Fairs are centuries old but to the Walla Walla Valley, the 2016 Walla Walla Frontier Days represented the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the oldest fair in the state of Washington.
In 1866, the Walla Walla Agricultural Society staged a large agricultural and industrial exposition to showcase the valley crops and the latest farming methods. This event, the first county fair, was held October 4 – 6 on the horse racing grounds west of town.
Throughout the years, the Fair was known by many names, hosted at many locations, governed by many civic organizations in the area with varying aspects of predominant interests; i.e., the exhibition of fruits and vegetables, stock and machinery, horse races, car races and rodeos. Walla Walla County purchased the present fairgrounds in 1923 and after two years of the successful pageant “How the West was Won", the Fair came back under sponsorship of the Walla Walla County Farm Bureau. The next year, the Farm Bureau was joined by the Chamber of Commerce as the two sponsoring groups. For several decades, the management and Fair Board have been appointed and governed by Walla Walla County.
The historic pavilion was erected in 1906 for a fruit exhibit and concert hall. It was determined more space was needed for merchant displays and the additional exhibition hall was built in 1907. This facility housed German prisoners of war during World War II. In 1970, a fire destroyed the roof and cupola of the rotunda. In 2006, the pavilion underwent its first major renovation in many years for the pavilion’s centennial celebration.
In 1913, the management decided to inaugurate a new order of business and as a result the “Frontier Days” came into existence with its spectacular display of bull dogging, relay races, stagecoach races, cowboys, cowgirls and other local participants representing one of the last stands of the “Wild West”.
In 1935 Fair Royalty was an added element and young ladies from the region competed. This tradition continues to this day.
In 1939, as an acknowledgment of commitment to the Fair, the committee added an annual Parade Marshal to the Frontier Days parade.
Although many entertainers including Louie Armstrong, the Sons of the Pioneers, Ink Spots, Mills Brothers and others performed sporadically throughout the years, in 1974 world-class country entertainment was added to the annual fair.
In 2008, the Rodeo Legends award was implemented acknowledging the outstanding men and women of the valley who have attained a high level of achievements in the sport of Rodeo.
The 4-H and FFA programs have become the annual showcase of the region’s younger population, fostering the next generation of the agricultural community,
We acknowledge Fair Directors, Fair Managers, County Commissioners, state elected officials, community leaders, businesses, sponsors and many thousands of volunteers collectively for their commitment and support for well over 150 years.
The Walla Walla County Fairgrounds and Fair have a storied past ~ a place “where memories are made that last a lifetime” and while the name may have changed throughout the years, this great community event and tradition lives on, creating memories for the young and the young at heart!