Before it was torn down in 1999, the Red Cross building was the meeting spot at the NC State Fairgrounds. N&O columnist Dennis Rogers described it as "a homely red brick structure with big windows, rest rooms and a patio where generations of Eastern North Carolina teenagers have traditionally met to flirt, where old folks have rested their weary legs and where everybody agreed to meet if they got lost."
The parents of those teenagers remembered another landmark. The waterfall, from its completion in 1940 until it was torn down in the 1960s, was a special spot for generations of fairgoers.
When the fairgrounds waterfall was replaced after a 30 year absence, N&O writer Jay Price wrote about the significance of the old waterfall.
Back then, a waterfall fashioned from leftover lumber and roofing tin was not just part of the fair, but its focal point. It was the landmark for meeting friends or family and the best place to steal a few moments - for romance or just plain rest - from the delirium of the Midway.
The sound of the water masked the chaotic fair noise, and a pleasant mist drifted off the water to create the perfect antidote for hot fair days.
The waterfall was built in 1940. The fair manager then, J.S. Dorton, who oversaw the project, was famously tight with a dollar, and was said to have used only materials left over from other jobs for the waterfall. This might have saved money, but by the late 1960s the rotting wood and rusting tin became too much to maintain, and fair workers tore down the waterfall.
But now it's back: One of the biggest additions to the fair this year is a new waterfall, built from durable materials, including brick and steel-reinforced concrete, and complete with trees, a plaza and "misting jets" on one side of the waterfall to recreate the cooling mist of the original falls.
Fair officials say that word of a new waterfall has been triggering memories, and that they've received several calls and comments from folks who had missed the old one.
Deborah Warren of Raleigh was among those happy to hear there would be a new waterfall.
"My parents would always tell me and my sister 'OK, you go ahead on to the rides and meet us at the waterfall at 5 o'clock' or whatever time, " said Warren, who was a teenage fairgoer in the 1950s. "Then they'd go off and look at the animals and farming stuff that we didn't want to see."
And it is nearly the stuff of legend that Commissioner of Agriculture James Graham - the patriarch of the fair - met his wife Helen for the first time at the waterfall.
It was 1941, and they had ridden to Raleigh from Rowan County on the same bus - they shared a hometown but had never met. Another man had sat beside her on the way to the fair, but Graham boasts that after he saw Helen at the waterfall and walked up to talk, he was able to displace his rival for the trip home.
"The waterfall used to be a real highlight of the State Fair, " Graham said. "Everybody said, 'Meet me at the waterfall.'
"It's really a landmark, and we're pleased this year to have it back, " he said. "To me it's very special and it's sort of sentimental and emotional." -- The News & Observer 10/16/1999
The new waterfall was dedicated to Mrs. Graham, who died in December 1999.