Mid-South Fair in Memphis
the closing of the 2008 edition of the Mid-South Fair on September 28,
2008, its 152 year run in Memphis ends. It has been forced to find a
new location by the City of Memphis not renewing its lease at the
Fairgrounds and the city's plans to redevelop the area into a mixed use
The Mid-South Fair began as the Shelby County Fair in 1856 in Memphis, Tennessee and, except for a few years disrupted by war, was held every year since then in the city at various locations. In 1908, the horse racing facility, Montgomery Park, at Southern Avenue and East Parkway was leased by the City and the fair, renamed the Tri-State Fair, moved to that location. The city later bought the property and in 1915 the city built a permanent amusement park there, which was incorporated into the Mid-South Fair for the 10 days or so the fair was in progress. In 1929, the fair changed its name for the final time to the Mid-South Fair. While the original purpose for the fair was to highlight agricultural aspects of the region, it grew to include the midway full of games, food vendors, side shows, and rides. Arts and craft displays and judging came to be a part of the fair, too. Nevertheless, farming remained a feature with livestock shows and awards, along with displays of produce and regional harvests.
Hoping to become a part of the growing popularity of theme parks, the City of Memphis converted its amusement park at the Fairgrounds into Libertyland in 1976, adding song and dance shows to the rides and games. While Libertyland was in operation, like the amusement park from which it sprang, its amusements would be incorporated into the Mid-South Fair festivities during fair.
On November 4, 2005 the City of Memphis announced plans for a "higher and better" use for the Fairgrounds which was to include an area of small retail shops, open green space, and more than 40 acres of recreation. It also said it would not renew the Mid-South Fair's lease on the property after 2008. On the same day, the Mid-South Fair Board,which operated Libertyland, announced that due to several years of financial losses, Libertyland would cease operation. The last day for Libertyland was open turned out to be October 29, 2005 when it closed for the season and, ultimately, forever.
The Mid-South Fair began searching for a new location, eventually narrowing the possibilities to one in Millington, Tennessee and one in north Mississippi. In May, 2008 the Mid-South Fair announced its 2009 event would open at its new site in Tunica County, Mississippi. A 150 acre site was chosen off U.S. Highway 61 across from the Tunica Visitor's Center. Despite the optimism, the new site was not ready in time for the 2009 fair so it was held at the Desoto Civic Center in Southaven, Mississippi. In May, 2010, it was announced the Mid-South Fair had entered contract with Desoto Civic Center to continue the fair there for the next 5 years. Fair officers say the eventual plan continues to be to move to Tunica County but that economic conditions will delay that for a few years. Development of the land in Tunica county has not proceeded as expected and fair officials cite the difficult economic conditions as the reason.
In the meantime, the Mid-South Fair, a Memphis institution since 1856 and an autumn landmark at Southern Avenue, East Parkway, and Central Avenue, will be gone, along with Libertyland and its predecessor amusement park at the Fairgrounds. While some of the closed rides remained standing for a few years by early 2010 the carousel and Pippin roller coaster had been removed. Plans to redevelop the Fairgrounds into a mixed use area of homes, retail, recreation and community center are confusing, as the City of Memphis, as of 2009, had two plans under consideration. One feature already endorsed bgy the City and close to construction is a Salvation Army Kroc Center, a community center with meeting and athletic facilities. Many of Libertyland's assets have been sold. The Pippin roller coaster has traded hands several times and, while still closed, was donated, without the ride's cars, to "Save Libertyland," a local group that tried to preserve the amusement park. The Grand Carousel has been dismantled and is being stored in a wharehouse by the City of Memphis until it can find a new location for it. Although as of 2010 the City and the Save Libertyland group now disagree who owns the remains of the ride, the City of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is buying the remaining materials and rights to the name, design, and configuration of the Zippin Pippin roller coaster. As the structure was being prepared to be dismantled as a result of the sale, a portion was found to have collapsed and the entire structure was brought down.
The Fairgrounds and Libertyland have additional and separate pages devoted to them on this Landmark and Legend web site.