Tonight’s McCracken County Fair events are scheduled to include both a talent show and the Western horse show, but in 1910 a very different type of competition took place at the fair among the farmers of Western Kentucky.

That competition was a tobacco growers’ contest and the September 28, 1910 issue of the Paducah Evening Sun rightly called the dark tobacco market of Western Kentucky, “the keenest rivalry of the entire exhibits at the fairgrounds.”

It was noted at the time that the finest tobacco growing out of the fertile soil of the Jackson Purchase traditionally came from Ballard, Graves, Marshall, and Calloway counties. However, the 1910 fair saw two McCracken County farmers pull off a surprising upset over the perennial powerhouse tobacco farmers of Western Kentucky.

A tobacco barn

The two planters in question were none other than J.W. Harris and his son Earl, who took home five out of the six prizes for tobacco that year. No small feat, considering the rich, tobacco growing history of the region. The Harris duo took home first place and second place for their Italian tobacco, first place for manufactured tobacco, first place for Snuff, and also won for samples numbering over 100.

The monetary earnings of the Harris’ prizes aggregated to $100, a sum that numbers to over $2,000 of today’s dollars when accounting for inflation, and their first-rate tobacco netted them other gifts as well. All in all, the father and son’s hard work translated into a well-deserved pay day for two Kentucky farmers.

For more information about the McCracken County Fair, the history of tobacco farming in Western Kentucky, or the history of our region in general, please visit us at the McCracken County Public Library Local and Family History Department.


–Aaron Williams