor in 2007, a little more than a year before his death. Mr. Proffitt, who was a founding member of the 1953 Fair, served on the Board of the Macon County Fair Association up until his death in 2008. Mr. Proffitt spent 55 years as the Fair’s director – always preserving its integrity and authenticity as a solely agricultural fair. Because of Mr. Proffitt’s leadership, the Macon County Fair remains as the last purely agricultural Fair in all of North Carolina.


The Macon County Historical Museum has preserved decades of history surrounding Macon County’s farming culture. The museum features annual fair books dating back to the 60s. One of the most priceless collections related to the fair are hundreds of photographs from the Fair, all neatly preserved and featuring 4-H and FFA students during the livestock shows. The photos are part of the collection of items displayed from Mr. Proffitt. Included in the collection is the very camera Mr. Proffitt used for decades to document the annual event.

To see photos of the collection at the Macon County Historical Museum, visit Facebook by clicking here.


Monday, September 14, 2020, 13:10 | No Comments »

The Macon County Historical Society was first formed in 1946 out of the concern and desire to preserve the Nikwasi Indian Mound. The Society successfully helped to raise funds to purchase the Nikwasi Mound, which was deeded to the Town of Franklin.  Though inactive for a time after this initial objective was obtained, the Society was revived in 1976.  By 1989, the Historical Society was able to secure the Pendergrass Building as its new home and they have remained there ever since.

At the turn of the century, Jesse R. Pendergrass, a Baptist Minister, school superintendent and local businessman, set out to erect the finest building in Macon County to house his dry goods store. J.R.’s ancestors settled in Macon County in the 1800s and helped to shape the county as we know it today. J.R. wanted to create something of quality, something that his family could call home and a place that folks across the South could stop in and sit a spell. Even in the early 1900s J.R. had the foresight to preserve history by salvaging wooden posts and floorboards from his original dry goods store to reuse in the construction of his new three story brick masterpiece.

For the last 30+ years, the Macon County Historical Society has called the old Pendergrass home. With a mission of preserving and celebrating every unique historical aspect of Macon County, it seems only fitting that the museum showcasing generations of treasures be housed in one of the most historical, well-kept buildings in Macon County.

The Pendergrass Building was built in 1904 and sold everything from clothing and hardware to school books for children, many of which can still be viewed today as they are now part of the Historical Museum’s collection.

Newspaper archives from 1903 begin to tell the story have the new three-story brick building and described the building as being “immediately considered the finest commercial building in Macon County.”

As a new building right off the center of town, the Franklin Press chronicled the construction process regularly reporting updates on the project.

The May 25, 1904 edition of The Franklin Press featured the headline “A New Brick Building Under Way” and reported that J.R. broke dirt on the project that week to make excavation for building a new brick storehouse on the site of his old wooden storeroom.

The June 29, 1904 Franklin Press reported that Mr. Shancks fired a kiln of 84,000 bricks to be used in the new store building. The original receipt for the purchase of those bricks is on display today at the Museum. A few days prior to the bricks being completed, J.F Ray, a local attorney, moved his law office to a room over E.H. Frank’s store so the original storehouse could be taken down and the new brick building erected.

“The brick work on Mr. Pendergrass’ store building is about completed and the studding for the rooms on the upper floor has all been placed,” reads an expert from the October 12, 1904 Franklin Press. “There will be seven office rooms and a hall on the upper floor with fire-places in the rooms and two large windows to nearly all the rooms. It will be the best business building in town when completed.”

By December 7, 1904 The Franklin Press reported “The lower room of Mr. J.R. Pendergrass’ new store building is practically finished, and he moved his stock of goods into it last Wednesday.”

By 1905, J.R.’s store became a community gathering place. The gigantic Maple that still stands in front of the building today was there 100 years ago. The tree is the last Maple standing on Main Street, but at one time the town was lined with the trees all the way up to Harrison Avenue. The trees provided covering for the dirt roads to keep them accessible to horses and wagons. Shade wasn’t the only thing the Maples provided; legend has it that politicians would hide bottles of liquor in the trees to pay off voters. Portraits dating back for generations feature the Maple playing host and providing shade for checker tournaments that were always spotted out front.

A 1950s account of a day in Franklin by Walter Hall describes a typical day in front of the building. “Outside the store there is a checker game in process, and a small group has gathered to challenge the winner. The ones I know are Ras Penland, Verlon McCoy, and Tillery Love.”

Checker matches in front the Pendergrass Building were such a staple for generations, that the Historical Museum still places a table and a board out front for anyone walking by.

Many original artifacts from the Pendergrass store can be viewed in the museum today. From J.R.’s hat, to school books, to original checks from The Bank of Franklin and even a handwritten receipt log detailing purchases from travelers stopping through. Some of the original advertisements and signs from the store can also be seen hung on the walls of the museum, as much of the building remains unchanged from when it served as a retail store, gathering place, and even a wedding venue with J.R. himself officiating the weddings.

J.R.’s son Brodie and his wife Dess took over the store in the 50s, and continued operating it until the store was closed in the late 1970s. Charles Sill and his son John purchased the building and restored it in 1976 and opened it as an art gallery called The Gum Gallery.

The Historical Society purchased the Pendergrass building in 1988 and opened it as the museum a year later. The building has since been added to The National Register of Historic Places and museum volunteers are constantly working to preserve the authenticity and history of the original structure. Some of the most noticeable original features of the building include the original plank floor, the distinctive woodwork, large twin counters made from yellow heart pine, the cast iron front and the suspended mezzanine.

The treasures on display at the Pendergrass building begin with the earliest accounts of settlement in the area – even before the land was acquired from the Cherokee Nation in the Treaty of 1819. Even more fascinating then the age of generations preserved within the museum is the ability to follow the evolution of the county and life of its residents. The walls of the Pendergrass buildings tells a story of progress and transition in Macon County follow the first schools, World Wars, electricity and automobiles to modern day history of notorious criminals such as Eric Rudolph to bouts of Hollywood Fame and making appearances on the Big Screen.

Today, the Pendergrass building is home to the richest depths of Macon County history dating back to a time long before the borders of the county were ever imagined and following along with historical markers that lead to the Macon County we all know and love today.

To view photos from The Pendergrass Building Collection, visit the Macon County Historical Museum Facebook Page. 


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