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The Spanish Mission style used in the North Carolina State Fair buildings is rare in North Carolina
Photo by Elizabeth Alley, courtesy of Raleigh Historic Development Commission
This distinctive pair of buildings occupies a notable place in the agricultural and architectural history of North Carolina. They represent the oldest permanent buildings associated with the North Carolina State Fair, one of the state's premier annual events. Agriculture has long been a mainstay of the North Carolina economy. In celebration of that tradition, the North Carolina Agricultural Society began sponsoring annual fairs in 1853 at a site in east Raleigh. In 1873, the fair was moved to a location west of town. There it remained until 1925 when the agricultural society, faced with debts and site overcrowding, passed control of the event to the state. The following year, the state legislature authorized the purchase of 200 acres west of the second fair site for development as the new fairgrounds. Both the 1926 and 1927 fairs were canceled to accommodate construction.

[photo] The exhibit halls opened in 1928
Photo from National Register collection

The exhibit halls, designed by the Durham firm of Atwood and Weeks, were executed in the Spanish Mission Revival style, an architectural form rare in North Carolina. Plans originally called for the buildings to include swine and cattle exhibit areas, but instead barns were built on the opposite side of the grounds. The exhibit halls opened to record crowds in October 1928. The local paper found the new complex a "beautiful structure gaily decorated with flags and hundreds of electric lights."

The two buildings have remained in nearly continuous use since their completion. Over the past half-century, the state fair grounds have undergone considerable expansion, with many new buildings constructed to accommodate event activities. The Commercial and Education Buildings have nonetheless maintained their importance as exhibition facilities, the former annually housing service and product displays and the latter displaying exhibits by non-profit organizations, youth groups and the North Carolina University Extension. Since the 1960s, the buildings have been in use year-round on weekends as the home of a large and popular flea market. In the late 1990s, the buildings received a thorough renovation, renewing the historic look now familiar to three generations of fairgoers. North Carolina State Fair Commercial and Education Buildings are a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

The North Carolina State Fair Commercial and Education Buildings are located at the northwest corner of Hillsborough St. and Blue Ridge Blvd. The buildings are open weekends throughout the year, daily during the state fair and at other times of the year for special events. For more information call 919-821-7400 or visit the state fairground's website, for information specifically about the weekly flea markets visit the flea market's website.

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