A look at back at Clallam County’s first fair

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.”

Further, it states: “If the people of every locality in the county will take hold of this project, and see to it that their representative localities are properly represented at the Fair by Exhibits that will worthily represent their products of every kind, the grand result of their united endeavors will be an exposition the magnitude and excellence of which will astonish us all.”

The same article urged fruit-growers to “preserve in their natural size and color, in alcohol, or other preservative fluid, at least one glass jar full (Mason’s jars will answer the purpose) of choice specimens of the various varieties of fruits they grow.

“The social importance of the fair should not be lost sight of either, as it will afford the people of every portion of the county an admirable opportunity for mingling together and getting better acquainted with each other, with results that cannot fail to be beneficial all around.”

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.

Premium lists noted in subsequent Democrat-Leader editions previewed the fair, in between stories of the American Cup and news of silver salmon running up the Elwha.

A display of canned salmon looms large at the first Clallam County Fair, October 1895. Arranged by the National Packing Company, the pyramid of cans were arranged on top of boxes with labels reading “American Flag Brand Salmon.” Photo courtesy of Washington State Library

A display of canned salmon looms large at the first Clallam County Fair, October 1895. Arranged by the National Packing Company, the pyramid of cans were arranged on top of boxes with labels reading “American Flag Brand Salmon.” Photo courtesy of Washington State Library

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.

Sporting life

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 with names of Hawkins, Ferguson, Dyke, Wright, Crockett, Keller, Meagher and Fisher 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.

Departments included horse, steer and bulls, sheep, pigs, poultry, dairy and dairy products, farm produce, minerals, manufacture and agriculture implements, forestry, household, fisheries fine arts, women’s department, boys and girls, and dogs.

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 baby contest presented yesterday afternoon proved to be, as was expected, one of the most attractive features of the Fair. The scene presented, with twenty-five or thirty babies gathered together for the impending contest, a contest truly momentous to every loving mother’s heart as with true parental devotion and pride she beheld the prettiest, the sweetest and the best baby in all creation, weighed in the balance of — what? cruel, relentless, heartless judges’ minds and found wanting. No doubt the judge wished, way down at the bottom of his heart, to vote a prize every baby entered in the contest — but stern, unfeeling duty prevented.”

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.”

Accolades, delays

By Oct. 4 the Democrat-Leader was hailing the first Clallam County Fair a success.

“Clallam’s first annual fair is an achievement to which the management and citizens of the county can point with pardonable pride … the aggregation of attractions produced during fair week was of that character and excellence, that the management is to be congratulated over the judgment and wisdom exercised in the arrangement of the signally meritorious program.” and “The magnificent exhibition of native products in the exhibition hall portrays most eloquently, and truthfully the grand — in fact — almost limitless possibilities of Clallam county in a material way.

“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.

Clallam County Fair milestones

1895 — First fair, held Oct. 2-4 at Opera House in Port Angeles

1896-1913 — No fair held (1911-1913, many Clallam residents take part in The Olympic Peninsula Fair, later renamed the Jefferson County Fair)

1914 — Second fair, held Oct. 16-17 at Opera House in conjunction with dedication of new Clallam County Courthouse

1915 — Fair moved to Davis and Wood Pavilion, downtown Port Angeles

1918 — Influenza outbreak suspends fair; activities moved to November, this event is not counted among 100 county fairs

1920 — No fair held, but fairground land purchased

1921 — Seventh fair, first in present location just west of Port Angeles; merchant, agriculture, art, 4-H and floral buildings, animal barn built; Port Angeles Commercial Club forms Clallam County Fair Association to receive paid membership to provide money for fair

1922 — Eighth fair, horse racing added

1924 — 10th fair, new grandstand built and running water installed

1932 — 18th fair, first queen elected and 4-H poultry show added; Pomona Grange begins running fair events

1937 — 23rd fair, branded “Clallam County Fair and Frontier Days”

1939 — 25th fair, called “Golden Jubilee”

1942 — No fair held by state order, World War II conditions; Victory Fair held in lieu of county event

1943-45 — No fairs held; 4-H Club Victory Fair and Victory Garden at Roosevelt High School

1946 — No fair held; 4-H fair put on at fairgrounds site

1947 — 28th fair, called “Clallam County First Post War Fair”

1949 — 30th fair, organizers agree to hold event third week of August

1964 — 45th fair, Dry Creek Grange introduces scones

1966 — 47th fair, with proposal from then Port Angeles city manager to take over fairgrounds and knock down barns and buildings, Pomona Grange relinquishes management; fair board appointed

1969 — 50th fair, dubbed “Golden Anniversary”

1973 — 54th fair, fee now charged at grandstand

1977 — 58th fair, Sunny Farms stage and draft horse barn built

1980 — 61st fair, attendance reaches recorded high of 48,318

1984 — 65th fair, five-day fair held (Aug. 14-18)

1986 — 67th fair, board votes to return to a four-day fair

1995 — 76th fair, old merchants building torn down

1997 — 78th fair, llamas introduced