On September 24, 1894, the first annual Washington State Agricultural Fair opens in Yakima. Politicians, local residents, and Indians from across the region gather together to participate in the festivities.
Not a Capital But a Fair
Yakima was awarded the honor of hosting the state agricultural fair both in recognition of the Yakima Valley's booming agricultural activity and as a consolation prize for not being selected state capital. Ellensburg, North Yakima (now Yakima), and Olympia vied to be chosen state capital in the September 4, 1890, state election. Olympia, capital during the Territorial period (1853-1889), was voted state capital.
State Representative Alfred B. Weed (b. 1850) of Yakima County introduced State Bill 147 providing for an agricultural fair for the promotion of agriculture, stock raising, horticulture, mechanical industries, and mining, to be held annually for five days beginning the last Monday in September. The State Fair Act, including a $10,000 appropriation, was approved on March 15, 1893. Fred Parker (1861-1930), John Reed (1858-1903), A. W. Engle, John R. Reavis, and J. R. Patton were appointed State Fair commissioners.
Over the summer and fall of 1893, Yakima County raised $10,000 and purchased 120 acres of land. In November 1893 this land was deeded to the state, as required by Section 6 of the State Fair Act. Residents of Yakima began clearing sagebrush and grading the land. Over the summer of 1894 they constructed a racetrack and a 2,000-seat grandstand, an exhibition hall, 100 horse stalls, and a three-story judges' stand. Horse racing was the main feature of the 1894 State Fair. In addition to the $10,000 they raised to purchase the land, Yakima residents also contributed some $4,000 in cash, material, and labor.
Fast Horses and Fine Speeches
Governor John H. McGraw (1850-1910) presided at the fair's officially opening ceremonies. James Hamilton Lewis (1863-1939), Washington's United States Representative at large, delivered an oration. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the plan for the opening ceremonies:
"Procession from the city to the grove in the fair grounds, with the second regiment band of Dayton leading the procession, followed by the governor and staff, troops of cavalry and infantry, and mounted Indians, exhibits of various characters, and carriages of citizens. The entire morning will be consumed by addresses of the distinguished visitors and the procession. In the afternoon there will be four races ... The track is conceded to be the finest in the Northwestern circuit, which embraces Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. It is a mile track, constructed with extreme care, firm, but with sufficient spring to make it exceedingly fast. There are over 100 entries for the various contests, and it is asserted that it is the finest gathering of fast horses ever seen north of San Francisco. It is thought that this is largely due to the fact that many owners have entered their stock under the belief that as this is the first state fair it will not have been extensively advertised, and that thereby they will be able to slip away with the purses without much contest" (September 24, 1884).Although this was the official State Fair of Washington, it was not the only fair in the state. Tacoma hosted what it termed The Interstate Fair during the same time period and this event, complete with a day offering free admission to any Seattle or Tacoma youngster under the age of 14 including free boat transportation from Seattle, likely drew King and Pierce County crowds more than the event in Yakima.
Not surprisingly, Yakima, Kittitas, and Walla Walla counties sent the largest displays of agricultural bounty. Pierce County sent part of the exhibit Washington State had displayed at the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The exhibits from Spokane and Stevens counties had not arrived by opening day, nor had an exhibit of various ores that had been displayed at the World Columbian Exposition. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer described the ore exhibit as being "delayed on the road" but expected shortly, adding "Some disappointment is felt by the management of the fair that King County will not be represented" (September 24, 1884).
As carpenters and painters put the finishing touches on the fairgrounds, North Yakima residents draped the streets with flags and bunting. "Picturesqueness," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, "is added to the scene by the presence of over 1000 Indians ... painted and gaudily dressed in finery, the hues of which rival the brilliancy of the rainbow" (September 24, 1884).
Coal, Brick, Salt, Livestock
In their First Annual Report of the Washington State Fair, issued in December 1894, the commissioners detailed what they considered to have been some of the Fair's more significant offerings: "a very large block of coal, weighing one ton, which came from the Renton coal fields ... an exquisite display of fire brick, pressed brick, fireproof cornice, etc" (p. 4).
King County, which evidently came through with an exhibit despite earlier fears, "presented a very credible display of iron, salt, glazed sewer pipes, chimneys, and pressed brick. ... The Agricultural College had on exhibition some things that interested the entire state, which consisted in the promulgation and destruction of the fruit pest ... much interest was manifested by those in attendance in this interesting subject" (p. 4).
On the down side, the commissioners continued, "The cattle, horse, and livestock exhibit was not very large. Yakima county exhibit was the largest, but there were but few exhibits on the outside on account of the lateness of the season, and being unable to have reasonable concessions made by the railroad company in rates. Another reason for there not being a better stock exhibit from other counties was, so short notice was given of the fair that stock men had no time to put their stock in condition for exhibition" (p. 4).
Ending on the upbeat, however, the report concluded, "Everything went along nicely at the fair ... we are pleased to inform you that these annual exhibitions of the products of the state will be of much value in developing the natural resources of the state" (p. 5).
The Washington State Fair was not held in 1895, but resumed operation in 1896.