By Myra Lee Adams Goff
A week of fun at the Comal County Fair really started off yesterday with the B-B-Cook-off and the Queen’s Contest today.
There is something for everybody at the fair. A giant carnival is the highlight for the kids. Even watching the crew set up the rides is a treat. The carnival literally rolled into town and began it’s set-up. With eager anticipation, kids watch the rides assembled like giant puzzles.
Did you know that the Ferris wheel was introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition of 1893? George Ferris built the 280-foot-high structure having 36 cars. Each car could hold 40 passengers. The Ferris wheel became the standard for every carnival thereafter.
By the way, New Braunfels had a connection with this Chicago Exposition. The City of New Braunfels entered into a contract with the Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. to build two high water bridges in NB in 1894.The company would use the steel from the dismantled Chicago World’s Fair. One of these two bridges was built at the foot of San Antonio St. over the Comal River, and the other at the north end of Seguin Ave. over Comal Creek. The total cost of the bridges was $9,895. These bridges are no more. The San Antonio St. Bridge was replaced in 1923 by the present concrete bridge and the Seguin Ave. Bridge was replaced with the concrete bridge that is the railroad underpass.
The State Fair of Texas was held in Dallas in 1886 and just a few years later the Comal County Fair organized in much the same way as the state fair. In Dallas, five businessmen organized the Dallas State Fair. Arguments over the location caused the group to be split and form two state fairs. One was the Dallas State Fair and the other was the Texas State Fair and Exposition. Both claimed crowds of 100,000 but both failed to meet expenses. In 1887 these two fairs merged and agreed to hold the fair at Fair Park in Dallas. They bought additional 37 acres. A series of problems forced them to sell the land to the City of Dallas in 1904. In 1930, the racetrack was removed to build a stadium later called the Cotton Bowl.
“Meanwhile back at the ranch” in New Braunfels in 1892, a hospital was being dedicated here and a small fair was held on the front grounds to raise money. People liked the idea and so a Fair Association was formed after the editor of the Zeitung, Anselm Eiband, asked why we didn’t have a fair in NB when Fredericksburg and Lockhart had one.
Right after this Krankenhaus Fair, the Comal County Fair Assosciation was organized. They elected Harry Landa as president and the fair was planned for 1893 on Landa’s pasture. Because of drought conditions, this fair was postponed until the next year. The amount of dust that would be stirred up by the horse races would be unbearable. Horse races were a big part of the early fairs. For that matter, horse races were big gambling activities in early Texas.
Four successful fair years passed and then the Fair Association bought their own land. In 1898 the organization purchased 11 acres in Comaltown on the Guadalupe River. Six hundred shares were sold at $20 a share. The land was cleared for a race track and a dancehall was built. For a few years the fair was financially successful but the situation turned around in 1905. Look back at what was happening in Dallas at the same time. Like Dallas, the CCFA decided to sell the property to the City of New Braunfels with generous lease options.
The fair was revitalized in 1908 and in 1923 the Fair Association was incorporated. Three more blocks in the Braunfels subdivision were purchased adjacent to the fair property. That same year the newly constructed grandstand burned to the ground, but the loss was covered by insurance. This helped the financial situation for a short time until the Great Depression of 1931. During this financially difficult time, the fair struggled to keep going but made some significant changes; prices for admission were reduced, no money for prizes was awarded, and most entertainment was voluntary. Local football and baseball teams put on games in front of the grandstand. For a few years the New Braunfels Unicorns held their first game of the season at the fairgrounds.
If I were asked to come up with a description of the fair, I would have to say “tradition and addition”. So many elements of the fair are as they have always been. The parade, the carnival, the exhibits, the rodeo, the queen’s contest, all are traditional.
I would have to say that the biggest change in the fair is the elimination of horse racing. One of the main events became the expanded rodeo. Some changes reflect society’s changes as well. The fair had a German flavor at the beginning and so German culture was emphasized. Then right after WWII the atmosphere of the fair changed and it became more of a western-style fair. The old Beer Garden became the Comal Corral and the music changed from oom-pah to “Cotton Eyed Joe”. The traditional Night in Old New Braunfels previously held on Thursday night has been moved to the last day of the fair on Sunday. Jeremy Richards will play music and the dance contests will still be held. The final Grand March will signal the closing of the Fair.
One big addition to this year’s fair is the unveiling of the Comal County Fair Historical Marker awarded by the Texas Historical Commission. The marker will be on display in the Comal Corral as it waits for its permanent location at the new front gate to be built soon. Being a marker sponsor shows the recognition of the historic value of the Comal County Fair and the Association’s interest in its history.
Another big additional change is the Cowboy Breakfast. It will be held at the Farmer’s Market downtown from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. the day of the parade. Donations will be accepted and are for the Comal County Fair Association’s Scholarship Fund and also the Sally Kingsbury Foundation. There will also be music.
At 10:00 o’clock when the parade begins, there will be a WWII Air Force Flyover. Leading the parade this year will be Parade Marshal Arlon Hermes, longtime volunteer and supporter of the fair.
The changes that have been made over the years still make the Comal County Fair the “biggest and bestes” Fair in Texas.