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The Lone Star Fair of 1852

The State Fair of Texas, held annually in Dallas, is one of the largest continuing events in Texas. The city of Dallas, Texas is known for hosting the State Fair of Texas since 1886. Dallas is not, however, the location of the first State Fair of Texas. That distinction belongs to Corpus Christi, Texas. Henry L. Kinney organized a state fair held in 1852 in Corpus Christi, Texas. This was the first attempt to get businesses and people to move to Corpus Christi, Texas.

The Lone Star Fair, as Kinney named it, is often seen as a failure in the eyes of his contemporaries and historians. The fair’s success or failure is debatable. The fair did not achieve Kinney’s goals in the immediate term, but it did achieve some of his goals in the years following the Lone Star Fair. Corpus Christi continues to see the Lone Star Fair of 1852 as an important event in the history of the city.

Henry L. Kinney moved into the area which would become Corpus Christi and established a settlement in the 1840s.[1] Kinney desired to build up the area near the Nueces River, the disputed border between Texas and Mexico. Kinney had multiple motivations behind organizing the Lone Star Fair, only one of which was encouraging settlers to move into the area. Kinney’s “real reason behind the desire to populate the country - be able to furnish more men and supplies to support General Jose′ M. J. Carbajal’s none-too-successful revolutionary movement in northern Mexico.”[2] If General Carbajal’s revolutionary movement had been successful, it would have created a buffer nation between Mexico and Texas.

Kinney was a businessman who was always searching for the next way to make money. Corpus Christi was an area where he could create a supply outpost for Carbajal and/or settlers moving into Texas. Like fairs from the historical past, the Lone Star Fair was meant to pull people to the area and to make money, especially for Kinney. People were encouraged to bring their money and see the events. The hope was that most of the people would invest in the area and buy land and homestead.

The Lone Star Fair was not just for Texans from other parts of the state. It was “advertised internationally with the goal of attracting 30,000 people to the area.”[3] Kinney organized various events, which he advertised in flyers that he sent as far away as Europe, to attract people to the area and to the fair. The fair opened on May 1, 1852 and was scheduled to last for two weeks. Some of the attractions were “races on a new racetrack, bullfights by the noted Mexico City matador, Don Camerena, the popular Maltby’s Circus, a theatrical troupe from New Orleans…with prizes for all competitive events.”[4] Kinney’s hope was that these attractions would drive the desired amount of people to Corpus Christi, and while there, they would see the opportunities the area had to offer and either stay or invest their business in the area. Those people would then buy land in Corpus Christi and the area would grow. Kinney, who owned much of the land, would make a profit by selling portions of the land to the new settlers.

Kinney’s expectation of 30,000 people was far off the mark. One of the reasons it is considered a failure is that “only 2,000 visitors appeared. The failure of the fair was attributed to the remoteness of Corpus Christi, poor transportation, and the revolutionary activity the fair supported.”[5] These numbers do suggest that Kinney’s Lone Star Fair was a failure. Kinney himself lost a lot of money on the venture and would seek to rebuild his fortune elsewhere.

Calling the Lone Star Fair of 1852 a failure is somewhat shortsighted. “He [Kinney] brought the Lone Star Fair…to Corpus Christi in 1852, the year that the rickety town of around 700 people became an incorporated municipality.”[6] Corpus Christi would grow within a few short years following the Lone Star Fair. People and businesses moved into the area before the American Civil War broke out in 1861. They saw the opportunities Kinney attempted to reveal to them in 1852 and took advantage of them. These people came from not only other parts of the United States, but from other countries. By 1860 “nearly one-third of all of residents were foreign born.”[7] Kinney’s marketing of the fair throughout the United States and to Europe proved to be successful albeit later than Kinney and others had hoped.

Corpus Christi, Texas grew as the 1850s progressed. “By 1859 it was reported that some forty-five vessels carried on trade between Corpus Christi and Indianola alone. In 1860 the population reached 1,200…”[8] Kinney and others saw the fair as a failure, but their assessment was premature. People saw what the area had to offer and they jumped on the opportunity to move to Corpus Christi or invest in business there or both. The American Civil War would only temporarily halt economic growth due to the Union blockade, but the economy would once again grow as would the population after the Union was restored.

Henry L. Kinney’s Lone Star Fair of 1852 has the distinction of being considered the first State Fair of Texas. Kinney’s venture set out to encourage people and businesses to move to Corpus Christi and grow the area. He also set out to assist General Jose′ M. J. Carbajal’s failing revolution. Carabajal’s revolutionary movement failed, and many contemporaries viewed Kinney’s fair with the same lens. Hortense W. Ward’s 1953 article “The First State Fair of Texas” quotes the Texas Republican of June 6, 1852 as saying, “the Fair did not meet the public expectation; the attendance was smaller than anticipated. The award of premiums was not received with entire satisfaction.”[9]

The Texas Republican did not have the benefit of historical hindsight nor did Henry L. Kinney. Corpus Christi would grow and businesses would move into the area. The Lone Star Fair of 1852 had lofty goals that did not pan out in the short term, but proved successful only a few years later. The fair has proven to be an important part of Texas history as a whole and Corpus Christi History in particular. The city of Corpus Christi continues to view the Lone Star Fair of 1852 and Henry L. Kinney as the key to the growth and prosperity of the city and the surrounding areas.


Images

Henry L. Kinney
Henry L. Kinney Source: The image comes from the Caller Times, https://www.caller.com/story/opinion/forums/2022/09/30/h-l-kinney-planned-1852-lone-star-fair-to-put-south-texas-on-the-map/69527676007/
General Jose’ M.J. Carbajal, leader of the Liberating Army of Mexico
General Jose’ M.J. Carbajal, leader of the Liberating Army of Mexico Source: The image comes from the Caller Times, https://www.caller.com/story/opinion/forums/2022/10/07/two-weeks-of-festivities-at-corpus-christis-1852-lone-star-fair/69542965007/
Kinney’s advertisement in the Texas State Gazette
Kinney’s advertisement in the Texas State Gazette Source: The image comes from the Caller Times https://www.caller.com/story/opinion/forums/2022/10/07/two-weeks-of-festivities-at-corpus-christis-1852-lone-star-fair/69542965007/
Henry Maltby of Maltby’s Circus
Henry Maltby of Maltby’s Circus Source: The image comes from the Caller Times, https://www.caller.com/story/opinion/forums/2023/03/24/corpus-christis-mayor-maltby-went-missing-for-a-few-weeks-in-1857/70039130007/
Historical Marker in Corpus Christi, Texas
Historical Marker in Corpus Christi, Texas Source: The image comes from Texas Proud, https://texasproud.com/the-first-lone-star-state-fair-1852/

Location

Metadata

Anthony C. Hutchins, “The Lone Star Fair of 1852,” East Texas History, accessed May 30, 2024, https://easttexashistory.org/items/show/379.