From September 30 to October 2, 1885, the first Kittitas County Fair is held near Ellensburg. The event runs for three days, closing on October 2, 1885, and attracts celebrants from throughout the Kittitas Valley. Exhibitions include livestock such as horses, hogs, and chickens; produce such as grapes and apples, and handicrafts. Among the games and entertainments are catching a greased pig and climbing a greased pole.
The fair formed one part of celebrations held during a reunion of 18 veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) -- another name for the Union Army in the Civil War. The Ellensburg chapter of the organization was the James Parsons Post, Number 11, and this was the group that hosted the reunion. In 1887 the James Parson Post was renamed the David Ford Post in honor of post Quartermaster David Ford, who died that year.
The County of Kittitas had been established only two years before the first Kittitas County Fair was held. Samuel T. Sterling (1847-ca. 1931) was Secretary of the event and J. L. Brown acted as superintendent. The fair was held near Leonard's Bridge, which spanned the Yakima River at what is now (2005) Exit 106 on the I-90 freeway outside Ellensburg. Admission was $1.00.
Kittitas Valley historian Leta May Smith described preparations for the fair in a 1972 Ellensburg Daily Record article:
"Ranchers and townsmen offered to help. All working together, the ground was cleared of brush, the uneven part was smoothed, a fine racetrack was built ... tables were erected in the shade of the trees and a few benches placed in a row for seats was a grandstand. Produce from the farms and gardens was placed on the tables."
Displays at the fair included local produce such as grapes, apples, and vegetables, and home-processed food items such as wine, pickles, and preserves. A red beet on display weighed 15 pounds and was described by a fair attendee as being "fine to look at but no good to eat" (Leta May Smith).
Handcrafts such as knitting, tatting, and embroidery were exhibited, as well as examples of the then-popular hair work. Hair work consisted of wreaths, crosses, chains, and other items fashioned from human hair, and also of small paintings made of paint in which ground human hair served as the coloring pigment or tiny collages in which individual hairs were glued to form an image, often of fruit or flowers. It was sometimes, but not always, used to memorialize someone who had died. An undated clipping in the Ellensburg Public Library's Local History Collection lists some of the exhibitors:
- Mrs. Dr. Stuart, hand knit lace curtain;
- Mrs. C. F. Maynard, silk mitts;
- Mrs. Vincent, lace;
- Miss Maxes, plush drawings and Kensington paintings;
- Miss Clara Stafford, Kensington paintings and embroidery;
- Mrs. C. W. Stuart, exquisite ornamental hair work in chains, hooked tuft mat;
- Mrs. Greenwood, case of fancy hair wreath;
- Mrs. York, Kensington paintings, hand embroidery, silk embroidery on white flannel infants' robe, and crochet hood;
- Mrs. Anna Pressey, white bed spread, hand knit;
- Mrs. McCausland, two quilts;
- Miss Ingle, thread lace and plush ornaments;
- Mrs. George Elliot, two crochet thread tidies, also one by Mrs. Reed (Item No. 002).
Harnesses, woodcarvings, and fences were also on display and no doubt struck a less dainty note.
Kittitas County livestock exhibited included hogs, sheep, cattle, chickens, and horses. Fairgoers could compete in foot races and horse races, or attempt to climb a greased pole or catch a greased pig. The former soldiers in attendance demonstrated various bugle calls and kept the fairgrounds tidy.
On the final night of the fair Kittitas County residents celebrated with a ball at Johnson House in downtown Ellensburg.
During subsequent years the fair was held only intermittently. In 1923 a permanent fairground site was established and many buildings were erected. From that year on the Kittitas County Fair was an annual Labor Day weekend event. The Ellensburg Rodeo, held concurrently with the Fair, was organized officially in 1923.