Despite the capriciousness of large-scale fate — world wars, disease and the vagaries of local politics — the Clallam County Fair is celebrating its 100th event, 124 years after the inaugural event.
While a number of the events and exhibitions are no longer on the annual schedule — as one might imagine, a century and a quarter after that first fair in 1895 — several features continue to this day, notes Laurie Davies, a Clallam County Fair board member.
“They had divisions and judges, sponsors, prizes … and (at least) 700 entries,” Davies notes.
In an article titled “The Fair Will Be Held,” printed in the Port Angeles-based Democrat-Leader on July 26, 1895, the paper notes:
“To the People of Clallam County: At a recent meeting of the Clallam County Historical Society, it was decided to hold a County Fair at Port Angeles during the first week in October of the present year, and to endeavor to make this — the first of a series of Annual County Fairs — a worth and truthful exposition of the resources of this great county; one in which every resident of the county will take an active and enthusiastic interest, and to the success of which everyone will contribute to the full limit of their ability.”
Davies noted that in her research the first Clallam fair was put together by several civic leaders — M.J. Carrigan, James S. Coolican and Samuel M. Crooks — and was promoted to boost the morale of Clallam County citizens following the Panic of 1893.
Besides numerous exhibits, the first fair’s “auxiliary program” events were to include “horse races, sailing and canoe races, bicycle and foot races, base ball matches, Indian war dances, a monster clam-bake, a water carnival and fire-works displays, and abundance of good music and evening entertainments.”
Representatives were then selected from Port Angeles, Dungeness, Sequim, Blyn, Port Williams, Rena, McDonald, Lake Sutherland, Lake Crescent, Upper Solduck, Port Crescent, Gettysburg, Pysht, Clallam Bay, Neah Bay, Beaver, Pleasant Prairie, Hoko, Sekiou, Shuwah, Dickey, Quillayute, Boston and LaPush.
“There is nothing we can do, as a community, that will more thoroughly and convincingly advertise to the world the diversified wealth of our county and justify the claims that we make for the wonderful productiveness of our soils and to the excellence of the quality of our products, than a successfully conducted County Fair, in which every portion of the county will be fully represented,” the newspaper noted.
First fair details
The three day fair, held Oct. 2-4, 1895, was held in the Port Angeles Opera House located on Front and Laurel Street. The auditorium was decorated and held dances. Inside the Opera House featured various departments while outside facilities were built to house livestock. A Grand Harvest Home Ball was held on the fair’s final day.
Clallam County Citizens came as far as Neah Bay and Forks, and a ferry was available for Victoria’s travelers.
Attendance was not recorded, Davies said, but 700 entries were presented at the first fair.
Tickets were $0.25 for all except Friday evening festivities (an extra $0.50), or $1 for a season’s pass.
Entertainment included music each day, several band concerts, a Maypole dance, “Military Drill by children of the public schools” and “Competitive Indian Fire Dance, in full dress, between Ozette and Jamestown Indians.” At various times the fair presented living pictures “by a number of the most beautiful young ladies of Clallam County.”
Among the standard livestock were three mountain elk display.
Contests varied from multiple classes of horse races — from half-mile dashes to trotting to “Most Graceful and accomplished lady rider and gentlemen ride” — to a 500-foot wheelbarrow race, a quadrangular tug-of-war (east Clallam versus West End, Angeles vs. Victoria), catch a greased pig or climb a greased pole (for boys only) and 100-foot sack race (prize: $1 each), “sparring matches,” and more.
Most activities went off without a hitch minus a couple of postponements and this, from the Oct. 3 Democrat-Leader: “The only accident to mar the harmony of the races, which very fortunately resulted without serious consequences, occurred while Mr. Holland was riding, his horse stumbling, fell and rolled completely over the rider several times without injuring him. His escape seems almost miraculous.”
Two baseball games were scheduled, and when the team from Port Townsend didn’t show a group of local business leaders teamed up to take on the local team of “Stars.”
