By Amy Rowley with historical references provided by Ann Shipley
If there is one thing that symbolizes summer (besides the drippy scoop of ice cream or the run through a sprinkler), it’s visiting a local fair. The Thurston County Fair is that summer pilgrimage for Olympia area families. An opportunity to introduce young kids to farm animals, support youth 4-H programs, and eat the idyllic elephant ear, the Thurston County Fair has a rich history in our community.
While you plan your visit to the fairgrounds, review these 10 fun facts about the history of the Thurston County Fair. Then, head to the fairgrounds between July 31 – August 4 to experience the local flavor that makes Thurston County special.
- The first fair was held in 1871. At the original site, there was room for exhibits and speakers along with poultry, the only animal represented. The poultry was there for a good week in a wooden building (consider the odor). Poultry represented included chickens, a pair of turkeys, a pair of geese, one Australian Cockatoo that belonged to a sea captain, and a cage of 27 linnets and canaries.
- At the first fair, Captain Percival entered a bucket of cranberries, and another exhibit was a blackberry branch 17’ long. Also in those early years there were such categories as the best oatmeal with milk, and best section of wooden water pipe.
- in 1913, the fair was held in Lacey at the race track. Unfortunately, due to a deluge during fair time the fair was not a success and the fair manager was sued for some nefarious dealings.
- During the 1910-25 era, the fair moved around the county to various granges and the Carlyon Race Track in Olympia. In 1915, some of the odd prizes included a baseball mitt for the best pumpkin pie and a fountain pen for the best six potatoes.
Between 1926 – 1931, the fair was in Tenino. The first mascot of record for the county fair was a boar because he was a good “rooter” for the fair. An odd section in the Tenino fairs, was a section devoted to all things colored ecru!
- During the 1932 fair one of the more attractive activities for the older set were card parties held on the 2nd floor of the American Legion Hall. During the later years of the war, the Fair was strictly a 4-H endeavor. The times were indicated in the exhibits – flour sack dresses, preserved items, and best victory garden.
- In 1941 the fair was held in Heritage Hall at the present Thurston County Fairgrounds. Everything was housed in Heritage Hall except the stock animals. The State Game Department set up in one corner of the hall bringing in fawns, peasants and other live animals. While the Fair moved around between 1946 – 1956, it has remained in this present location since 1956.
- In 1946 there was a peach festival. A peach queen was crowned with a crown of gilded peach pits.
- For some reason, in 1958 the public could only enter in the flower show, the rock show and in the bulb and nursery displays. Otherwise it was strictly a 4-H show.
- For the style show in 1959 they used the east arena but there were no lights, or dressing room for the girls, so they parked cars all around the arena who turned on their headlights and a trailer was pulled up to use as a dressing room, while a truck bed was the stage.
For more information about the Thurston County Fair, grab your copy of Shipley’s history book. You can find details here.