On September 15, 1915, the Hay Palace, built of nearly 1,000 tons of baled alfalfa hay, opens in Mabton. Local farmers stage the Hay Palace Fair to promote the bumper crops of alfalfa and other hay grown around Mabton, a small town on the Northern Pacific line south of the Yakima River in southeast Yakima County. The fair features displays of farm products and equipment, a rodeo, and vaudeville acts and music in a theater and auditorium also built of hay bales. The alfalfa bales used to construct the Palace and other buildings are auctioned off when the fair closes.
The farming community of Mabton grew up around a Northern Pacific "section house" where a track maintenance crew was headquartered. The town was named by railroad officials, reputedly for Mabel Baker Anderson, daughter of Dr. Dorsey S. Baker (1823-1888), an early railroad builder in Walla Walla. Farm production in the area jumped when irrigation water reached the fertile but arid land south of the tracks in the early twentieth century. With so much hay on the market, farmers were having trouble getting good prices, and they came up with the Hay Palace Fair as a promotion.
Building with Hay
Nearly 1,000 tons of alfalfa hay bales were built into an edifice resembling a medieval castle. The Palace housed exhibits of agricultural products and the latest farm machinery. Thousands of dollars in prizes were awarded for the best produce and livestock exhibited. In addition to the Palace, a theater, and auditorium -- also built of hay bales -- featured plays, vaudeville acts, brass bands, and quartets from both Washington State College (as Washington State University was then known) and the University of Washington. Outside, rodeo acts were performed and a barnstorming pilot demonstrated a new-fangled flying machine.
The Northern Pacific provided a special car to transport visitors from North Yakima (now Yakima), the county seat, to the Hay Palace. Governor Ernest Lister (1870-1919) officially opened the fair, which took in $10,000 in gate receipts.
After the fair closed on September 18, 1915, the farmers achieved the goal of selling their hay by auctioning off all the bales that had been used in the construction, with the stipulation that every bale make market price. Hay Palace Fairs were held in a number of succeeding years, but by the 1920s crops had diversified and there was no longer a surplus of alfalfa hay that needed promoting.
In 1976, Mabton revived the Hay Palace as a Bicentennial event and it drew large crowds.