The annual Providence Coal Festival kicked off on Tuesday night, bringing rides, games and entertainment back to Webster County. Although the four decades old festival is a long standing tradition in the city, its far from the first such event to bring people to Providence.

Perhaps the first major festival to be held in the city of Providence was the Webster County Agricultural Fair, created, sponsored and hosted by local Providence businessmen. The event was held in 1932, 1933 and 1934.

The fair was then held outside the city for a number of years before being discontinued in 1941, coinciding with the start of World War II.

Opening in September of 1949, the Webster County Agricultural Fair made its return. This year it was held at the Providence Roller Rink, located "near the center of the city's business district."

The event featured agricultural displays, livestock contests, beauty pageants, concessions, live entertainment and other fair staples. The event was

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HISTORY

"free," which organizers later stated caused financial difficulties in making it an annual event due to the cost of hosting the fair.

In 1950 the fair relocated to the Providence Manufacturing Company's Plant Number One, located at the intersection of East Main Street and Montgomery Avenue, believed to be the lot currently occupied by Do-It Best and Branches Ministries. That year rides were added to the event's lineup.

It appears, from records, that there was no fair in 1952.

In 1953 the fair reopened and moved across town to what was then known as the Providence American Legion Memorial Park, which doubled as both a baseball and football stadium. Organizers listed "lighting" and "parking" as the reasons for the move.

The fair would remain at that location through 1966 or 1967. The location of the 1967 fair was unclear, as all records found in the J-E referred to the location that year as the "Webster County Fair Grounds."

Starting in 1965, the Webster County Fair took on a new look and new attractions, becoming more of a circus than a fair. Organizers brought in numerous popular circus acts from the time.

The 1967 fair was plagued by a rain out on its opening night. Although organizers claimed high numbers for the event, it would be the last. By 1968, after 19 years, the fair had vanished. Its untimely death was possibly the rise in another local event, which caught the attention and imagination of local residents.

Beginning the 1966, the week after the fair concluded, the Providence Jaycees sponsored "Savage Days", a frontier days like event meant to capture the history of Providence's frontier origins.

The event was held at the summit of town hill in what was then the city's bustling business district. Residents attended, dressed in "old-time" frontier costumes. There was a community fish-fry, barbeque and games.

Between 1966 and 1975, Savage Days expanded, adding more live entertainment and rides. In 1975 the event was relocated to the city park at Broadway Elementary (now Providence Elementary) to allow more space.

The change in venue seemed to have been detrimental to the event, as the 1975 Savage Days was the last, although multiple failed attempts have happened since then to relaunch the event in uptown during the 1990's and early 2000's. None seemed to have captured the magic that made the original event so successful for ten years.

With no festivals planned in Providence in the summer and fall of 1976, local businesses united to create Family Days. Organized by the Providence Retail Merchants Associations (PRMA), Family Days was a combination community-wide sale and craft show. Local retailers were opened extended hours during the three-day period, and customers could register in each location for give-a ways and prizes. There was also a craft show held in the uptown area, with prizes being given away in numerous crafting categories.

After a two year hiatus, the Providence Jaycees returned to festival organizing in 1979 with the launch of the first annual Providence Coal Festival. The event was held in the uptown area.

That makes the 2019 event the 41st Annual Coal Festival, not the 42nd as previously believed. During its run, the event was in uptown, then moved to the American Legion Field briefly in the late 80's, before finally finding its permanent home the city park.

Reach MATT HUGHES at 270-667-2068 or matt@journalenterprise.com