From the first organized Kittitas County Fair in 1885 to the modern five
day event held each Labor Day weekend, the fair has always been about
agriculture. From its inception by local farmers and ranchers the fair has
showcased the best that Kittitas County has to offer. With the building of
the rodeo arena and the first permanent buildings on the fairgrounds in
1923, the beginnings of the permanent location for the combined County
Fair and Rodeo took hold. Now, each year, as in 1923, agricultural
exhibits and competitions, a four day rodeo and a gathering of Yakama
Indians takes place.
To secure the fairgrounds place for the future,
Kittitas County undertook a $3.5 million historic renovation of the
buildings that had their beginnings over 75 years ago. The project was
completed in 2001. The Fairgrounds Historic District is listed on both the
Washington State and National Registers of Historic Places. A permanent
Heritage Center is now housed on the Fairgrounds, showcasing all the
different groups that made Kittitas County the place it is today.
[click a picture to enlarge it]
The Spot Beneath the Hill
The Native Americans gathered here, at the spot beneath the hill.
Their spirit continues on today, and like tradition, always will.
With a twist of fate and progress, each year we return to gather here.
We come to compete and enjoy displays, at the spot we hold so dear.
The first recorded fair took place in 1885.
With the re-union of Civil War Vets, who were happy to survive.
The Grand Army of the Republic Vets, would re-unite in the summer air.
In conjunction with their re-union, they would hold a county fair.
The fair took place near Leonhard’s bridge, in a grove, one mile from town.
The event lost money, but the county knew, that would never slow them down.
After that, they met in different spots, and their enthusiasm grows.
The 1906 Street Fair displayed exhibits, in downtown store windows.
The First Annual Kittitas County Fair was held in 1912 with pride.
The had no official fairgrounds, the took their problem on in stride.
In 1914 a huge tent was used for all exhibits until dark.
All the games and races were held at the location of the old ball park.
In 1915, The Harvest Festival was held in place of the fair.
Which left 50 local businesses scrambling and pulling out their hair.
They tried to feed all participants, with a ton of meat, some bread and more.
They ran out of food and had to buy all the food from every local store.
The businessmen laughed at their mistake, as their wallets shed a tear.
The agenda changed in the next 12 months, the fair resumed again, next year.
1917 through 1919 was canceled, because of World War One.
With family at war, who could have a fair and still have any fun?
The 1920 fair resumed , in a vacant woolen mill they say.
Which is now the Boise-Cascade Bldg. And stands proudly, still today.
After World War One, the counties first extension agent became involved.
W. Leonard Dave was his name, now their problems would be solved.
The 1920 and 21 fairs were a success in every way.
They were getting better, every year, which continues on today.
In 1922, Davis would drum up interest on permanent grounds.
The movement would spread like a prairie fire and grow leaps and bounds.
The Ellensburg Evening Readers Editor, Clifford Kaynor, joined the crew.
With leaders like this behind the wheel, things are easier to do.
A committee was formed from county agents, parks department and even two schools.
From businessmen’s clubs and the farm bureau, this committee would have all the tools.
A second committee was formed as well, this team would search for a permanent site.
With Senator McCauley, Davis and Kaynor, they knew that things would get done right.
Six sites were found to fit the bill, but there was one more problem at hand.
The state would not allow any counties to purchase, or to own land.
Senator McCauley introduced a bill for the state to change their tune.
The bill was passed the very next year, in the early days of June.
Then the county purchased 18 acres, it was bought within the week.
They obtained the spot beneath the hill, which was crossed by Wilson creek.
With the land obtained, the county knew, there was a job to do out there.
A motion was made and agreed upon, to add a rodeo to the fair.
So the county planned a workday, they’d need 500 men at least.
With 200 horses and four tractors, while the women would provide the feast.
On June 14th 1923, every business and office closed its doors.
At the spot beneath the hill they met, to begin the county’s chores.
Businessmen and farmers worked side by side in the heat and dust that day.
The amount of work completed out there, was unbelievable they say.
The county came together as one, it was a time all should remember.
Some smaller teams completed more jobs before opening day in September.
And still today the county unites to put on this Labor Day weekend show.
Two committees work hard all year to put on this fair and rodeo.
Throughout the years good times were had, the memories linger still.
So join us friends, as we gather again, at the spot beneath the hill.
Edward R. Cook
(reproduced with permission from the author)