By Marlene Greer, Correspondent
Take a small, narrow cabin with a front porch, paint it a wild combination of colors, leave the inside unfinished (except a bathroom), stack wall-to-wall bunk beds in every room, invite 30 of your closest family and friends, and you’re ready to celebrate Mississippi’s Giant Houseparty, aka the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia.
Every summer, county residents and their extended families gather at their fair cabins for a week of front porch cooking, eating, sitting and talking while enjoying the usual trappings of a county fair — horse racing, concerts, car shows, carnival rides, arts and crafts, and loads of food. It’s one big family reunion.
“People in our town, instead of coming home for the holidays come home for the fair,” said Philadelphia native Jo Ann Tinsley-Rounsaville. “It’s a chance to see old friends growing up and old friends made over the years. Each cabin is unique in the same way families are. But we are all tied together with love, fellowship and friendship.”
The first fair was in the summer of 1889 and lasted only a few hours. When the fair transformed into a multi-day event, people began to arrive in covered wagons and started building small cabins on the fairgrounds. The first cabins were single-story, but later grew to two and three stories.
Today, there are about 600 colorful cabins crammed next to one another on narrow lanes. Some cabins are unfinished inside with Army-style barracks and others are what locals call “up to snuff,” meaning they have all the amenities of a home.
Fair cabins, Tinsley-Rounsaville explained, are a family treasure passed down the generations. Her father built a cabin at the fair in 1966, when she was 7 years old. Growing up, she and her three older brothers spent a week every summer in the cabin during the fair. Now she takes her grandchildren to the same cabin.“I’ve never missed one fair,” said Tinsley-Rounsaville. “The only way you miss a fair is if you are in the hospital or dead.”
If you want to check out these funky cabins, the tourism office plans to host a tour at this year’s fair. Or, as Kaye Rowell, tourism director for the county, advises, just walk up to anyone and say this is your first time at the fair and ask to see their cabin. “Anyone will let you in.”
The fair runs July 25-Aug.1. Admission is $15. For information, visit www.neshobacountyfair.org.