Historical Markers To Be Dedicated At TVE Grounds
LIBERTY, January 21, 2016 – A double marker dedication will be held by the Liberty County Historical Commission Friday, January 22nd, 10:00 a.m. on the grounds of the Trinity Valley Exposition in Liberty. The public is invited and encouraged to attend this historic event honoring the Trinity Valley Exposition and the World War II German Prisoner of War Camp, “Camp Liberty” which was housed on the TVE site.
The Trinity Valley Exposition began as a small street fair in Liberty to rejuvenate business after a devastating fire in 1909 in the downtown business area. The business league spearheaded this event advertising in the local newspapers and placing posters in the local post office and businesses. They boasted that prize money would be given for the best stock, produce, canned goods, art and handiwork. Some of the premiums listed included the best hog under 1 year, $10.00; best colt less than 1 year, $1.50; best turkey gobbler, $5.00; best 6 ears of corn, $2.50; best 6 stalks of cane, $2.50; biggest pumpkin, $1.00; best big potato, $1.00; biggest bale of cotton, $1.00; biggest catfish, $0.50; oldest married couple, $2.00 and biggest family of children, $2.00! 1500 people attended the fair to view the events and exhibits. The grand feature of the afternoon was the flower parade which was led by two local citizens on horseback and followed by fifteen buggies highly and elaborately decorated with flowers. The parade included a bandwagon drawn by six mules and prizes were given by the best decorated buggy. The fair and parade were a huge success and plans for the second annual fair started immediately which would be held in the City Park. A brass band was engaged along with a Merry-Go-Round and a fiddlers contest was planned. Tents were secured for agricultural and livestock exhibits and plans were made for the selection of a Queen of the Fair by the ladies in the community as well as a Grand Ball to be held in the newly completed school building. In 1930, the Fair was moved to its’ present location, two miles south of Liberty on F.M. Road 563. A building was constructed for displaying agricultural, homemaking and school exhibits with eating booths on the outside of the building which were operated by different churches and other civic organizations for the three day event. In 1939, the Liberty County Fair changed its name to the Trinity Valley Exposition, with Chambers county participating. In 1941, an arena for rodeos was built. Horse shows were held and registered cattle competed for prizes. Later a Baby Parade was added to the annual event and prizes were given for the most beautiful and most original decorated floats and continue to be a highlight of the annual exposition. From this humble beginning, the Trinity Valley Exposition has grown and prospered to include year-long events. Through its popularity and success, the Trinity Valley Exposition has enabled sponsors to give thousands of dollars annually in scholarships to students from area schools.
During World War II, with many Liberty County men overseas, county farmers were in desperate need of labor to cultivate and harvest crops. Prisoners of war seemed to be the logical answer to this problem. Liberty County boasted 1,961 farms with the average farm having 127.1 acres of land for the production of rice, cotton and soybean crops. Area farmers realized they would not have sufficient farm labor. Prisoners of war seemed to be the logical answer to this growing problem. With great anticipation in 1943, representatives of local farmers, Pat Boyt, J. H. Sandlin and County Agent, Gordon Hart went to Huntsville, Texas to meet with General L. F. Guerre, Director of Internal Security Division of the Eighth Service Command to discuss the use of prisoners of war for labor forces on Liberty County farms. One of the first questions raised was where the camp should be located. A Farm Labor Advisory Committee was formed, which was composed of local farmers and businessmen. They approached the Trinity Valley Exposition Committee on the use of the fairgrounds on F.M. 563. In October of 1943, 140 POWs arrived from Huntsville to prepare the camp for the approximate 500 prisoners that soon arrived to become the labor force for area farmers. These men were veterans of Rommel’s Afrika Korps and were considered to be some of his top men. The Germans earned the respect of their keepers. They were above average in intelligence and readily learned the tasks set before them. The prisoners were trustworthy and competent and posed no threat. Each prisoner was paid the minimum wage per day as regulated by the Beaumont War Manpower Commission. After the war, the farm labor group left the Trinity Valley Exposition Committee a balance of $3,745.00 in the bank. In addition, $3,700.00 in rent was paid to the Exposition to pay off all its indebtedness. Two wells and two pumps had been added for the camp and were left which were valued at about $1,950.00. On the whole, the Germans and the citizens of Liberty touched each other’s lives in many ways and by all accounts, “Camp Liberty” on the site of the Trinity Valley Exposition, was an overwhelming success in the eyes of the locals and the prisoners alike, who seemed happy during their stay. The crops that would have lain fallow were harvested and the farming industry in Liberty County, the basis of its economy, was productive and lucrative.
The Liberty County Historical Commission is honored to dedicate these two markers commemorating such a valuable part of Liberty County History. The Trinity Valley Exposition marker is sponsored by the TVE and the German Prisoner of War Camp, “Camp Liberty” is sponsored by the Libertad Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution as a chapter project in historic preservation.