The Harris County Fair & Rodeo will be moving its permanent home to Tomball in 2024 following the purchase in March of 165 acres for the fair.

Fred Stockton, owner of Stockton Inc.—a for-profit corporation in Hempstead—and chair of the Harris County Fair & Rodeo board, purchased the land near the Grand Parkway and Telge Road from Williams Family Land Tomball LLC in March.

The first fair and rodeo at the new grounds will be in October 2024, and Stockton said there are plans to have the grounds double as an event space for the community to use year-round.

Pieces of the historic Tin Hall dance hall will also be incorporated in an event venue on the property.

“Having the Harris County Fair here will bring economic prosperity to Tomball,” said Bruce Hillegeist, president of the Greater Tomball Area Chamber of Commerce.

Similar to the popular German Heritage Festival held in Tomball each year, Hillegeist said he expects the fair to aid the area’s small businesses.

“For German Fest, people come from all around the state to visit and stay a few nights. We are expecting the same thing from the fair,” he said. “People will come to watch their children and grandchildren, and we expect them to stay overnight, eat at local restaurants and visit the rest of the community. So the businesses will be the real winners here.”

Traveling fair

Hillegeist said he believes Tomball will also see an old legacy renewed with the return of the fair.

According to Lessie Upchurch’s book “Welcome to Tomball”, the Harris County Fair & Rodeo started in 1929 in Tomball. It was called the Tomball-Hufsmith Fair Association, the North Harris County Fair and the Harris County Fair before being discontinued in 1955.

Restarting in 1979, the Houston Farm and Ranch organization led the fair for nearly 40 years. The Harris County Fair & Rodeo was previously held in the Bear Creek area in Houston. According to the fair’s website, after the fairgrounds flooded twice in 2017, the fairgrounds were condemned and the original promoting organization disbanded.

As the fair prepares to return to Tomball, Stockton said aside from himself, the Harris County Fair & Rodeo has a new board of directors.

A few years after a group formed on Facebook to reform the organization, the fair began traveling to different communities in 2021, including New Caney, Pasadena and Katy, where the fair is slated to be this fall.

“The children of Harris County needed a fair,” Stockton said. “There was a group of us that never wanted it to go away.”

Stockton said a permanent location will allow the community direct access to the association.

“One of the things we will have there is our own building,” he said. “We’ll be able to have on-site meetings, an actual office, a home phone for people to call and a full-time staff. We can sell signage on the property. It will also bring in more donors.”

The land is broken into three tracts, according to Stockton, with an RV spot, space for barbecue cookoffs and trailer parking.

The new location will also allow for the return of the youth rodeo in 2024 along with a permanent rodeo arena to use year-round, he said. Stockton said the fair association has not been able to support a youth rodeo since 2017 at its former home.

“We looked at what we didn’t like before, and we are trying to correct that now with the new location,” Stockton said.

Rodeo reaction

Hillegeist said by bringing the youth rodeo back, it will bring more opportunities for students in local FFA and agricultural programs to get experience and earn scholarships.

“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is important, but it’s statewide, and the competition is much tougher,” he said. “Here, it’s not statewide. Students can have more of an opportunity to learn, show off their talents and earn scholarships. It also encourages the growth of the agricultural industry around here.”

Ward Wilbanks, Tomball ISD agricultural sciences coordinator, said in an emailed statement that the fair’s move to Tomball will make it more accessible to students.

“Each year TISD has 60-70 students that participate in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in a variety of events,” he said. “With another show opportunity this close to home, TISD students will be able to exhibit their livestock and compete in other contests to gain valuable experiences that they can build on as they prepare for their district project and major livestock shows.”

Stockton said 90% of event proceeds are funneled back into the community or scholarships, as the Harris County Fair & Rodeo is a nonprofit.

In 2022, $4,000 was awarded in scholarships. Michelle Reed, Harris County Fair & Rodeo president, said this year’s total will reach $5,000.

“In our first and second year bringing the fair back, we raised $84,000 for various organizations in Harris County,” she said in an interview. “I think that’s incredible.”

In addition to the rodeo component, the fair plans to host events throughout the year such as barbecue cookoffs and fundraisers, Stockton said.

Tin Hall

The iconic Tin Hall will also be reconstructed in the next year or two as another event venue on the property for meetings, weddings and special events, Stockton said. He said he plans to use pieces of the old dance hall for a modern, steel building on the new fairgrounds.

Tin Hall is considered by the Texas State Historical Association to be the oldest honky-tonk in Harris County.

“It’ll be a one-story building with the old buildings’ floors, walls and bars back in it,” he said. “Part of bringing the fair back is that we like to preserve the past but looking toward the future.”

According to the TSHA, the original Tin Hall was built in 1878 in Cypress and destroyed by fire a few years later; a new building was constructed in 1890 and expanded in the 1920s.

By the early 21st century, Tin Hall began hosting weddings, receptions and other private functions. Stockton said after the venue briefly changed hands, the hall returned to his family in 2016.

“It will become a meeting place and melting pot for the community to use,” he said. “It helps support the community. Not just Tin Hall, but I wanted to bring back the fair to my hometown as well. Now we have two pieces of history. We’re bringing back our roots.”