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The Florida State Fair's past in pictures

Jeanette M. Shimek's time-honoring photos illustrate the unforgettable role the Florida State Fair holds in the annals of Tampa history. The pictures of Jeanette, daughter Pattie Fox and granddaughter Andrea Scaglione capture how the annual festival remains an integral part of the community as it enters its 110th year. Shimek, 72, says the fair reflects her native pride. From its days near the University of Tampa to its current location on U.S. 301 and Interstate 4, memories of the festive atmosphere, food and people remain treasures. And next year, she hopes to share all of that with her great-grandson.

Origins: 1904 — 1950

The legendary Henry B. Plant established the earliest fairs in Tampa to promote his Tampa Bay Hotel on the banks of the Hillsborough River. They waned after Plant's death in 1899, but hotel manager T.J. Laud-Brown revived the fair idea in 1904 with the help of city and railroad officials, and the first South Florida Fair took place that year on the grounds of what's now known as the University of Tampa. Despite economic busts and two world wars, it continued to grow, gaining the name Florida State Mid-Winter Festival and then the Florida State Fair.

Progress: 1951 — 1987

For decades, the Florida State Fair coincided with the Gasparilla Festival. The dates of the fair varied in the early going. Sometimes it was held in November and sometimes in February, as it is today. During the 1950s, the event consisted of livestock and poultry shows and other exhibits reflecting Florida's progress. In 1975, the Legislature created the Florida State Fair Authority and designated that the Tampa event was the official state fair. The authority officials decided the fair needed a larger venue, and while the current site was under construction, it set up next to the old Tampa Stadium in 1976. In 1977, it moved to its current location, a 330-acre site near U.S. 301 and Interstate 4. In the years to follow, Doyle E. Carlton Jr. and his wife, Mildred, began to craft what would become known as Cracker Country, a tribute to Florida's rural history.

Expansion: 1988 — present

The state fair's new location allowed for great expansion, beginning with new buildings. It also benefited from the guidance of leaders like the late George M. Steinbrenner. It added a music amphitheater in 2004. The fair now attracts nearly 500,000 people every February, blending traditional agricultural exhibits and competitions with concerts and other entertainment, sideshow artists, midway rides and, of course, food ranging from funnel cakes and turkey legs to funky burgers and deep-fried candy bars.

The Florida State Fair opens today and will run through Feb. 17.

If you go: Check the schedule | New food to try

The Florida State Fair's past in pictures 02/06/14 [Last modified: Thursday, February 6, 2014 4:39pm]
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