Spread out over 60 acres, the fair operates like a self-contained city for one week each year, complete with a post office and more than 600 neon-colored wooden cabins arranged into neighborhoods with names such as Happy Hollow, Founders’ Square, and Sunset Strip. Each July, at one end of Happy Hollow, I set up camp in my family’s cabin, on a bottom bunk, surrounded by 30 of my nearest (and mostly dearest) friends and family. All in one room. (Cue the “John Boy” jokes.)
Southern literary icon Willie Morris called it a “combination camp meeting, picnic, recital, amusement park, music jamboree, race track, and political rally...[with] no institution quite like it in America.” It’s not that Willie was wrong, but the 120-year-old campground fair, the oldest one in the United States, embodies so much more than that.