Fair: Bullfights, a wedding, ‘Old Guckenheim’

I t had everything, including weddings and a bullfight. In fact it was the third largest event of its kind in the state of Texas.

Welcome to the Rockdale Fair.

No, not the one we just had, those which filled up Fair Park a century ago.

Many people are aware Rockdale hosted several fairs in the pre-World War I era but it’s not really general knowledge just how big a deal they were.

By 1911, Rockdale Fair organizers actually were proclaiming their event was the third largest in Texas.

How do we know? Because a catalog (program) from that 1911 event survives and provides a little time capsule window into the past.

Here’s part of the invitation, dressed up in 1911 prose: “..a park of 30 acres, covered by immense oaks, which not only afford plentiful cooling shade but lend a rare and inviting beauty to the grounds, possessed by no other in Texas. To the natural beauty of the park, no expense has been spared in artificial enhancements. Large and attractive exhibition buildings, grandstand, barns and stalls dot the campus in attractive arrangement.”

Horse racing fans at 1910 Rockdale Fair watched in comfort from elaborate covered grandstands. Horse racing fans at 1910 Rockdale Fair watched in comfort from elaborate covered grandstands. It cost $1 for a season ticket. Per-day admission was 25 cents for adults and 15 cents for children.

But that was on foot. If you came in one of those newfangled motor cars it was 50 cents for the car, then 50 cents for each passenger.

Horse-drawn vehicles got in for half that price.

The old-time Rockdale Fair actually started in 1907 in the town’s cotton warehouse. By the next year it had moved out to Fair Park and included a giant parade.

The 1911 event, according to the catalog, opened with livestock and poultry judging, horse racing, a baby show and a bull fight.

That’s right, a bull fight!

A ll three evenings were to feature a performance by “Two Braids and his band of full-blood Indians.”

The catalog promised the 1911 event would end with a very special event, a wedding!

But it doesn’t say whose. Any old-time Rockdale residents out there who remember granny and grandpa telling you about getting hitched at the 1911 Fair?

The 1911 catalog has a lot of great photos of the 1910 Fair, cour tesy of John Scott, who recorded much of the early part of Rockdale’s history on film.

There are photos in the catalog of some very prominent early Rockdale citizens including a young W. E. Gaither, who founded the legendary Gaither Motor Company.

A nd Rockdale’s “ base ball club”—yes, they spelled it with two words—had their photo made in the old baseball diamond which many of us remember was in the middle of the race track.

They were a prett y formal bunch. Some of them wore ties in the photo!

Probably the most fun of all in the old catalog is the ads.

One big surprise to modern eyes, mine at least, is the amount of in-your-face advertising devoted to hard liquor. Prohibition was eight years away and it’s not difficult to see 1911 Rockdale wasn’t far removed from being a frontier town.

McCawley & Neely Saloon reminded fair-goers that they were “exclusive agents for every well-known brand of whiskey” and then listed them.

Their competitors Ashby Brothers Three Brothers Saloon made up in price what may have been lacking in quality, noting “the secret is to buy fine whiskies at lower prices than is your habit.”

The brothers had bottles of “Old Guckenheim.”

Price one dollar per quart.

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2011-10-27 digital edition

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