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Beginnings of the Washington State Fair
By Robert E. Pace

State Fair
This 1911 Lanterman photo shows the streetcar entrance and parking lot on Fair Ave. Click on image above to browse Yakima Memory Collections on this subject.

"The year 1921 sees the Washington State Fair at the 25th milestone — the Silver Anniversary — and not withstanding the financial sleep over the entire country during these times of business reconstruction, I am safe in saying that the outlook for a good fair never was better."

Those words, in the opening remarks by H. P. Vermilye, Secretary of the 1921 Washington State Fair, started an event that would see the week’s attendance top over 87,000. Far and above any previous Fair that Yakima had hosted.

It wasn’t always such a success. The Fair had a tenuous beginning and it took the businessmen of Yakima to promote and finance the original idea in 1892.

The first Fair was held in Yakima (then called North Yakima) in 1892, when a group of business- men in Yakima assumed the responsibility of putting on a Fair in a downtown brick building. Although very small this Fair was considered a success.

Previous to this time, the entire State of Washington, for a period of two years, has been in an uproar, trying to decide on the location of the State Capitol. Three locations were vying for the Capitol: Ellensburg, Yakima, and Olympia. On February 16, 1893, the legislators did a weird bit of horse trading, ending with Yakima receiving the nod for the State Fair, and Olympia retained its title as Capitol City. Ellensburg was to be the home of the State Agricultural College. The bill creating the State Fair was passed on March 2, 1893, and $10,000 was set aside for work on the buildings. One hundred and twenty acres of land was purchased by September 24, 1894 and made ready for construction of a grandstand large enough to seat 2,000 people, a one mile race track, and exhibit hall, 100 horse stalls, and a judges stand three stories high. Yakima was ready for the first State Fair on September 28, 1896.

Agricultural exhibits started pouring in from all over the state, as well as livestock. Northwest Indian tribes participated by holding war dances, coyote hunts, harness races, and horse races. By 1915, the Yakima Valley Transportation Co. had constructed a siding seven blocks long, to accommodate the crowds who were flocking to the Fair. About this time the automobile was attracting a great deal of attention, and such well known models as Overland, Maxwell, Mitchell, Elgin Six, Stutz, and many others were on display as one of the main attractions. By 1930 auto racing had become one of the major events, with a Stoddard-Dayton clocking a record time by completing the one mile track in one minute, making the Yakima track the fastest in the state. But horse racing, fruits and agriculture, and livestock, still held a predominant position at the Fair.

As the year 2002 marks the one hundred sixth year the Fair has been on the fall calendar, we can view in awe the changes that have been brought about by time. We can view the latest in marketing and gadgetry which has become such an integral part of our modern culture. We can be entertained by some of the best. We can view the art and culture of the Yakima Valley. But most important perhaps, is we can still marvel at the livestock, home cooking, quilting, and have fun doing it.

That’s what the Yakima Fair has been all about for the past 106 years.

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