HISTORY OF THE SOUTH TEXAS STATE FAIR
The 2019 South Texas State Fair is the 76th such event sponsored by the Young Men's Business League, but the story of the Fair in Beaumont goes back many years before this. The Fair actually is over 100 years old.
One of the first fairs in the city was held during the first week of October 1907. There is evidence to indicate that an earlier fair was held in 1904 and perhaps others before that, but the '07 event was the start of 112 consecutive years of fairs in Beaumont.
The first event was called simply the Beaumont Fair. Families came with picnic lunches; some even camped overnight on the grounds. Later the fair became known as the Southeast Texas State Fair, but in 1921 the "east" was dropped and the present name adopted. A Fair Association was formed to promote the exposition and did quite well through 1941 and the advent of World War II in December of that year. Fairs all across the nation ceased to function because of the war, but at an invitation from the city and the military (due to soldiers being stationed near Beaumont and in need of entertainment and diversion from army life), the YMBL assumed operation of the Fair in 1942.
During the war, the Fair was known at first as the "YMBL Victory Fair" and was primarily an agricultural exposition and livestock show featuring a carnival midway. The Fair was strictly a volunteer effort with YMBL members selling tickets, manning the gates, parking cars and providing expertise in the Ag and livestock shows.Visitors came from near and far depending on how they managed their war‑time gasoline rationing stamps. Thousands of soldiers came from Camp Polk in Louisiana and Fort Hood in Killeen to spend a weekend in Beaumont and to attend the Fair.
YMBL/Fair pioneers were L.R. "Speedy" Blakeman, Herman Iles, Reese Martin, F.S. Braden, Bryan Sumrall, Elmo Beard, Cliff LeBlanc, Sr., Paul Bullington, Moodye Williamson, W.D. Norwood, Gus Becker and R.O. Jackson.
The Fair has a colorful past that began in 1907 with some prominent names from early history of the city and the state included in the list of founders.Organizers of that first fair in 1907 were George Smith, a New Yorker who came to Beaumont to write editorials for the Beaumont Enterprise becoming a leader in many civic and cultural activities; Andrew Jackson Houston, son of the San Jacinto Battle hero and the State's first Governor, Sam Houston; Jim S. Edwards, prominent real estate developer; E.I Kelly of the Jasper Newsboy; Louis Mayer, Beaumont merchant and civic leader and father of Walter Mayer 1932 YMBL President; and the late R.L. Brown, Beaumont and East Texas historian who in his later days became known as "the Old Timer" in the coffee shops around town.
Ben Jackson was president of the first Fair Association in 1921. Between 1925 and 1941, L.B. Herring, Jr., was Fair Secretary and when the YMBL took over the Fair, Karl Schwartz, Chamber of Commerce Membership Secretary was appointed to head up the Fair's office operations. Joe Goetschius, Trade Development Manager of the Chamber of Commerce became General Manager of the Fair in 1958 and was named YMBL Executive Vice President in 1965 and held the post until his retirement at the end of 1995. In 1998 long time YMBL Member and former member of the Board of Directors Chris Colletti was hired as Executive Vice President and remains in that position.
The South Texas State Fair drew more than 250,000 in 1957, and since that time estimated attendance has grown and the Fair continues to draw attendees from ten counties in South East Texas and three South West Louisiana parishes.
In 2005 the Fair was cancelled due to the devastating effects Hurricane Rita had on all of Southeast Texas. Hurricane Rita had a profound impact upon the financial well-being of the citizens of Southeast Texas and the many volunteers that typically operate the Fair were working to get their lives and businesses back in order. In 2008 Hurricane Ike caused the cancellation of the fair again and the YMBL Board of Directors and Jefferson County Commissioner’s decided to move the Fair to March in 2009.
Although a "non‑profit" committee of the YMBL, the Fair supports the sponsoring organization with more than 90% of its total revenue which the YMBL shares with the community in direct gifts to local and area charitable organizations, youth projects, civic programs and other efforts to aid the elderly and those in need.