On display during the first Fair were
the county’s prolific crops: fruits, flowers, grains and grasses. Aside from
“ordinary products of our fertile farms and fruitful orchards,” the paper
reported that Orcas Island farmer P. Bostian exhibited tobacco, a crop he was
experimenting with. Other farmers were trying out walnuts and chestnuts,
quinces and citron, also displayed that year. The livestock exhibit included
some of the best teams of horses driven by the county’s farmers.
A department called “Ladies Work” highlighted the fine embroidery, tatting,
quilting, rag rugs, patching and darning, hemstitching, painting and other
homemaking skills of the women of San Juan County. John McCormick’s stunning
photographs of the islands captivated viewers.
San Juan County farmers were then eager to show off their best crops at the
Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle in 1909, winning an award for Best
Cherries. Although farmers had banded together as the San Juan Farm Bureau,
meeting regularly on Shaw Island, it wasn’t until 1921 that another Fair was
held in the San Juan Canning Company’s warehouse. Anticipating large
attendance, fair organizers shored up the floor to accommodate not only
visitors and participants but the many “fine bred cattle” to be displayed, so
many that this Fair was jokingly called the “Bull Fair.”
Islanders also displayed: horses, sheep and swine. Poultry farmers showed off
their turkeys, another successful farm commodity in the county. A baby beauty
contest judged by San Juan Island’s Dr. Capron — who pronounced Florence May
Madden the winner — was a crowd pleaser. The 1921 Fair was such a huge hit that
it has been held annually since then.
Islanders sought a permanent location
for the Fair, and considered several sites — 10 acres on Shaw, the area in
Friday Harbor called Kwan Lama, and its current location — before purchasing
the heavily timbered 10-acre site in 1923 for $1,200. Volunteers blasted
stumps, plowed and leveled the ground. It took 10 or 12 teams of horses to get
the site ready for fencing. Community members turned out to erect the main
building, the stock buildings, and the Pioneer Log Cabin. On October 8, 1924
the first Fair was held in its present location, less than one year after work
began. A highlight of the 1924 Fair was the “gun that killed the pig.” A
chartered boat from Bellingham brought 200 people to the Fair; the total
attendance was 1,200.
The goal of the Farm Bureau was to promote and improve the agricultural
interests of farmers and residents of San Juan County. Now 100 years later the
San Juan County Fair Board continues to encourage, promote and preserve the
county’s agricultural activities, and to educate the public during this
once-a-year opportunity. Participants showcase their diverse skills, talents,
and accomplishments in the areas of 4H and youth activities, agriculture, arts
and crafts, environmental stewardship, public service organizations, and local
industry, in a fun and exciting atmosphere.
Since 1924 the San Juan County Fair has grown from a two-day affair to four
days chock-full of activities, now drawing 22,000 visitors. And the fair grounds
have also grown; the Fair Board purchased 3.78 acres adjacent to the horse barn
in December 2005.
In 2006 we celebrated the Fair’s official Centennial Celebration.