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The Gillespie County Fair in Fredericksburg, Texas

Horse Races, Pacific War, Race Track

The Gillespie County Fair in Fredericksburg, Texas is the oldest continually running County Fair in the State of Texas (120 years) and is a fun filled weekend for all ages. The County Fair runs between Aug, 23 – 26 and features a carnival, parimutuel horse racing, outdoor concerts and dances, a parade, live entertainment in the park downtown on Main Street, and a livestock show. The Gillespie County Fair is an unrealized gem even in Texas-as I am surprised how many people from Dallas and Houston have never heard of the event or visited Fredericksburg, Texas.

Fredericksburg is a German town that was founded by German settlers in 1846. Part of what makes the County Fair so special and long lasting is the community in which it is held. Fredericksburg itself is considered a great Texas summer tourist destination but the County Fair weekend makes it even more so as the city offers more entertainment options than on the normal weekend. Most of the original buildings of the 1800s still stand on Main Street along with all the majestic old church’s built from that era. History buffs are sure to enjoy The National Museum of The Pacific War. Main Street is considered a mecca for soccer moms for shopping.

On August 25 and 26, The County Fairgrounds runs thoroughbred and quarter horse races at a race track on the County Fair Grounds. The track is a throw back (the seventh oldest horse race track in America) to a time when races were commonly held at County Fairs before huge stand alone horse race venues (initially The State Fair of Texas held parimutuel horse races but the track was torn down in 1930 to make room for the building of The Cotton Bowl). The separation between the rail of the race track and spectators is much less than the modern tracks and you get the unique experience of the power of 1,200 pound animals running 30 mph within a few feet of you that you don’t get elsewhere. Behind the race track are covered/shaded concession stands making all manner of delicious foods with the smell wafting over the grandstand and biergarten. For those that would prefer to watch the races in an air conditioned environment-next to the horse race track is The Race Barn where you can watch and gamble not only on the races running at the Fair Grounds but races being simulcast to a variety of television screens from all over America. If you are a fan of “chicken fried chicken” the Race Barn has the best I’ve tasted (this surprised me at a venue that is dual purpose-simulcast racing/wagering and restaurant).

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If you are an early riser-immediately next to the County Fairgrounds is Lady Bird park where you can squeeze in 18 holes of golf before the races start (first post is 1 p.m.). The park features a fishing pond, softball fields, a large swimming pool, basketball, and tennis courts. There are RV hookups in Lady Bird Park but if you have an RV and intend to arrive only for the weekend you probably will need to choose another of the RV parks in Fredericksburg as this one fills up earlier in the week in anticipation of the County Fair weekend (Ladybird Park is within walking distance of The Fair Grounds). The City Airport is also directly adjacent to The Fairgrounds and those with private pilots licenses fly in for the weekend activities and often choose to stay at The Hangar Hotel. The Hangar Hotel is elegant and designed to be a throwback to the 1940s. Even if you don’t stay at the Hangar Hotel the bar area is beautiful to see and worth stopping by to have a drink in. The bar has an observation deck where you can have drinks and watch for aircraft to fly in and out. Fredericksburg has a taxi service so you can get to Main Street if you fly in for the festivities (since the Hangar Hotel is virtually on the Fair Grounds you would simply walk to Fair activities).

After a day of racing on the Fairgrounds people tend to go to dinner at many of the fine German restaurants along Main Street. Walking down main street you notice the smell emanating from German bakeries that are preparing delicacies you can consume almost as soon as they come out of the oven. There are local microbreweries that produce beer with recipes from old Germany. Texas is renowned for Blue Bell Ice Cream-so revered as an ice cream that stories about the ice cream have been featured in no less than The New York Times. Blue Bell uses peaches grown in the Fredericksburg/Stonewall area for their ice cream. There is something about the soil that makes those peaches unusually sweet and the peaches are considered the most tasty in Texas by Southern Living Magazine. At virtually every restaurant and bakery up and down Main Street you can buy a variety of mouth watering peach cobbler with a scoop of Blue Bell Ice Cream laden on top. The same fertile lands that produce these renowned peaches also produce some of the best wines from Texas that are produced in the wineries that are open to the public. Just a few miles further up Highway 290 from the wineries is the largest working wildflower farm in America.

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There are a variety of bed and breakfasts and cottages in the Texas Hill Country wilderness surrounding Fredericksburg that offer quality accommodations.

After dinner people return to the County Fairgrounds because there is an outdoor concert arena with large dance area that is adjacent to the horse race track (concert and dances occur on Friday and Saturday night but not Sunday night). Like the races the dance too is a throwback-you are allowed to carry liquor into the dance and just purchase your own “set-ups.” Children dance right alongside their parents and grandparents. Next to the live concert and dancing is a carnival.

Texans are known for our hospitality but even by Texas hospitality standards the people of Fredericksburg are “a cut above.” I’ve been to towns that host festivals where it is apparent the people have grown tired of hosting the annual event that brings so many tourists to town. The people of Fredericksburg look forward to renewing friendships & camaraderie with the people who make this trek every year (as I have for 30 years) while they also see those that arrive in their first year as soon-to-be new friends. The reason this is the oldest continuous running County Fair in Texas is as attributable to the quality of the people in Fredericksburg as the quality of the entertainment value provided.

Fredericksburg prepares informational videos about the County Fair every year-at the time I write this the one is not yet up for 2012 but you can get a good visual of what transpires by cutting and pasting these links into your browser to view last year’s informational videos:

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