According to the Oct. 4 Democrat-Leader, “In the first two innings the Business Men evidenced good playing qualities, but from thence onward to the close of the seventh inning they went completely to pieces and the Stars experienced practically a walk-over.” Final score? Stars 32, assembled team 7.
Some contests were not to be carried on to following fairs: Theo. Brewster won the contest challenging contestants to recover a purse at the end of horizontal pole extended from Morse’s dock. (The prize, contents of the purse, netted Brewster $2.25.)
In the barn
The Democrat-Leader also highlighted several impressive livestock entries:
“A fine hog weighing 560 pounds, is an example of the peculiar adaptability of Clallam county for the profitable production of hogs for the markets,” and, “One of the attractive exhibits in the stockyards, is a magnificent five-year-old, weighing 1665 pounds, English Draft horse, the valuable property of Joseph Henderson, one of Dungeness’ successful farmers.”
Also, “The steer weighing 1025 pounds is a living exhibition in the stockyards of what Clallam county can do in stock raising. This splendid animal, formerly owned by D.W. Morse, is the valuable property of Thos. Watson, of the city market.”
Of course, the first fair also honored the best in agriculture. Thos. Knopf of Dungeness took home the top prize for butter and cheese, with the best cheese prize going to W. C. Williams of Port Williams. The best landscape painting went to Mr. J.W. Garrison of Dugneness, while Mrs. John W. Troy took home best flower painting and Mrs. J.L. Worthley awarded first place for still life fruit, the subject being lemons. The best washing machine went to Jno. D. Yarnell.
And more …
People themselves were in the fair spotlight … in a way. The top prize in the Clallam County Fair’s first baby contest went to the 2-year-old girl of Mr. and Mrs. Frank L. Hall, second went to Mr. and Mrs. Edwards’ 7-month-old baby.
“Yesterday’s baby show very clearly evidenced an infant industry by no means neglected,” the Oct. 4, 1895 Democrat-Leader asserted.
The U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet was invited as the city’s guest, and several ships anchored off the Port Angeles waterfront, including the 335-foot-long cruiser Philadelphia, monitors Monterey and Monadnock, and gunboats Alert and Bennington, as well as the British war vessel Wild Swan
“The presence in the harbor of the cruiser Philadelphia will cause all true Americans to exclaim, ‘Great is America!’” the Democrat-Leader exclaimed in an Oct. 4, 1895 edition. It further noted: “The officers of the Philadelphia have an eye for beauty — feminine as well as agricultural.”
By Oct. 4 the Democrat-Leader was hailing the first Clallam County Fair a success.
“The final day of the fair. And what an uninterrupted success it has been … None question — all commend the brilliant success of the fair,” the newspaper added, along with, “The East End has acquitted itself most creditably. It is to be doubted if any section of the state could make a better exhibition of farm products.”
It was such a success, the Democrat-Leader wrote, “Next year Clallam will boast an exposition hall the dimensions of which will be sufficient to properly accommodate its exhibits,” and, “No one will doubt the advisability nor the wisdom of an agricultural and industrial exposition in Clallam next year.”
However, another fair was not held again until 1914, held in conjunction for the ceremony and dedication of the new Clallam County Courthouse. An influenza outbreak nixed the 1918 fair.
In 1919, following the fair, land was purchased on the present site of the Clallam County Fairgrounds and the first Clallam County Fair was held there Sept. 29- Oct. 1, 1921.
In 1942, by state order following the outbreak of America’s involvement in World War II, Victory Fair held in lieu of the fair. For the next three years the fair was replaced by a 4-H Club Victory Fair and Victory Garden at Roosevelt High School, and in 1946 a 4-H fair was held at the fairgrounds.
Since 1947, the Clallam County Fair has been running continuously at the Port Angeles site, hitting the “Golden Anniversary (50th fair) in 1969 and an all-time recorded attendance high of 48,318 in 1980. Despite a relative drop in attendance, fair organizers note Clallam remains one of the top five county fairs in the state with an annual attendance of about 30,000.