Something for everyone at First Monday Trades Day

Published 12:18 pm Saturday, September 5, 2015

The welcome mat is out. Everybody comes to the “World Famous 1st Monday Trades Day. -- SUBMITTED

The welcome mat is out. Everybody comes to the “World Famous 1st Monday Trades Day. — SUBMITTED

by James Howell

About 70 miles to our east, just a little south of Interstate 10, in Van Zandt county, the small city of Canton rests most of the time. It’s a rural, agricultural city of about 3,000.

On the weekend of the first Monday of each month, the population of Canton swells to around 15,000 for each of the three days. Nobody is keeping score; so nobody really knows exactly. What is known is that a lot of people converge on this crossroads in east Texas to trade (or sell) virtually anything that can be carried and displayed. It’s called First Monday Trade Days and it’s been going on for over a hundred years. Nobody is conversant about when it started, but generally, like other counties, people came for court days at the county seat, and used the opportunity to buy, trade or sell any and all goods to others who were in town also.

The trading area is about 30 acres. There’s no division of goods by category. Rough, rusty garden tools are side by side with delicate porcelains. Military clothing shares space with religious icons and children’s toys. The general setup is a 10-foot wide section of dirt path that each vendor pays a fee to occupy. Each space is about 25-feet deep. That’s enough space for a pickup truck or van and a few tables for goods to be traded. Some folks rent two adjacent spaces for additional room.

Customers roam all areas freely. Shotguns, rifles, handguns are carried openly to be sold or traded with vendors. Anybody can trade with anyone. A constant stream of people carrying items clutched close to their body or in small carts or wagons flows through the trade grounds. Adults, children, pets, old and young have come to see, buy or barter whatever they choose. Goods arrive and depart; people practice the art of “visiting” with one another.

Food vendors generally spread out around a central zone; although I don’t see a rigorous plan. Deep fried turkey legs, hamburgers, goat, chicken, with baked potatoes and a large assortment of beans, French fries, corn, pies, cakes and other desserts give up their smells to mingle in the fall air. I think a lot of folks come to just enjoy the day out.

A newly built long shelter provides spaces (booths) where vendors can set up more fragile goods and can be protected from rain. A few cabin type structures along one path seem more permanent. I don’t know how the rent is determined for them, or who may have been responsible for the upkeep. They do have electricity and air conditioning for summer. It can get pretty hot in this east Texas town.

Just outside the main entrance, existing buildings have been given over to the trade day idea. Obvious conversions accommodate new, more permanent shops. There’s a smattering of small animals in temporary pens. Here is also an impromptu bandstand with local musicians offering a few hours entertainment for passing crowds.

Parking space on this day isn’t much of a problem. Public parking lots in town and around businesses are made available for this special weekend. We did show up early and were able to park right by the courthouse.

Down the street from the main entrance is an overflow area, with similar attributes. Just beyond that is a large, mostly open area for animals. A dirt path winds through that area, with less definite boundaries. Horses, cows, chickens of all descriptions, goats, mules, dogs, rabbits, sheep and other barnyard creatures are bought, sold, and traded. Larger trucks and livestock trailers spread around and between trees here. More animal sounds mix with people voices for a different atmosphere.

A few food vendors have set up here, close to the side road; fewer people stroll the paths. There seems to be a little more visiting done here, with conversations about the varying merits of different breeds of animals. The pace is noticeably slower.

We visit most of both parts of the trading grounds. I don’t think it’s possible to see it all in one day. We wind up with a few treasures, a lot of interest in returning, and tired feet. It’s a good day.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at