Friday, September 6, 2013

Nineteenth Century Today: All's Fair in Puyallup

Our new State Fair in Puyallup starts today.  Yes, the massive, impressive, stupendous Puyallup Fair is now officially Washington's State Fair.  Having grown up not too far from it, I'm inordinately proud.  And though it started in 1900, just after the nineteenth century and on another continent from our beloved England, I thought it worthy of comment.

The Puyallup Valley runs from Mt. Rainier down to Commencement Bay in Tacoma, following the path of the glacier-fed Puyallup River.  The area has been growing crops since it was settled in the 1850s and was home to the Puyallup Tribe before that.  In 1900, local residents banded together to charter a "Valley Fair" to showcase area agriculture, horticulture, dairies, stock raising, mining, and manufacturing.  The small fair, which ran for three days, cost each family a dollar to attend.

But what really put the Puyallup Fair on the map was horse racing.  In 1901, the fair expanded to include a race track and was held over four days.  That original race track was used until 1977.  So many people came from far and wide that in 1902 the fair added parking lots for the jalopies. From there, the fair continued to expand, to more days, more acreage, more activities affecting more people in more areas.  In 1913, it became the Western Washington Fair, but even when I was born more than four decades later, everyone still called it "the Puyallup."

Attendance in 1922 was at 130,000, which skyrocketed to nearly 400,000 by the late 1930s.  Sadly, the federal government commandeered the fairgrounds for much of World War II.  It served as a camp for an army unit, then a relocation center for Japanese-Americans, and finally home to a Signal Service Battalion.  The grounds were closed until 1946, but it has continued its momentous growth since then, with attendance now in the millions.

One of the mainstays of the Fair was Fisher scones, fresh made and dripping with raspberry jam.  That tradition started in 1915 and continues today.  Another tradition was lost in a fire in 1970.  That was a ride called The Old Mill Stream, where couples could ride on boats through a shadowed waterway that included vistas from exotic locations.  It was all terribly romantic, except for the last scene.  All you saw was the back end of a donkey that kicked out at the boat.  It was supposed to drive the girl squealing into her boyfriend's arms. Though I was in elementary school, I loved that ride!  I couldn't wait until I had a boyfriend to throw myself at. All's fair in love, after all.

Welcome to statehood, Puyallup Fair!


Leandra Wallace said...

How fascinating to hear about Puyallup's history. Fairs are great- yummy food and all the animals(my fav part).

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, Leandra! There is something magical about a fair; you can feel the energy. And I do love seeing the animals. We have a family legend concerning the Puyallup. One year when we went there was a huge hog on display. As we passed his pen, someone must have hit the lever to open the gate, because he came charging out. Everyone rushed to either side of the aisle to get out of his way. Everyone except my mother, that is. He chased her down the barn and out of the door. Luckily, he turned left and Mom turned right. Never knew a hog could move so fast. Never knew my mom could move faster! It was the talk of the neighborhood for years. :-)